Anger and Balance

I’ve had some discussions about anger lately.  I am fortunate to have a lot of people in my life who care about me, and who check in with me to see how I’m doing periodically.  Often they ask how the job is affecting me – I can’t say this is exactly the line of work my loved ones would have chosen for me had they gotten to make the decision.

I get their thinking: He walks through abandoned buildings at night; he listens to his clients’ myriad problems and tries to find solutions, all between 10pm and 2am. I wonder if he’s doing as well as he presents?

The topic that comes up repeatedly is anger.  It’s a very simple series of questions: Am I too invested in my clients’ problems?  Am I too invested in their pain and plight?  Do I take it all too personally? Why am I so damn angry when I come home?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  While I strongly support the concept of therapy (both in conjunction with medication and without), I don’t like it.  Tried it in a couples counseling setting once, it didn’t work too well.  Don’t like discussing my feelings with strangers… don’t like the places it takes me.

A client I’ve known a long time walking in her socks down O.C. Haley Blvd at 1:30am crying while looking for food.

A woman with four kids living in her father’s house, of which there are only two rooms remaining due to incomplete hurricane recovery repairs.  The toilet is in a water closet across the back yard and the stove is in the living room. Four children share one bed.

Another man I’ve known a long time, still sleeping in the backseat of his car as autumn arrives despite having full-blown AIDS.

Another man with full-blown AIDS who is intellectually disabled still living in a vacant mechanics’ shop even though he was supposedly accepted into a housing program 6 months before.

A 62 year old man with one lung living in his family’s home which is gutted to the studs.  His sister took the FEMA money that was supposed to repair the home and moved to Houston, leaving him behind.

A wheelchair bound, schizophrenic quadriplegic whom I found years ago living under an overpass  who now has to be re-housed because he punches too many holes in the walls, but by all accounts is otherwise a really nice guy.

These are only six of the cases I’ve come home angry about over the last few months.  I’m meeting three to ten new people per week – so many more to get angry about. 

Am I taking the anger out on my friends and family at home?   Is the anger the reason I occasionally get calls from my mother asking if I haven’t called in a while because I’m upset about something? Sure Mom, I’m upset, but not at you.  Sorry for we haven’t talked in a few days.

How do we balance the anger?  How do we keep the anger as a motivating force to keep going out and advocating for change without becoming obnoxious and abrasive?  Or, on the other hand, without squashing it down inside and resigning ourselves to defeatism?

I suspect this is not an anger unique unto myself.  I think it probably sits in the belly of just about anyone who is working to make the world a better place.  Some balance the anger better than I do.  I find their ability to do so amazing, and hope I learn to do the same someday.

-Shamus

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