I am very angry, and I don't know why.
April 16, 2007 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest a psychologist in D.C. area to help deal with a pervasive feeling of unfocused rage, and help me deal with these irrational anger issues while I try to schedule an appointment.

I have read previous questions, but those seem to be focused on therapy for depression/relationship issues. Those that deal with anger issues seem either acute or at least the person who is angry seems to understand why they are angry.

I have a few theories of what may be wrong with me, but I minored in psychology in college and am afraid it's just an embarrassing combination of sciolism and medical student's syndrome. This also leads me to question some of my supposed symptoms, making me wonder if perceived neurosis are nothing more than minor issues with stress and personality quirks.

Basically, I am afraid that 90% of my "mental illness" is nothing more than selfishness, weakness of mind, and hypochondria.

But whether it is a sign of something systemic or merely emotional immaturity, I do need my latest problem dealt with.

For the past week I have felt a near-constant feeling of building rage, especially when I am around other people. At first I believed I was merely annoyed by my co-worker's chatter, but it's taking longer and longer to fade away. Lately, I've even been feeling it around my wife, even though I understand intellectually that she has done nothing to draw my ire. It is embarrassing and makes me feel like a complete ass. I know that this frustration is unwarranted and irrational, but this just angers me more. My wife is wonderful, patient and understanding and I hate myself when I act this way, groundlessly judgmental and mean.

So far, I haven't acted out, save some snippiness to my wife that I immediately apologized for. One of the things that frightens me is the vitriol that bubbles under the surface while I'm being complimented on my politeness by coworkers and clients. I can smile convincingly while barely containing a shouted monologue of hatred. I'm not afraid of becoming violent, but I am afraid of snapping at my boss or coworkers when asked a simple request. I find myself getting up every half hour to retreat to the stairwell or splash cold water on my face.

I don't know what is wrong with me. I was never like this before, sure I may have been a smart ass when annoyed, but I was never truly angry. It's hard to concentrate, I am unable to effectively do my work, and I find myself wasting time online in a pointless attempt to "calm down" so that I can get focused. When I force myself to work straight through it I end up making a stupid mistake and trying refrain from screaming.

Physical activity seems to burn off some of the negative energy, but I'll end up getting frustrated at my weakness/lack of endurance and start doing whatever exercise with a kind of mad carelessness.

It is tiring, being so angry for so long, and I am getting increasingly fidgety as I try to restrain myself from acting like a complete ass. About once a day the rage suddenly just leaves and I feel emotionally and physically drained, not to mention ashamed of my thought and impulses. It always comes back though.

I apologize that this was so long. All of the above was written in a kind of frantic state while I felt especially angry and desperate, but during the last paragraph it all just left and now I feel like a jerk again.

I've tried the count to 10 and breathing exercises, but halfway through this defeatist voice in my head feels patronized and I tell myself I should be able to just stop being angry, without any of this mental placebo crap. I've been forcing myself to avoid black/white thinking, to avoid allowing myself to make internal rationalizations. I'm not saying don't suggest that kind of stuff, as I'm getting desperate for any relief, I'm just adding the caveat that I seem to be my worst enemy right now.

To recap: Please suggest a psychologist/therapist in DC who specializes or can help with acute/chronic anger issues. If they accept Aetna, that's great, but if you don't know I can always ask them. I am trying to stay away from medicinal cures, but I'd gladly take prescription meds short term while I work out whatever the hell's wrong with me.

And, as a stop-gap measure (while I look for help), please suggest way's to chill out. Most of my office is away at a convention this week, so if necessary I can probably just lock myself in a bathroom stall when it gets bad without anyone noticing.

I don't like these feelings of hate that bubble up within me when I'm around someone I love, who loves me, and who has done absolutely nothing wrong.

