constructive deconstruction, feelings and mental health

“what do you do with the mad that you feel?”

/arrives 2 years late with Starbucks and The Big Questions, how’s everybody been, etc.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately–mostly because I’ve been mad a lot*, about one thing or another, and have felt 1) completely unable to change my circumstances, and 2) guilty about feeling mad in the first place. Which is ludicrous because feeling anger is a natural thing, particularly when there is lots happening in the world to be angry about, but even stating the obvious doesn’t make the guilt go away.

Someone cleverer than me could come up with a proper way to segue into discussing Mr Rogers here, but that clever person isn’t me.

If you haven’t seen what is by now a viral video of Fred Rogers (yes, the Fred Rogers) defending the value of PBS on the US Senate floor, you can find a decent quality version of the footage here on YouTube. But even removed from the context of defending the role of public television in the United States, the video has a lot to say about emotional and mental health, and the importance of talking to children about their feelings from a young age.

Here’s the first quote from his testimony before the committee that gets right to the point:

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?

Like… what a wise and good and simple thing to ask a child. (Or an adult.) To make this extremely personal for a moment, I cannot help but wonder what my adolescence, teenage years, and early adulthood would have looked like, had an informed adult had the patience and foresight to walk me through the layers of meaning in these questions. Because there’s a drastic difference between asking a child to explain the feelings that precede their behaviour, versus only addressing the behaviour. What a difference it would have made in the life of child!me to be armed with tools for solving the dual problems of “why am I feeling this way?” and “what should I do about it?”

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:

I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.

Fred Rogers, May 1 1969

Acknowledgement of the anger, empowerment to choose how to respond to that anger, and taking ownership and responsibility for the choices we make in how to express that anger–that’s a pretty powerful message for anyone to take in at any age. I’m not ashamed to admit that, after 3 decades of navigating the emotions of both myself and others largely through the power of intuition, I’m just now learning how to accept the existence and experience of anger in myself and in others, rather than viewing the feeling as something inherently shameful or dangerous.

…and I suppose this emotional milestone felt significant enough to interrupt (end?) my hiatus on this blog. Hi, everyone–hopefully I’ll be seeing a bit more of you in the near future.

* all of my feelings about various things are being managed, please don’t worry. …but you have to admit that the world is an upsetting place at the moment, and having Feelings about it is kind of to be expected. because y i k e s.