I’m a woman of many positive qualities if I say so myself, but even-tempered has never been one of them.
I spent much of my childhood in a state of permanent rage, most of which was directed at my parents, teachers and doctors. My instinctual response to any threat was rarely flight, but fight, which in hindsight, served me rather well, especially when confronted with bullies.
With my wonky nose and fat lip, I was an easy target, but instead of backing down, I fought back. Ironically, it was often not the bully, but I, who ended up at the principal’s office for a reprimand, thus further feeding my rage against the adult world.
‘Good girls don’t get angry,’ was the message I got from teachers and counsellors alike, but thankfully I didn’t listen. Yet, while I mostly got away with being an angry girl, being an angry adult was a no-no. Society doesn’t take well to angry young women and unable to express my anger to the world, I turned it inward, resulting in years of intermittent depression.
For much of my thirties and forties, anger and depression appeared to converge into a delicate, subdued double-act. Instead of the roller-coaster emotions of my youth, I was now enjoying a more even-keeled temperament consisting of just a spoonful of depression and a pinch of anger.
Therapy helped, although navel-gazing has its limits. Even my therapist seems to have reached that conclusion, and we’ve now settled for a less ambitious goal for me: ‘learning to live with my trauma,’ rather than ‘healing my trauma.’
As unpleasant as it is to live through a pandemic, the arrival of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown got me reflecting on how I live my life, my fears and stresses, my relationship to my children and my husband, and on the whole it’s been a very good thing. My introspection I mean, not the virus.
Over the summer, I took up meditation and breathing exercises to help me deal with stress. Needless to say, meditation isn’t a quick fix, and while I’ve been feeling generally calmer and less irritable since I started meditating daily, I still lose my temper on occasion. Just ask the receptionist at the gym where my daughter goes swimming.
(As I wrote this, my husband, unaware that I was still at home, set the alarm and locked the door as he was leaving, prompting some rather angry shouting from me as the alarm went off.)
I’ve also stopped harassing myself for not being ‘successful’, for not having a grand masterplan for my life and, as a consequence, I feel a lot happier and more relaxed than ever before.
All that ambition and drive I cultivated in my twenties, but which always sat uneasily with me, came from a belief that I had to prove myself worthy, but advancing age has brought me the realisation that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. And neither does anyone else.
The truth is that, like Ferdinand the bull, I’d rather just sit beneath the oak tree and smell the flowers.