I am a 25-year-old white male with an otherwise good life.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- goodnewsfortheinsane

I'm certainly not trying to diagnose you, but there's some work coming out now showing that the way men experience depression may be with anger or irritability. So don't necessarily write off a therapist who deals with depression; he or she may still have a lot of training and tools to help you get what you need.
posted by occhiblu at 1:54 PM on April 16, 2007

Also, on a more practical note, if you're starting from scratch on finding a therapist, Psyhology Today's Find a Therapist search might be a good starting point. Good luck.
posted by occhiblu at 2:22 PM on April 16, 2007

i was going to say something similar--ianad, but irritability, anxiety, and self-hate are all symptoms of depression.

i am sure aetna has a physician directory. they may even have it online. if you can't get a specific recommendation from someone you trust, go for someone who is close to your work or home--you're more likely to go if it's convenient. if you are religious, your religious leader probably can refer you to a licensed therapist as well. i would go with whoever can take you soonest--get the help soon, and then if you're really not clicking with the person, switch.

for the short term, tell your wife that you're in crisis and just need her patience until you get your appointment. it will take a lot of pressure off you. if you're feeling truly out of control, take a couple of sick days. exercise. do stuff around the house that you've been meaning to do. run errands. do things that are pleasant and won't drive you crazy. pay attention to the things that set you off, and how they make you feel, and how your reactions make you feel. these are your symptoms and it will help your therapist diagnose you.

good luck! you'll be okay. just hang in there and get the help.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:35 PM on April 16, 2007

Well, for whatever reason, these feelings are no longer "minor:" they are interfering with your life, which I'm sure you know is a major part of the criteria for mental illness. So let yourself off the hook when you're counting to 10. You have something that you have to deal with: the fact that it *isn't* raging psychosis doesn't mean that you should be able to magically get over it without employing some kind of strategy.

You said your wife is understanding, which is good. It's isn't clear though whether you've let her know what you're dealing with. You should, because if you explain ahead of time, and continue to do everything you can to stop yourself from taking these feelings out on her or blaming her for them, then you can also let yourself off the hook about worrying that you are going to hurt her.

You may want to try something cathartic, but keep in mind that one of the best ways of having a feeling is practising that feeling. So, start (when you are with your wife) to practice other feelings. (This might be easier if you've let her in on what's going on.) Smile at her and really listen when she's telling you something (ignore your inner monologue). Let your eyes linger on your favourite parts of her and rehearse the feelings of pleasure that brings you. Or when you are alone, imagine something you like and meditate on it. Why do you like it? What senses does it engage? What was your last experience with it? etc.

These are basically strategies that sound like "repression," but right now you don't have a source of anger, so controlling it is important. You're getting therapy to figure out what's wrong, in the meantime, do whatever you can to think happy/calm/positive thoughts, and put the mental breaks on anger. For myself, that involves saying loudly in my head "NO" and taking a mental moment to refocus my thoughts. You can do it, but it will take the willingness to reject that voice in your head that keeps undermining your efforts.
posted by carmen at 2:52 PM on April 16, 2007

I found my therapist by asking my doctor to recommend one. I sent the list to another mefite last year, so I may still have it in my sent mail. If I can find it, I will send it to you. There are no specializations listed for them, however. You might want to call one and ask him/her.
posted by echo0720 at 3:47 PM on April 16, 2007

Nthing the possibility of depression. Although I am a woman, I experience what is considered typically male depression. When I'm in the throes of it, everybody sucks, and I want to tear their heads off -- even the people I love most.
I think any good therapist should be able to help you to at least figure out what you're dealing with and help you find ways to deal with it, but please don't dismiss depression as a possible cause. Your symptoms sound remarkably like mine when my depression was at its worst, and this is frequently the worst time of year for depression (I theorize that, at least for those of us with seasonal issues, we're still suffering from winter lows but are beginning to recover enough of our energy to be truly nasty, instead of just sleep on the couch.) Whatever the case, getting to a therapist soon is important, if only because this is bothering you so much. Here's a link to Aetna's DocFind, which will allow you to search for behavioral health specialists in your area and on your plan. I would just go down the list and call all the likely prospects (ie, not the children's psychiatrists, etc) and see who can see you the soonest.
Good luck. The fact that you're seeking help in the first place says to me you're not the selfish or weak person you're telling yourself you are.
posted by katemonster at 5:09 PM on April 16, 2007

Hi Jeremiah,
carmen, you're right on about repression. Something wants to come out. So what is being repressed?

