Rage

In my youth I was a very hot-tempered kid, often angry, and very easy to set off. As one would expect, this occasionally resulted in some fights at school followed by a trip to the principal's office. Once there was even a 3-day suspension doled out because I took on a bully for being a jerk to a friend of mine. This particular event had a rather large impact on me because it was the only time I was suspended from school and it was because I did what I felt was right; standing up to someone my own size to protect someone who was physically much smaller1. Doing "the right thing" resulted in the very same verdict that was handed down to the aggressor. This unfair form of justice showed me that the only real way to defeat a bully was to do so in the shadows, away from authority, and away from witnesses who might call out to that authority.

Over time the anger became controllable to a certain extent, but it never went away. When puberty hit and the rolls of fat around my waist disappeared to be replaced with muscle, physical violence became much more problematic. Consequences would be much more dire and juries far less forgiving. To this end, I reigned it all in as much as I could, releasing anger through video games and the one sport I was halfway decent at; baseball. This helped immensely as the rage could be effectively channeled and used in moderation. The hot-temper continued to exist, and things could still set me off, but I knew how to bury most of what might have been released and to keep it at bay. Violence was never an appropriate answer, after all.

This control remained pretty consistent right into early adulthood. While I would occasionally lose my temper and shout or — in one egregious instance — punch a hole in a wall, the rage was never, ever directed at a person.

Something changed in the fall of 2006 while I was working at a printing company just south of Vancouver, though. While at the day job I was called into a managers office to hear how his people had to work extra hard to do something that a computer could do with greater speed and accuracy. The manager was correct, but the development team just didn't have the resources to build the requisite functionality fast enough. There were a myriad of other priorities that had to be tended to first, and my boss had made it very clear that none of the developers were supposed to make exceptions for a couple of months until we had caught up on the core business needs; a completely reasonable expectation. I attempted to communicate this to the manager who was asking for help and he made an offhand comment that went something like:

We don't complain about all the buggy software you guys release. The least you could do is invest an afternoon to help us out.

Not cool. Understandable, but not cool. I gave my obligatory "I'm sorry we can't help you any sooner" response and left the room to grab a coffee from the cafeteria. As my anger continued to boil, I kicked the wall in an effort to release some of the pent up rage.

There are two things that should be conveyed before continuing. While I was developing software at a printing company, I would often head out to the shop floor to communicate with people, test hardware, trial updates, and the like. This meant that I had to wear steel-toed shoes when at the office. Also, the way the office layout was designed, everyone had to walk past the manager-in-question's office to get to the cafeteria. Kicking the wall to the left would result in a thud heard in the men's washroom. Kicking the wall to the right would result in a thud heard in the manager's office, and quite possibly enough of one to shake some wall-hung photo frames.

I kicked the wrong wall.

The manager wasn't going to have any of my attitude. He was next in line to be Vice President of manufacturing, after all. I was just a punk with an attitude. So he called his good friend, who happened to be VP of the company, and complained as though I'd just pooped on the hood of his car. By the time I was back at my desk, I had a very angry C-level executive storm in the development lab and ream me out in front of the other developers. Knowing this was a no-win situation, I said nothing and let him scream and shout until he had said his piece and left. Soon after I called my boss to let him know that he might receive a visit and then I put the phone down …

… and lost it.

I ripped the keyboard from the computer next to me and smashed it in two over my knee, grabbed my coffee cup and hurled it against the wall and, before my tantrum could continue, something odd happened. There was a pop in my head that was both felt and heard. Almost immediately my rage dissipated and I was enveloped in a very odd calm. My colleagues were all staring at their screens, pretending to ignore me, but I knew I was way out of line. I apologised softly, picked up my notebook, and left the office for the day.

The memory is still quite vivid despite the passage of time, quite possibly because of how odd it was that in the middle of a rage, the anger vanished. Since that time, I've not had a tantrum of any real sort. Sure, I've been angry and frustrated from time to time, but never to that degree. It is almost as though whatever popped in my head — whether real or imagined — was the source of the excessive anger that could propel me into a blind rage.

Now let's skip forward fourteen years. The rage that I haven't felt in any meaningful way since I was a punk kid seems to be coming back. Working from home means that the people I care about are unwilling witnesses to an ugly side of me. The anger is contained as much as it can be, and I will never direct such raw emotion towards any of them, but it's not something that anyone should see. It stresses Reiko and the boy. It worries Nozomi. It is unproductive and unhelpful.

It needs to go away.

Generally when the anger gets to be too much, I try to leave the house and go for a walk to a nearby park to sit on a hill and watch the cars go by. If the weather isn't too cold, I'll even pick up a couple of cans of citrus-flavoured vodka to help take the edge off. Doing this helps me drop the anger and approach the world properly. Respectfully. And with good humour. This remedies the situation for five to six hours before the previous anger returns, albeit to a much lesser extent.

This isn't cool. I don't like this at all.

There is just so much wrong with this whole picture, and the source is completely internal. I've written at length over the last couple of years about how I take the wrong things way too seriously, about how I never seem to take time off properly2, and how frustrated I am despite all the good that has come about over the last four years.

What I need to do — and what I will do — is take some time off work so that I can refocus myself. This might be through meditation, or engaging in a hobby, or just catching up on some reading, but it needs to be done. I owe it to my family to be sane. I owe it to my colleagues to be professional. I owe it to myself.

Rage has its place. It's time I put it back there.


  1. I was a fat kid in the 80s. This probably doesn't mean much anymore, given cultural changes in the last 30-odd years, but that's besides the point. The friend being bullied was a recent immigrant from Pakistan who was as thin as a rail. He could handle himself with speed and agility, but there are limits when the attacker is substantially heavier and can land a much harder punch.

  2. Taking days off work only counts when I don't check email, the chat applications, or any of the servers. It also helps if I do not think about any of the projects I'm working on and the next steps required.