Monday, March 3, 2008

Enna Burning: a metphor for one depressed mommy's anger

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, my depression is hallmarked by anger (and anxiety). Before I got help for my depression my eruptions of frustration and wrath surprised me, especially by their intensity. My feelings created tremendous mental pressure that I couldn't relieve until I lashed out. Whether it was screaming into a towel, slamming doors, or breaking things, the feelings swirling around inside me demanded some sort of destruction.

So when I read Shannon Hale's Enna Burning I immediately identified with the main character. (It seems a little pitiful to me that a YA novel would resonate so strongly with me, but oh well, what do you do?) Enna is a normal--almost stereotypical--girl, who discovers the power of fire by watching her brother blast opposing armies with it. However, she also discovers the danger of fire as she watches her brother burn to death. As she examines his charred body she discovers the secret of fire and begins down the same path, all the while promising herself she won't let the fire consume her like it did her brother.

Like Enna, I am a pretty normal Mormon girl. I married young, in the Temple, finished my degree, and started having kids. I had been a moody teenager and had brief moments of anger, but they usually passed and Ididn't think much of it. Then, when I was pregnant with my first, I found myself getting hysterically angry (and sad, too) and didn't know what to do. I had seen family members struggle with anger and knew it could be destructive. My own capacity for anger surprised me, but I wasn't especially nervous. I thought I had it under control.

In the book, Enna quickly discovers that managing fire is not a simple task and it isn't long before the itch to burn is taking over her life. Enna eventually burns not only small tents but people, enemies and friends. The fire is constantly wanting to burn and Enna frequently rationalizes her actions to mitigate her feelings. She knows the burning is destructive and wrong, but it feels so good to be doing something. It makes her powerful and power is not easy to walk away from. However, power usually comes with a price and Enna is paying for her fire abilities with her peace of mind and her very spirit.

When I am angry it feels like burning inside me. It itches and swells. It makes me feel hot and jittery. It makes it hard to focus and as much as I try to ignore it, the anger wants action. I need to do something--anything--to move the heat outside my body. On one particularly destructive day my anger had been welling up inside and I put my daughter in her room and proceeded to break a kitchen chair, just to let out the frustration inside me. At the time I remember feeling almost high with the prospect of the crashing noise that surrounded me. I felt clear inside, powerful, as if I had risen above all the uncontrollable things inside me. In that moment I felt I was finally, truly, in control. It wasn't until I saw the horror on my husband's face that I realized how out of control I was.

My anger makes me feel powerful. Depression, feeling sad and apathetic, makes me feel helpless and weak. Being angry takes away those helpless feelings for a moment and that feels good. Unfortunately it's only a temporary fix and the more anger I let out, the more often I get angry.

And then there's the guilt. Anger always has fallout. Getting angry never brings about positive change. (Well, I suppose there's such a thing as righteous anger, but I suspect that most of the time I am angry it's unrighteous.) Angry usually frightens my children or makes them rebellious, is offensive, and rarely solves the problem. All it really does is make me feel bad. Being angry was destroying my spirit.

Since this is a YA novel this book has a happy ending. Enna's friend is able to teach her wind power and this brings balance to Enna's inner being. She goes home and all her crimes are forgiven. Which is good. Some books out there should have happy endings, even if is a tad unrealistic. But then so is controlling fire, so I guess I can suspend my disbelief just a little bit more.

In my life, my anger doesn't have such neatly tied up ending. I went to therapy to bring balance to my inner being. It took a long time for me to learn how to identify the early signs of anger and to find positive ways to work out that energy. I am doing better now. But every once in a while my voice will get that edge in it and I'll see my kids get a wary look on their face. My four year old will slink out of the room and look for something soft to cuddle. My crimes are not forgotten. They are ingrained in my family's memories. I hope to crowd them out with positive memories, but the scorchmarks of my outbursts aren't easily erased--especially in my children. I have to be aware of my anger and work on it everyday. But it's a battle I can win. There's too much at stake for me to lose.


Sarah said...

What a great post. I did not make the connection of Enna's burning to anger, but the connection is so good! I too have bursts of anger, the need for that release of power that just builds until you have to let it out (most often building from frustration in my children). I appreciate your openness in explaining your feelings and your struggles. I was especially hit by your words:
"My crimes are not forgotten. They are ingrained in my family's memories. I hope to crowd them out with positive memories, but the scorchmarks of my outbursts aren't easily erased--especially in my children."
It has opened up understanding for me and a greater need/desire to be better.

Heathie said...

I love me some YA novels! There are definitely some good ones out there!
I know what you mean about letting anger out only making you angrier. I've been venting to Roz about some of the goings-on around here 'cause she doesn't mind listening, but it seems like the more I vent, the more I need to vent. It's like opening a flood gate. And it doesn't leave me feeling much better. But on the other hand, I feel like if I don't open the gate, just a smidge, I might burst. And I worry about that having worse consequences. It's hard to find a balance.
Anyway. I don't mean to be too wordy. I appreciate this post!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, beautiful writing. Enna Burning is a great novel, one where there can be so many readings (I first thought of sexual desire). It is very encouraging to see such skilled writing from the two of you. Thanks.

Laura said...

Sarah and Heather--I have spent the last four or five years of my life trying to get a handle on my anger. You two are probably doing a much better job than I was/am doing! It's so tricky! I think I'm going to put together a post about anger management techniques. E-mail me if you have any you want to share ;)

Andrew--thanks for stopping by! It is so gratifying to have people read my blog and comment. With Enna Burning one of my first thoughts was that it was a metaphor for addiction--whether that be substance abuse, or food, or exercise, or whatever. That is one reason I liked it so much. It was a tightly written book, but written in such a way that it opened up a lot of different thought processes. I hope you come by again!

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