what do you do with the mad that you feel?

Today, I feel a mixture of mad and tired, tired and mad. No contentment today, and not much comfort. Just mad and tired, tired and mad.

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could fight? When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right? What do you do?

One of my current special interests is everything Fred Rogers related. He was a very wise, emotionally intelligent, and graceful person. I grew up watching him switch from shiny loafers to comfy sneakers as he explained the nature of things both complex and simple. As an autistic child, I found his kind words and consistent actions comforting in what was, to me, a very loud, painful world. As an autistic adult, I’ve been rewatching episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s provided me with the same level of comfort in a world that seems to have become increasingly loud and more painful to endure.

On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers testified before Congress for federal funding for PBS. In a mere six minutes, he softened the chairman of the subcommittee to accept his request, securing the $20 million needed to maintain public broadcasting. He did this by using phrases like “expression of care,” “feelings are mentionable and manageable,” and “I think it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger, much more dramatic than showing something of gunfight.” He did this by being himself: earnest, respectful, and gently in command.

I will not tie Fred Rogers’ goodness to “the good ol’ days,” for I believe this man was ahead of his time when it came to many of his personal values. I think Fred Rogers’ goodness was a choice he made every day as he got up early to read and swim. To carefully prepare the scripts for the Neighborhood. He was driven by a fierce determination to attune to the practical and emotional needs of children. Of adults, too, for I’m sure he knew there were many parents watching alongside their children.

On days like today, I sit in my adult skin and comfort the child within who feels lost and afraid. I recognize that madness and tiredness are part of a bigger wheel. And then, I let these words of Fred Rogers really sink in.

“I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish, can stop stop stop. And what a good feeling to feel like this, and know that the feeling is really mine–know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.

on grief and worry

For as long as I can remember, I have wrestled with a callous set of twins: Grief and Worry. I’ve spent much of my life either wallowing self-indulgently in their company or scheduling as many activities as possible to prolong our eventual, inevitable reunion. Throughout elementary school, I remember flipping through a bright blue binder full of old photos containing memories of younger me and crying, understanding the terrible reality that I would never be where I was or who I was in those photos—at those precise moments in time—ever again. I would never experience the same feeling of being seven years old at Suzanne Shuff’s house eating cake and drinking a Capri Sun with the other girls of Troop 4023. Yet I did not bemoan the passing of these captured moments because I was distinctly happy in them. In fact, I remember feeling rather melancholy at most of my Girl Scout troop meetings. What caused my grief was simply that the uniqueness of the moments had passed—that the uniqueness of every moment always passes. 

While Grief prefers to spend her time ruminating on what has passed, Worry concerns herself with the meticulous details of all—and I mean all—conceivable future scenarios. Understandably, Worry likes to consult Grief when predicting patterns of possible emotional storms. Worry sits erect in a luxurious, mahogany leather chair at her command center, reference book of Past Transgressions in her left hand and all controls dedicated to the Prevention of Future Pain within reach of her right hand. What is unpredictable or potentially uncontrollable must be eliminated in order to sustain her white-knuckled reign. Worry’s presence in my life has materialized through a near obsessive pursuit of knowledge (what you know can’t hurt you, right?), a deep-seated fear of tornadoes (the essence of unpredictability), and the creation and subsequent abandonment of several five-year plans. Despite abounding evidence to the contrary, Worry operates methodically and reliably under the notion that all pain can be avoided if she develops a sophisticated enough life plan. 

While varying in actual emotional vibration—Grief churns and Worry quivers—what these two states have in common is their preoccupation with time: its simultaneous ephemerality and infinitude. Grief understands that life is fleeting, that life can end as abruptly as it began; Worry knows that a day can feel like a year if not structured properly. I wish I could say that I found a way to keep these evil twins at bay, but many days I spend too much time in their company. And there’s that word again: time. From practicing yoga, reading poetry, and attending regular therapy sessions, I know conceptually of Grief and Worry’s antidote, Presence. She beckons me to come dance with her, already, even if it feels safer to sit in my seat and watch, introspect, contemplate, yearn. Presence knows that some days I will dance with Grief or Worry, but there will be other days that I dance with Tranquility, Optimism, Wonder. Some days I might even dance with every emotion on the spectrum. What matters is that I try—we try—every day to let the rhythm of the dance envelop and deliver us to where we are supposed to go.