In my experience, anger can result when your heart's desire has been frustrated or thwarted somehow. Anger can be a message from your unconscious, as it struggles like an animal against the feeling of being trapped. Perhaps you made a conscious and rational compromise in order to maintain a seemingly beneficial situation, but subconsciously that decision contradicts all the goals you might have had for your life? Did you pick a "safe" and financially remunerative job over the one you had always dreamt of? Did you move to a different city to follow your wife's career, at the price of giving up a fine opportunity? Is your life somehow different from the way you'd always imagined it would turn out?

Unresolved feelings can also bubble up in stressful situations when they resonate with your implicit assumptions about the way you live your life and interact with your social group. For example, in times of danger or trouble for yourself or others (9/11 or wartime, random shootings, natural disasters), when you buy a house [how will you look to your peers? will it be safe? Is there room for your favorite hobby?], get married [religious differences? Differences in family social style?], have kids [are your kids going to avoid all your mistakes/hardships? Do you even want children?], remodel [style differences, money issues], lose your job [security], throw parties [make the best impression], travel [spontaneity vs. relaxation vs. convenience vs. new experiences?].

Whatever is happening, I'm truly impressed by your restraint thus far. It is really hard to deal with these feelings, and you can't really talk to your subconscious and get a straight answer.

Questions to ask yourself: what gives my life meaning? Was there a time when I was truly happy? Is money important to me? How do I make a difference in the world? Who do I most care about, and why?
posted by Araucaria at 5:16 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

This could also be anxiety. Anxiety has a way of feeding itself -- which could explain the rising intensity.

If you aren't already, you might try staying away from caffeine and anything more than moderate amounts of alcohol, at least for the time being. Both of these can really interact with anxiety in a nasty (and not entirely obvious) way.

Do take a sick day or two (or more, if you can).

FWIW, I sometimes experienced what you're experiencing when I worked in an office -- though I experienced it on an intermittent, not constant, basis. One thing that helped me was listening to music or wearing earplugs. I found all the stimulation of office chatter, interruptions, etc., incredibly overstimulating and distracting. Wearing earplugs not only helped me tune the distractions out, it also sent a signal to others that I was trying to concentrate that I wouldn't appreciate an interruption. Also, learning to say "sorry, can't talk now, I'll come by your desk in a little while" -- and not feel bad about it -- helped.
posted by treepour at 5:32 PM on April 16, 2007

Be sure and check out Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and get a second opinion before someone takes the easy way out and puts you on benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, too often, the first response is drugs and believe me, that can be a merry-go-round that never stops. Good luck to you!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:27 PM on April 16, 2007

Thanks all, the anger=depression is not something I had considered.

Unfortunately, with most of my coworkers at a convention, I'm one of those tasked with keeping the home fires burning and can't really take sick days this week. While there isn't anyone hovering over my shoulder, I do have to answer phones as a regular part of my job anyway, especially this week if my boss needs me to grab some information for him on the fly.

As I do data entry and other database upkeep, I do tend to listen to audiobooks and music a lot on my headphones, but I do have to leave one off to answer phones/hear if someone calls my name across the office. Lately, as my coworkers have warmed up to me, they've been more talkative and friendly, which in my current state is the worst possible work environment; I hate them and then hate myself for hating them.

I did try the Psychology Today search, which I liked because I got to see a little of the individual's philosophy and approach, but none of the ones I found were also on the Aetna site (HMO).

It looks like I'll be making calls tomorrow.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 6:30 PM on April 16, 2007

Gerard Sorme: Yes, I'm leery of the drugs myself, after seeing the side-effects and roller coasters others go on. It seems that as soon as they find a drug that works and the dosage a tolerance is built up and they have to switch again.

