Anger Management

lion-350690_1280Image by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

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.

6 thoughts on “Anger Management

  1. I find that when I am angry/frustrated, I am usually angry with myself for what I cannot do/tolerate/put up with and for what I cannot control or influence. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think the antidote might be generosity toward self/acceptance of self/staying in the present. I am not good at doing any of those things yet. It is an idea still, not yet an embodiment. Sometimes I feel better if I know that Mercury is retrograde and there is nothing to be done.

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Liz. I do think that part of my challenge is feeling anger toward myself for being not being able to do what I really want to do. And I agree that staying in the present definitely helps. I’m best at that when I don’t allow myself to dwell on how my health challenges affect those that I love. Xo

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  2. This is such a beautiful and honest post! So well written. I love your last line!

    The grief ritual you are about to embark upon with Francis Weller could be a powerful opportunity for you to express and safely experience, metabolize and release some of your rage. I witnessed some amazing expressions of anger up at the altar, at times the expression of rage was so intense, some people soiled themselves, screamed into their scarves, beat the floor, vomited…rage and anger want to exit the body in some way, and I hope the ritual space offers you a place to do it In your own way, in community (which always intensifies the emotion). When people cross the threshold into the altar space, it is private even though it is witnessed and there is absolutely no judgement and nothing but love, understanding and support. People are raging about their children’s deaths, their partners’ deaths, their impending death, their own chronic/acute illnesses, their traumas, their tragedies, their deep pain about whatever. It’s raw and real, and the experience is held with such care and thoughtfulness…the facilitators are tracking and witnessing and the village is physically and emotionally supporting each person who is grieving/raging. Grief and rage are so tied together. Rage activates the fire within the center of our being. Rage activates the heart, while grief opens it.

    I love you, Alex

    Alexandra Elite-Marcandonatou, LCSW http://www.alexandraelitelcsw.com

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  3. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!! I too struggle with anger, I try to joke about my Italian temper but now I see it in Brian and wonder if I passed it along to him or he learned it from me! He’s obviously processing a lot of emotions from my divorce, and that kills me.

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    • Hi Steffie. Thanks reading and for your comments. I”m sorry to hear that Brian is having trouble with anger too. It must be so hard for you to witness his struggle with the changes in your lives. Sending love. XO

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