Honest reflections about marriage and mission work when dealing with the anxiety and depression

  • Abby Clayton

A Bit Like Onions

Dealing with anger is like dealing with onions. You peel off layer by layer until you find something underneath it all that makes you cry.

Living with Charlie’s anger has been the most difficult and challenging aspect of all this emotional and mental ill health. All along I have known that the causes of the anger, the anxiety, the expression of the depression, was deep woundedness and brokenness that needed to be healed. And compassion for those broken places kept me engaged in the struggle for peace and freedom for him.

I used to say to him that it felt like I was trying to help a wounded lion…that he was like a lion with a wounded paw, but that every time I tried to come near and bandage the wound, he would bite me. And whilst the wound, and the lion, kept weeping, with each bite I became less and less confident in attempting to offer help. In the end, you become more focused in avoiding the bite than helping the wound to heal.

We commonly call this ‘living on egg shells’: organising life to make sure stressors or inconveniences are avoided or managed so as not to overwhelm and cause an angry reaction or mood. Now don’t misunderstand me – it wasn’t like our house was full of screaming arguments (although we’ve been there) - but this anger and short-temperedness would bubble away underneath, and depending on how well Charlie was feeling, could bubble over at any moment.

And whilst this works for short term survival, it is no way to live, for either party! And being metaphorically bitten, whilst leaving no physical mark, surely left its emotional scars. That is the thing about anger – it transfers itself, leaving me with my own wounds to now heal. It was when I began to experience feelings of panic, and classical physiological stress symptoms, that I realised my body was telling me I couldn’t cope with any more bites.

I always felt my job was to absorb the anger, and certainly to be a barrier between the effect of his emotional health issues and the kids. I have been determined to be the buck where the anger and sadness stops. And so often have I felt shielded and strengthened by the hand of God to take the strain. But in a bizarre way, it was a grace to reach the end of my ability to do this. And to throw myself, our marriage, and the future into the hands of God, confessing my weakness and looking to God to intervene.

Anger removes the feeling of emotional safety from the home. It stops you feeling relaxed. It makes you always anticipate, and arrange life to avoid angry outcomes, rather than make choices for other good reasons. Anger wears away at intimacy and creates emotional distance. And it produces fear. Reversing and healing in these areas is now the focus of our relationship work.

Thank God, the anger has gone, been processed, been healed. The wounded lion is bandaged, and the weeping has stopped. And the process of healing the bites is underway.

You never stop loving the wounded person, but there comes a day when it is impossible to continue living with the destructive behaviour or emotional strain. It was the biggest relief to be able to name anger as being active in our relationship and opened up the way to dealing with it. Naming it, owning it, taking responsibility for it, and healing the wound that drove it, drove the anger away.

Laughter is back in our home. It has become a place of peace and security again. And I am so grateful.

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