Over the past 6 1/2 years I’ve had a lot of feelings about the roller coaster of my health, including confusion, hopelessness, grief and fear. You can read more about that here. Only recently have I realized how much anger there is as well. On a macro level I’m angry about how my illness has impacted my career, my relationships, my physical activity and my pastimes…and how it continues to affect them.
On a micro level I find myself angry in seemingly innocuous situations. The fact that I usually look healthy even when I’m physically at my worst can be, let’s just say, problematic. On the outside I may seem relatively put together, but on the inside I’m often fatigued, have full-body aches, weak muscles, no stamina, a foggy brain and limbs that feel like lead. This can cause me to become exasperated over relatively minor issues. I get angry when Harlan asks what we’re having for dinner when I’ve been feeling crappier than usual, had to get back in bed after bringing the twins to school, didn’t feel any better upon waking from my restless nap (if I was able to fall asleep at all), somehow managed to get to the grocery store, clean up the kitchen, and wash and fold the laundry, but now have nothing left in me. It’s crazy (and anger-inducing) that simply running errands can sometimes sap me of all of my energy…but it happens. I get angry when one of my children complains, upon being picked up from an appointment, about having to accompany me to bring his/her sibling to a class instead of first being dropped off at home, and doesn’t seem to have any inkling of the amount of effort it’s taking me to do these simple tasks. And I get angry (though I don’t show it) when my therapist mentions that one of the most effective ways to release anger is to walk uphill for ten minutes. Really? Doesn’t she get that I don’t currently have the stamina to exert myself in this way?
I mention these examples not to pass blame. My husband is an incredible support to me (not to mention an amazing father) and one of the most understanding and selfless people I know. It overwhelms me to think about how much he has had to take on in order to keep our family humming (stumbling?) along while I’ve been ill on and off for years. I also realize that teenagers are inherently self-focused, and my kids are great kids. And my therapist is fucking amazing. She is by far the best therapist I have ever worked with. I mention all of the above simply to illustrate that nobody, not even those who understand what I’ve gone through better than anyone else and who have seen me at my weakest and most run-down, can truly understand what it feels like to live with chronic illness unless they are or have been chronically ill themselves. It’s lonely sometimes. And I am reminded that even when I try to be as clear as possible about how I am doing and what I can handle I don’t always get it right. Communicating around my illness can be exhausting, and sometimes, infuriating.
I’m not angry all of the time. There are plenty of days when I feel hopeful and at peace. But when the anger comes I don’t know what to do with it. A fireball forms in my chest and my whole body buzzes with tension…and then I freeze up and start to cry. I am much more comfortable with grief. In many ways grief and I have become fast friends. A few weeks ago my daughter Ellie read me the following from a silly online horoscope:
“Everyone loves having a Pisces pal because it’s like having your own personal therapist. They just “get” how you feel . . . . They are a deep well of human emotion and act like they’ve seen it all before. Nothing shocks them. That said, they often end up crying more than you. Always tears with Pisceans. Always.”
The last few lines made me laugh aloud as I can literally cry at the drop of a hat. Tears are always lurking just under the surface. After all of the crying I’ve done over the past several years I wouldn’t have been surprised if the well had run dry. Sometimes I am amazed to find those little droplets of salinated liquid once more rolling down my cheeks. How many tears can one body hold? An infinite number, apparently. When it comes to grief I’ve been a model student. But my grief masks anger. And dilutes it. And my anger is real.
I know that suppressing my anger isn’t good for me, so I am trying to figure out how to process it in a healthy way. Thank goodness that writing my way through it can be one of them.
P.S. I spoke with my therapist and asked for ways to release anger that may work better given my current state of health. She provided me with several helpful suggestions: yelling into pillows (layering 2 in front of my face to avoid hurting my vocal chords), hitting a pillow or a couch cushion with my fists (while kneeling, to avoid hurting my back and neck), and lying on my back in bed while I bang my fists and stomp my feet on my mattress. This last one actually sounds kind of fun. I’ve always admired toddlers’ ability to freely express their emotions, and now I’ve been given a safe, private way to have a tantrum of my own.