However, I'd gladly pop a pill if it cooled my temper. I don't like how "easy way out" that sounds, but I'm really getting kind of desperate and would take a quick fix now and work it out with therapy later.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 6:33 PM on April 16, 2007

I just figured out how to find my insurance on the PyschToday site. I am sorry. I am not doing this right.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 6:41 PM on April 16, 2007

Er, reading some of the comments made me realize I might have been misunderstood. To clarify, I meant that the strategies that I was advocating sound like "repression," but because your anger doesn't have a source, you can use them for control. That is, repression in this situation is a good thing. I did not mean to imply that you are repressing something. I doubt that is the case.

Jeremiah, you are doing this right. You are making progress by seeking advice and actively taking steps to get help. You are doing a good job of taking care of yourself in the face of something that is difficult and exhausting. For what it's worth, I'm rooting for you, and I'm sure others here are as well.
posted by carmen at 6:53 PM on April 16, 2007

This may or may not help but I had a neighbor and he was a BIG guy. Never laid a finger on his slip of a wife or their two little ones but he had this fridge under his house and it was an absolute wreckage. Whenever he needed to vent about whatever, he would head downstairs grab the post he kept by it and smash the shit out of it.

I had alot of respect for this guy, sure most people don't need to beat stuff to feel better but he did. Maybe how he was raised, whatever. The point is his family enjoyed an exceptional father and husband and that fridge copped it fucking sweet!

Maybe something along the lines of people are racking up bills left right and center but the fridge is picking up all the tabs. And that's how the fridge then pays those bills. When you see those people it's paid already you can't be greedy. They may be starting a new tab but it's not their concern nor yours because it's a tab and you know the fridge is waiting, it'll be paid and it's all going to be fine.

You can't hold it any longer, that's what got you into this mess and it's seeping out around the edges. It may not have to be anger, tears, long showers,draw maybe? I push things down too and it just gets full. Like a jack in the box until...pop. Or it can be like a pressure cooker use it right and it's fine and actually makes the most delicious meals.

The fridge may not be your thing. Personally my laptop's looking a bit screwed and secretly I'm pleased, because I'm going to smash it with a hammer until it is just a fine dust and then make gleeful snow angels in it. Sounds fun compared to jack in the bokes or cleaning food off the roof for years to come huh? :) Or maybe the anger just makes you feel alive?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:55 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I may projecting my own experiences/self onto your situation, but some things that you said in a comment really stuck out to me . . .

Unfortunately, with most of my coworkers at a convention, I'm one of those tasked with keeping the home fires burning and can't really take sick days this week.

Yes, you can take sick days. The company, your boss, etc., will get by. Seriously, what would happen if you, say, broke a leg and literally could not come in?

Is there a chance that you tend to exaggerate your sense of responsibility for the world around you and that your company, knowing or not, takes advantage of this? If so, that's one possible source for the escalating anger.

As I do data entry and other database upkeep, I do tend to listen to audiobooks and music a lot on my headphones, but I do have to leave one off to answer phones/hear if someone calls my name across the office.

So you really never do get to completely shut out the office chatter -- and, to make matters worse, you have to jump when someone calls your name from across the office! I know there's nothing you can do about it right now, but FWIW, that would drive me absolutely batshitinsane.

Lately, as my coworkers have warmed up to me, they've been more talkative and friendly, which in my current state is the worst possible work environment

Again, it sounds to me like some boundaries need to be set and enforced. Your coworkers don't realize it, but they're increasingly encroaching on your psychic space -- space you need to get your work done.

I hate them and then hate myself for hating them.

Frankly, it sounds to me like your work environment has become toxic to you, and that your anger may be trying to get you wise up to this unpleasant and disturbing fact. Again, I may be projecting -- I reached a similar point with my job a few years ago. In addition, you may be what some call a Highly Sensitive Person (discussed recently on the blue here), which could significantly magnify the impact of the office environment on your psyche.

I'm not saying that your work situation isn't salvageable, but rather that there may be some very concrete reasons for your anger, and that your anger might be managed in the long-run by addressing these things.

