How anger has helped my Mental Health - Juliette Burton
Digital team's blog
Our Rethink Mental Illness Ambassador, Juliette Burton, talks about how coming to terms with what her anger means has helped her mental health and her work.
In the last clinic I was admitted to, I was introduced to the idea that there are only three emotions: happiness, sadness and fear. All other emotions, this concept says, is just a combination of these three. Excitement? Happiness mixed with fear. Disgust? Sadness mixed with fear.
“But what about anger?” I raged in group therapy.
“Behind all anger is fear. Anger is simply fear expressed differently.”
“Behind all anger is fear” – that’s a mantra I recited again and again. And that’s true too. Whenever anyone was angry, I’d ask “could they be scared?”. I realised when I felt angry, if I scratched beneath the surface I was always afraid. Of change. Of losing someone. And always, above all, I was scared I wasn’t good enough.
Suddenly any friend who turned up late was forgiven instantly. Any review of my shows I didn’t agree with hurt of course but I’d try to be thankful for the opportunity to improve. Any traumatic experience I’d been holding onto for years…I wanted those feelings to dissipate.
Buddhists believe “Holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal and hoping someone else will be hurt”
I didn’t want to get burned. I wanted to be free of anger. And that was how I saw myself for years. I simply wasn’t angry.
Then, things changed again.
Recovery comes in a constantly shifting shape, I’ve learned. Life doesn’t stay the same. I will not remain the same person. The universe will constantly throw new things at me and I need to respond to it. New challenges present new lessons.
One lesson I learned was – I was wrong. I am a very angry person.
But even more importantly, I’ve learned: anger isn’t something I need to fear.
In the past few years, thanks to Beach Body Ready adverts, #MeToo campaigns, Twitter trolling, sexist world leaders, having a marvellous therapist who has encouraged me to own my anger and, most of all, thanks to working in comedy, I’ve voiced my anger in ways I never knew I could. I’ve felt powerful, real and present. I’ve said “I feel angry” so often in the past few months I feel like I’m making up for lost time.
I still get a little rush of adrenalin when I say it too. It feels taboo.
I’ve been taught that it’s not ladylike to appear angry. Yet I really am. I truly am livid.
I owe it to the women who came before me and to the women who are yet to come after me to own my anger and accept it.
I certainly owe it to my recovery.
Anger, I now know, can be a motivational force for positive change, in my own life and in the world. That ball of rage I feel doesn’t have to be shoved down. It can be owned and empower me to challenge and change.
Performing comedy really is all about what makes you angry. Making people laugh on stage has been a gift to me in so many ways. Not least because I’ve observed comedians creatively give voice to their anger at the injustice in their own lives, in the world, in society. I’ve been doing it more and more myself. And the laughs only get bigger the more honest I’ve been.
After a recent gig where I’d been very open on stage about my battle with eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder and society’s obsession with “perfect” body image, a quiet, thoughtful, unassuming woman came up to me and powerfully thundered “That was hilarious. But I’m SO ANGRY!”
At first I thought “What? With ME?” because as a Brit I always assume everything is my fault.
She explained how angry she felt on my behalf, on behalf of people with mental illness and body image issues everywhere. I felt liberated by her anger.
I’ve often felt like I’ve been repeatedly told to shut up, not have a voice, not be intelligent, I am only worth what I look like. If I have opinions or thoughts or feelings I have to shove it down and not show it: don’t defy the status quo.
When I was 16 I had an opinion once. I was told “we can get you medication for that”. And they did. Prozac.
Okay, I am paraphrasing there, but that is how I felt for years. Using my anorexia, compulsive overeating and bulimia, I expertly shoved my anger down, bottled it up and boxed it in. I plugged up my fury, choked down any outburst, buried my wrath.
I turned my anger inwards.
Now when other people get angry I feel empowered to do the same. I feel like someone has allowed steam out of my own personal pressure cooker. When someone gets angry on my behalf, I sneakily smile, observing how guilty I feel in the joy I get from the rage I share with them. But let’s leave guilt for now; for another day, another blog.
My own anger I’ve secreted away in the deepest recess of my stomach is validated by other people’s passion. And I feel a little less alone.
Juliette performs her award-winning 5 star sell out show ‘Juliette Burton: Butterfly Effect’ at Edinburgh Fringe 2018 1-15 August
For more shows see www.julietteburton.co.uk/shows/performances
For more on Juliette please see:
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