Saturday, May 26, 2018

Existing With Anger

This past Monday, I entered a Melee tournament for the first time in a hot minute. I had the cute idea of teaming with HomeMadeWaffles at Smash'n'Splash, the plan being that we will get top 8 in doubles and cast top 8 in singles. I only believe that one of those is actually going to happen, but we'll do our best.

Anyhow, the long story short is that I entered and got pissed. Again.

I decided I wouldn't want to compete anymore when I was at Frosty Faustings earlier this year. The thing is, I've been frustrated with my anger and competitive nature. I've always had this issue where if I focus on keeping my anger down, then the anger stays down... but then I am not paying attention to the game. If I focus entirely on the game, the anger creeps in.

It makes me feel like I'm not good at controlling my emotions. However, upon reflecting, I'm actually very good at controlling my anger! Sort of. I don't really control it. I just try to avoid feeling it.

This isn't necessarily a repression strategy, but more of a preventative one. I try to reframe the situation in my head constantly so that I can avoid getting angry at all. I will give myself different perspectives on what's happening, or I'll mentally zoom out to persuade myself that it--whatever it is--isn't worth getting angry over. Basically, I'm practicing emotional preventative medicine, not anger management.

The reason that it's not really anger management is that when I actually get angry, it's just as intense and dominant as it's ever been. I have become slightly better at distancing myself from situations when I become angry, and I have become a bit better at defusing intense anger without a destructive physical reaction. My more infamous blow-ups may belie that, but that's because when you control anger, people don't always know you were mad to begin with.

(I know it's not the best selling point of my own character to say "think of all the walls I didn't punch!" or "what about the times I didn't throw stuff!" but this blog is about honesty, not making me look good)

On this blog, I spend a lot of time writing about anxiety and depression, because I spend a lot of time feeling anxious and depressed. I can't always make those feelings go away very easily. Instead, I've had to learn to act around them. I have to learn how to remain effective without the depression or anxiety actually going away. This lets me not actually worry about being worried or depressed! If they show up, I am confident that I can deal with them. I'm almost too confident that I can work my way through it, because they still sneak up on me sometimes, but I don't feel this constant biting fear that they will catch me slipping. I implement my strategies and try to move on with my life.

There are certain emotions, however, that I still try very hard to avoid feeling, because I don't know how to function well in those states, or if I can. I've developed a huge array of tactics to avoid actually getting angry at all. But that's not really anger management, in the same way that you don't have "pain tolerance" just because you never get hurt. I can manage myself while depressed, I can manage myself while stressed and nervous. What I can't seem to do is manage myself well while angry. I just try to avoid getting to that point, because when it washes over me, my functioning drops like a rock.

The same is true with my general feelings of aggression and competitiveness. When they kick in, they kick in hard. It's difficult to shut them off, it's difficult not to let them take control. They synergize quite a bit with the anger, which makes them a nasty trio for me to deal with. Hence why I have wanted to stop competing entirely.

Monday night, I spent quite awhile before the tournament trying to run my normal mental routine to avoid getting upset and focus on learning and getting back into competing shape. But once I started making a few too many mistakes, I started trying to focus on correcting them, on trying to win. Aggravation kicked in. I started shaking my head, cussing semi-audibly, and biting my lip. I set my controller down after my first loss and walked away from it, just in case.

Given how easily I can get that angry, but how uncommon it is for me actually to fly off the handle anymore (relatively, that is), I kind of want to high five myself. I might not be giving myself enough credit here, because I've gotten much better over time. The internal element of it is what gets me the most, right now. It's distracting. It feels physically uncomfortable. And since we are talking about the game, it also affects my decision making and play for the worse, in a way that feeds into itself.

My go-to strategy for this inner struggle and conflict has been to avoid it completely. I do my best to avoid getting angry at all, avoid feeling aggressive or competitive at all, avoid getting riled up at all. Lately I've been wondering if this is actually the tack I should be taking.

It has definitely helped, don't get me wrong. In just about every life situation except for Smash, I don't actually feel anger that often, and I definitely don't think that's a bad thing! Not only that, very few things that I try to focus on are as fast-paced and mentally demanding as Smash, so if the feelings do arise, I often notice the anger while it's still in an infant state, and I correct my course. It's almost trivially easy, compared to managing myself in a competitive environment.

I don't want to sound like I'm angry about not getting angry. The issue that I find is that my anger, aggression, and competitiveness aren't healthy parts of me. They're things that I avoid because I cannot stand being in those states. The anger isn't just a stressful state, it generates meta-stress about being angry! I think things like "oh my GOD why are you still getting so MAD" and that just tilts me further. I'm worried about losing control, looking stupid, as well as an intense discomfort with the physical feeling.

I'm trying to figure out how to approach this. It's a bit like being tired, where you can't just drink coffee every time you get a bit tired, even if you have some work to do. You have to learn how to get work done when you're tired! You can't only do your workout when you're physically fresh, because strength and endurance are built when you are on the edge of exhaustion.

You become stronger and develop endurance so that you don't get exhausted, but you have to enter that kind of state and still function in order to actually build those qualities. If you stop the moment you're tired, you don't actually become stronger. That's not "exhaustion management," that's called "skipping half of your workout."

But what's the method here? Do I need to just... get angry more? I'm pretty strong at preventing myself from getting angry (well, in every circumstance but Smash, it seems), the problem is that when I finally do get angry, I no longer function well. I feel like I may need to let myself get angry more often, and then train myself to handle existing within that state. Not only by defusing the feeling every time it shows up, but by shaking hands with it, so to speak. Maybe if I can just have more experience feeling that way, rather than avoiding it, I'll get more comfortable with it, and that alone will let me exercise more control over the emotion.

I am not sure how much I want to do that though. I developed my anti-depressive and anti-anxiety tools as a result of spending a lot of time depressed and anxious. The tools work pretty well, but I really didn't enjoy the process though. Plus, if I only feel this anger when I play Smash, then there's a fairly obvious strategy available.

Something I've been thinking about lately though is that I didn't just get techniques out of that process. I also had to dissect the process in a way that I could repeat consciously, which meant learning how to describe it. One of the happiest feelings I have the pleasure of experiencing is when people tell me that my blog helped them with something. It's possible that it's up to me to go through my own anger and just keep writing things down, and maybe I'll have things to share about that, too.

So whether I like it or not, it feels like this is the next thing I have to focus on. Existing within my anger so that I can handle it being part of me, not using every mental resource I have shutting it down. Hopefully I'll have more to say on this subject soon.

Thanks for reading.