In the meantime, go as easy on yourself as you can. Hating yourself for your feelings isn't helping. If you can, know that you've already taken the most important and difficult step -- reaching out for help. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

And, FWIW, I've been on and off antidepressants and CNS depressants for years (not in a "roller-coaster" sense, but rather in a "tools I can use if/when I need them" sense), and have found them enormously beneficial. I think it is possible to become overly dependent on them, but I wouldn't let that scare you away. Used in conjunction with therapy, they can give you enough of a respite from whatever's ailing you to get back on your feet. That's been my experience, at least.
posted by treepour at 9:45 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, I meant to say this (sorry) . . .

One thing that helped me a lot when the toxicity of my work environment became overwhelming was to allow myself complete freedom to cuss silently or under my breath at anything and everything that irritated me, including coworkers, my computer, MS Access, and Bill Gates. And it had to involve actual cussing, or it just didn't work. And I had to make a conscious decision to refuse to feel guilty about or freaked out by it -- which was quite an unusual thing for me. You may be doing this already, I don't know, but just throwing it out there in case it helps you get through the week . . .
posted by treepour at 9:55 PM on April 16, 2007

In the meantime, go as easy on yourself as you can. Hating yourself for your feelings isn't helping.

I strongly second treepour here. Definitely go easy on yourself right now, Jeremiah -- be as kind toward yourself as you would toward your wife if she was going through a similar situation. Of course you wouldn't hate her for having these troubling feelings, so why hate yourself? You're just going through a rough patch -- it doesn't make you a bad or weak person. It just makes you human.

As for tips for when you're in the moment, if counting to 10 feels weird (it never works for me either, personally), then don't worry about it. Maybe it's more useful for you to bring to mind a mental image of something positive and/or relaxing -- could be a childhood memory, or a favorite vacation spot, etc. If your judgmental voice starts interrupting the process ("dude, you're not really going to your happy place, are you?!"), just tell it to be quiet. Then let yourself hang out and mentally chill for a bit. Breathe slowly and deeply, though your nose. It's not a placebo; you're actually intervening in the jacked-up flght-or-flight circuit that's going on right now.

Also, it's worth noting something you said earlier: that your feelings of anger come and go (even if that process of coming and going seems more drawn out than it used to be). It might seem elementary to point this out, but it's worth holding onto. One of the worst parts of our dark moments is the (unspoken) fear that we're always going to feel this way -- that one day, the grief or the anger will take over our lives and it just won't stop. But that's just a fear; it's not really what's going to happen. As others have said, you're taking all the right steps to take care of yourself. Give yourself credit for that -- you're doing the right thing. It's going to get better.
posted by scody at 11:33 PM on April 16, 2007

In the meantime, go as easy on yourself as you can. Hating yourself for your feelings isn't helping.

Third this. As you say, it's really not fun to feel that angry. Show yourself some understanding. (scody explained this really well.) I personally think Buddhist books have interesting takes on defusing anger. "Breathe in deeply, and while breathing out say, 'I send compassion towards my anger.'"* You might also check out this Buddhist anger management website and the book Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh.

As a stopgap measure, you might try drinking less coffee (if you drink coffee). You're not on steroids, are you? (Sometimes they're in various medications.)

* Or does the cheesiness of this suggestion just really annoy you right now? :)
posted by salvia at 3:24 AM on April 17, 2007

The only person I know who feels exactly the way you do has bipolar II. There's something called a "mixed state" or "agitated depression" that means you feel like shit and you have to act - at the same time. It's when mania (having to act and feeling good about it) and depression (feeling like shit and being unable to act) overlap. It ain't fun.

Not saying that's you - just illustrating that there may be a label out there with your name on it. Personally, I like labels. I get to say "Oh, this is my Depression. Depression sucks. When Depression attacks, this is what I do to help myself and fight back, and these are the things I do to give myself a break." Parallels are the Christian "love the sinner, hate the sin" and traditional concepts of posession by spirits. You get to have something separate from your self to hate.

Hating yourself is completely unproductive and unhelpful. Being angry sucks, so hate your Anger. If you get a diagnostic label to stick on your anger, hate your Diagnosis. Then treat yourself well.
posted by kika at 3:34 PM on April 17, 2007

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