PAX South 2016: Why Am I So Angry?
The Penny Arcade Expo has always been an uplifting experience for me. PAX is a beacon, calling people together to discover, share, and explore interests while connecting with creators and fans. It’s an experience that always feels authentic, and when it’s over I say goodbye to the best of friends, go home, and eagerly await the next PAX so I can do it all over again.
Trying to see and do everything within three or four days always exhausts me, but I usually leave with a renewed love for the culture. This time I went home in a state of complete inner turmoil.
It’s not you, PAX; it’s me.
This year during PAX South I went to the “Why Am I So Angry?” panel. I decided to go because it was different than the typical PAX panels. The panel was put on by Russ Pitts of Take This, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing mental health education and resources to the gaming community.
The panelists talked about using anger as a cover when we’re vulnerable to other emotions and how anger makes us feel strong. They also said that there’s usually a deeply rooted issue behind the anger. It really hit home; throughout the panel all I could think about was how angry I have been and how I knew precisely what my deeply rooted issue was—2015 kicked the shit out of me.
Last year my partner and I had a major falling out with a family member that triggered a huge chain of events. We lost our jobs, exhausted our savings, and had to rent out our home while we lived and worked away from each other. We had to send our pets to my parents’ house until we found appropriate long-term housing. On top of that, someone smashed the windows in my car, I got into a car accident, and our renters trashed the house. Then my nose got broken by a client at my new job, and I had to have surgery.
I used to be positive and friendly. I tried to be kind to others. After everything blew up I felt like a wet blanket. My anxiety became so severe that I was prescribed Ativan. I was sad, and I felt like I complained a lot on social media. Then I got tired of feeling pathetic and stopped talking about my problems at all.
Now I’m always angry. Like they said in the panel, it’s easier to be angry than a cry-baby. I‘ve found ways to ignore it in my day-to-day life; I work until I’m exhausted, then I go home and sleep it off. I promised myself that I would hit the treadmill whenever I got mad instead of mouthing off at my partner; I’ve been on the treadmill a lot these days.
My closest friends live far away, so it’s an issue I’ve mostly been able to keep to myself, but when I went to PAX South I wasn’t able to handle the regular convention stress like I could before. Inwardly I was falling apart, self-conscious about how I looked and how I should act. Instead of smiles, hugs, and excited chatter with people I’d been looking forward to seeing, I got frustrated because I was trying not to fall apart. The result was that I looked disinterested and grumpy.
On the first day of PAX, I ran into a friend that I had really been looking forward to seeing. I was having an internal meltdown, and I was so busy trying to act normal that I barely noticed they were there. When I did see them, I came to the conclusion— for basically no reason— that they were ignoring me. (The mind does strange things when anxious.) I panicked and left; then I spent the rest of the day agonizing over it. In conversation with that person later, they told me they’d thought I was mad at them. It was the opposite of what I’d wanted to project, but I suppose it was better than bursting into tears.
All weekend I huffed, sighed, and prickled at minor things that I’d probably blown out of proportion. Things that I normally wouldn’t care about irked me; when friends didn’t message me back in a timely fashion, I assumed they were ignoring me. I would cycle through paranoid worry and annoyance, which turned into “maybe they don’t want to see me” and “maybe I’m trying too hard”.
In the evenings I’d have a few drinks with friends and I’d loosen up a bit, but in some cases my filter just came undone. I became a lot more verbally aggressive, and I’d say things without thinking about it. One friend would joke “You’re out of control,” and I would retort with “Nah, I’m fine.”
On the trip home I had time to reflect on my PAX South experience. I was full of frustration and self-doubt; I tried too hard. I didn’t try hard enough. I should have networked more. I should have tried making more friends. I was mean. I was greedy. I should’ve been more considerate. I should’ve been more enthusiastic.
“You’re out of control.” Yup, I’m kind of a mess. I read into almost everything, whether I’m right to or not.
I used to pride myself on having everything together and being a positive person. Now I pride myself on being able to take a lot of shit. Acting tough and being angry give me power over when I’m in a situation where I feel powerless.
I knew I was angry. Now I’m seeing what it’s doing to me and how it affects the people I care about. (All points that were touched on in the panel.)
Why am I so angry? I know exactly why I’m angry. I can pinpoint the precise moment it all went wrong and who made it all go wrong. (I definitely blame a particular person.) I feel like I’ve been in fight-or-flight mode for over a year, which is amping up all my other emotions. But now what? What am I going to do about it?
The panel made a few suggestions. They suggested stepping away or removing the stimulus. I definitely already did that, and I’m still perpetually pissed off. They also recommended talking about it, and this deeply personal article is a start, I guess. It’s not fun, and I don’t like how it feels. I’m still grasping at the “I have everything in control” persona.
At the end of the day, in regards to my anger and the issue behind it, I don’t need someone to tell me that I need to let it go. I know that, and I’ve been trying. The problem is that I can’t let it go.
Not yet, anyway.