I was 23 years old when I got called to the conference room of the company I worked for in Los Angeles, California.
A few days before, I had given my four-week notice. The job wasn’t what they promised when I transferred from Minneapolis a few months before, and I wanted out.
Sitting in the conference room when I arrived were about 5 or 6 executives—all with much higher positions than I. And on the table before the chair that was mine was a stapled agreement, awaiting my signature.
I scanned the document quickly, as the men and women watched and waited. The first couple of pages were promises that I would complete the projects listed. The last page was a promise that I would pay back the moving expenses in full.
To put it mildly, it was an intimidating situation.
I was at a time in my life where I trusted and believed in authority figures. I believed in telling the truth, and adhering to moral and ethical guidelines. I had a work ethic that could rival anyone’s — hence, the four-week notice. And I thought if anyone owed an apology, it was them, not me.
At that time in my life, I normally would’ve folded and done what they wanted me to do. I wouldn’t have had the power to walk away without signing that document, as I did.
So, how did I?
As I reflect on this experience, the first thought is that it was a moment of soul connection. That despite my youth, I was getting a taste of the wisdom and power I would one day step into.
But when I look closer, I know it wasn’t my soul that got me out of that room that day. It was anger. I know it was anger, because I remember how my body felt.
My spine lengthened, and I sat up a little straighter. My feet were grounded, and I felt supported. Heat flamed in my belly. My gaze sharpened, so I could see beyond the fancy suits and ties to the human beings all vying for power around me.
I suddenly saw the power struggles that were happening between them, and that this situation actually had little to do with me. I understood truths that I did not get from life experience but could only be attributed to a force beyond me. While I didn’t know whether what they were doing was technically legal or not, I knew it was wrong just the same.
I remember how the word “No” formed from somewhere deep inside of me, so that when it came out of my mouth, it wasn’t trembling or quiet. Nor was it a roar or a bellow. It was just a full body no. The kind that no one in that room questioned.
And I got the hell out of there.
For all of my life, before and after this boardroom “experience,” I’ve struggled with chronic hives—”idiopathic urticaria,” as the doctors call it. “Idiopathic” means doctors can’t find the cause. “Urticaria” is a fancy word for hives.
I didn’t have an occasional flare-up of hives, or a rash that disappears after a few hours. If you respond to this article with, “I had hives once!” my anger might turn on you. Because I’m not talking about “hives once.” I’m talking about full-body, painful, burning, pinching, itching hives that last for weeks or months at a time. Hives that only go away with strong doses of steroids—which I hate to be on but have to give in to.
When my skin is on fire, I can’t do anything else but suffer. I can’t wear much for clothing that won’t make the hives worse. I can’t sleep, because lying down on sheets is agony. I can’t participate in family events because all I want to do is rage scratch my skin. Sometimes, I do just that.
No doctors have ever been able to explain why I have them. No allergy tests have given answers. No medicine, outside of the steroids, has ever really helped.
Nothing from the allopathic or homeopathic worlds has ever worked, and trust me when I say that I’ve tried everything. Everything.
And then one day, they disappear, and I don’t have them again for years.
Through each episode, I’ve grown wiser about why they come and what I need to do when they arrive.
What I’ve learned is that these hives are my passion and power, turned inside out. I get hives when I’m not using my voice and gifts to their fullest extent. I get them when it’s time for me to move on to a new venture. I get them when my ambition is overpowering my passion, i.e., when my ego is louder than my soul.
To keep myself from flaring up on the inside, I need to express myself on the outside. I cannot let things build up inside me and attack me. My anger, in the form of fire, has always been a message of power and passion misdirected or misused. It is always a reminder to stay more closely aligned with who I am.
In Ayurvedic wisdom, it is understood that inflammatory diseases often have to do with repressed anger. And that only through expressing this anger in a healthy way — making different life choices, walking away from toxic relationships, etc. — can we truly cool down the body.
I have not had hives since 2014 — which correlates to the time in my life when I accepted anger as a part of my humanity and my voice as part of my purpose. Now, rather than my anger being forced to remain inside where it burns me up, I let it out — through my writing, through exercise, through passionate discussions, and activism.
Anger is almost always a call to action in some way. Like it did for me, it shows up in times when there is some sense of wrong that it seeks to correct. Anger is trying to point us in the right direction to do or say something that needs doing or saying. And it has done this for me, ever since that conference room when it first came to help me get out of a dangerous situation.
Swallowing our anger only denies the message behind it. And if we do this for too long, we begin to inflame ourselves from the inside out, where the fire burns and inflames us.
What we do with our emotional messengers is up to us. But some emotions, like anger, are unlikely to give up and go away, but instead become louder and more disruptive the more we try to dismiss or ignore the message.
There is a lot to be angry about in this world. There is so much injustice and unfairness, and so many who take advantage of others. If you’re walking through this life never feeling angry, you’re not fully alive. And living desensitized is no way to live.
If we accept the messages from our emotions, especially anger, we can catalyze them into much-needed power and passion to make the world a fairer, more inclusive place. We can speak up. We can make needed change. And, we can walk away. This is what anger empowers us to do.