Calm under pressure
♪♫♪ I’ve got a hunger twisting my stomach into knots / that my tongue was tied off…
“Kids, you may think your only choices are to swallow your anger or throw it in someone’s face, but there’s a third option: you can just let it go. And only when you do that is it really gone and you can move forward.”
Any How I Met Your Mother fans will probably recognize that quote. It’s from the episode where Ted Mosby, everyone’s favorite hopeless-romantic-protagonist, sees his ex-fiancée again for the first time since she left him at the altar with only a note explaining that she chose another man instead. It’s a pretty emotionally charged moment of the show, and the quote that older Ted voices over for his children does seem to impart the sage lesson of the episode: let go of anger. As Ted walks away from the sight of Stella Zinman with her daughter and new husband, he solemnly follows his own advice and seems to be recovered from his heartache and resentment in an instant.
If only real life were that simple.
The thing is, the episode fades to black immediately after the scene, the end credits flash, and the happy theme music plays. By the next episode, Ted’s back in the bar, drinking with his friends and having a good time. And that’s television sitcom—a simple, happy world. And sometimes I wish I could jump into a living a sitcom because everything always works out in the end and my emotions could be scripted to flick from one end of the spectrum to the other through some arbitrary words on a page.
This past week, I was in a situation that made me feel angry. Very angry. If anyone asked my friends, they would probably tell you they have rarely—if ever—seen me angry before. Annoyed or upset, yes…but rarely do I become furious about anything. I’m generally a very easy-going person. But when I do become upset to the extent of anger, it’s a powerful, instantaneous feeling from inside of me. I feel a rush of adrenaline course through my body and bubble in my stomach, and I’m instantly aware of how I feel. My eyes start to tear up and betray me, something that I’ve always hated because I don’t like being misinterpreted as sad or scared. I’m reminded about the physical accuracy of the idioms “making my blood boil” and “seeing red,” and I distract myself through taking deep breaths and trying to focus on anything but the source that upset me. Fortunately, I have never had a problem controlling this state of rage—it’s deeply internalized within me until I have the chance to vent it at a later time. Also, not many things make me feel this way—off the top of my head, I can only think of a few…including being accused of something I did not do, being belittled when I try to express my opinion, and recognizing hypocrisy that is taking place right in front of me. I became angry this week because it was the combination of all three of these factors being thrown in my face at once.
In these moments, I always feel like the number one priority is remaining calm. I know that flying off the handle and lashing out is the absolute worst thing I can do, and it would sink me lower than whoever is upsetting me. It is after I have privacy and when I have to confront the residual anger that I take the chance to vent—whether that is to trusted friends, my journal, or just by listening to music for a while. And while Ted Mosby has the skill of letting go of his anger and moving on…he’s also a fictional character. Not to say that this is impossible for real people to do, as I’m sure plenty of people can. But for me, I have always found it most productive to justify my feelings. I believe that simply letting go of an emotion, especially one that I feel so strongly, is not always the best—or wisest—thing to do because there is a reason I feel that way, and it must be addressed so that I can come to terms with it.
Despite this, something that frustrated me immensely about my situation this past week was the fact that I wasn’t in a position to express what I was thinking in that very moment. I felt that I couldn’t share my opinions or how I felt…not because I didn’t have the capability to do so calmly or rationally, but because I was speaking to a superior, and to be frank, I was afraid to voice my true thoughts due to the potential repercussions that could happen to me.
That’s not okay to me. It shouldn’t be this way. I shouldn’t have to hold my tongue because there shouldn’t exist a trade-off between being able to share what I really think and feeling safe to do so. To clarify this, I’m not talking about just throwing my anger and all my emotions in someone’s face simply because I feel them and want them to be heard—I’m talking about being able to express my relevant opinions and observations about the situation so that they are at least acknowledged. When that no longer becomes an option and I’m left to just accept something because I’m told to—such as being held to a standard by someone who I believe is being hypocritical—I become upset.
But as I’ve learned, sometimes that’s just the sad unfortunate reality. You can’t always speak up about what you’re feeling or thinking because you have to wait for the right time, place, or person to say it to. You do have to be able to swallow that anger in the moment because a quick weighing of the costs and benefits of saying something you can’t take back proves the price is just too high. In the end, your immediate reaction can’t be the one you show or the one you share because it’s not a safe space. That’s not a good environment to be in, and hopefully that’s something that can be changed. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to do that with my particular situation right now.
I realize that I’ve made many broad, vague statements—but writing this is my own way of finding catharsis and dealing with my residual anger. I haven’t just let it go because I think it’s important that I felt the way I did—I’m also dealing with it through the support of good friends and some heated writing. And I’m taking steps to implement changes so that I will hopefully not feel the same way again. After all…life moves on, and I will too.
Bah bah…this is the sound of settling ♪♫♪
(The Sound of Settling – Death Cab for Cutie)
Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.