Thursday, 1 May 2008

Look Back In Anger

Yes, I am angry. Now what do I do?

I am writing about anger for BADD because I know it’s an emotion people know very well when living with a disability. And when you carry around internalised anger it can be very damaging. This I know myself as I am profoundly damaged, physically and mentally. And if my therapist has his way, anger will prove to be at the root of all my ills, we will talk out my anger and I will be so much better.

Now considering I am struggling with a neurological condition that has left me disabled, I wonder about this desired outcome of his. It is imbued with hope, but is it entirely realistic?

Anger is so common in disability circles. But can it really be said to cause, exacerbate or prolong illness? Certainly if you live in isolation and are starved of human contact, anger can become a problem. It is tied up with stress, unalleviated stress, stress that could be eased by human touch alone. But not everyone has regular hugs. And some of us can be angry in an indiscriminate, irrational way if under too much strain. We can also be angry at society in a very specific ‘social model’ savvy way. We can be angry with family, friends, ourselves even, for getting ill in the first place.

So how do you release anger? Really, I want to know. Without the physical release of exercise all I have is relaxation methods and they serve to deflect rather than expel anger from my body as exercise used to do.

And I say used to because I’ve been angry for a very long time. My anger pre-dates my disability. And some would have it that such large amounts of anger contributed to the weakening of my body to the extent that I became ill. Back on the couch it’s all to do with unreliable parental figures, an unstable wider family, abuse, neglect, my own perceived failings…blah.

So yes, I have a lot of anger. Firstly the boxed and very hurtful memories from my distant past and the more recent disability-related experiences. There’s the lack of comprehension, understanding, time or empathy from fellow human beings. The total shambles that was my medical care for a long time. Then the breakdown of my ten-year relationship due to an utter denial (on both sides for a while) of what was happening to my body and mind. Now I’m moving into acceptance. He still just cannot comprehend. A bloody great stair lift, installed yesterday at my home, is irrefutable evidence that I am indeed disabled.

And people up at school have got used to me on a scooter. I have got used to me on a scooter. But the woman I barely know who today decided to share her experience of a devastating but temporary brain illness caused the anger to surface yet again. She told me just how poorly she’d been and I really was shocked and sympathetic. Then she ended with a breezy “Well, everyone says I’m back to my old self now, which is what I wanted.” And I was left trundling off on my scooter muttering how glad I was for her, with her bright and breezy “Stay positive” ringing in my ears. Like if I stay positive I too will be cured. She didn't mean to leave me smarting. It was my reaction. She meant well.

I want to stay positive. And I work very hard to ensure that both my son and I tackle the things that make me angry and him confused. But I don’t want to be consumed by anger. So I think it needs to be channelled. To go where it is needed. Into campaigning for better disability awareness in schools – something I feel very strongly about. Into examining how the perceived failings of family and friends, ex-partners and in-laws perhaps need a reappraisal. Was it their fault they all went into denial? That denial turned into rejection? That rejection worsened my anger? That my anger made me even less approachable?

Where does it all stop? Or perhaps, where does it all start?


Wheelchair Dancer said...

I used to be an exerciser, but I can't dance angry and I can't do angry exercise and dance. I've not figured it out yet. Physical releases like thumping the wall don't help. Current strategies for the moment ... cursing and swearing.


Mary said...

ah, psychological assessment. I remember it from when I got ill. "Do you feel frustrated?" Well, let's see now, in the last couple of months, I've lost my job, and the nice income that went with it, and I'm waiting to hear if I am eligible for benefit to enable my survival, and every time I attempt to do the simplest things, I fall over. And I don't know why, or if/when it's going to stop. Yes, I'm frustrated. I think I would warrant psychiatric attentions if I wasn't frustrated, to be frank...

Happily I was discharged with a clean bill of mental health although every so often it occurs to me that if I was imagining all of this, that is probably the exact sort of thing I would imagine I had been told. Then it all gets a bit metaphysical.

My current strategies for getting it out include using the shredder, and typing never-to-be-published rants - keep a separate 'angry keyboard' for typing out all the venom, so as not to damage the everyday one.

Cusp said...

Cry, then scream, then sit and work it out --- which you are doing ---- gradually, carefully, sensitively. It's a long road and you're doing fine


Anonymous said...

I can certainly relate to your to your feelings although my disablement is more mental than physical.

akakarma said...

I love your honest self assessment. Don't beat up re: denial, it is important to have at certain stages, although it can be disabling in itself if left unchecked!

Ruth said...

Anger for me has been situational with my disability. I've had people judge/criticize my anger at times when I've been exhausted and I had to learn to name the exhaustion and deal with that. Sometimes, however, the source of the anger cannot be fixed. At that point you're right on about finding constructive ways to channel the anger. Writing works for me, as does reading other peoples' writings (blogs too). Lots of validation out there in the blogosphere .

Sorry this is long but very thought provoking post so one more thing: it's like rubbing salt into a wound to tell someone else to stay positive- and kind of annoying if things are going okay for them and they do it at a time when you're facing serious problems. Take care.

David said...

I don't like "stay positive." It seems to come from people who don't care to try to understand me.
Good post.

Anonymous said...

Carol Tavris writes wonderfully about anger (Anger: the misunderstood emotion). One of the things she says is that anger is a moral and political phenomenon. It's toxic when it churns about and spurts out over random things, but when *used*, then it's world-changing.

Sally said...

Hi Andrea ... yes, how many of us have/had therapists who have touched on the anger thing !
I didn't feel anger until well into my fourth decade. Angry is good. Righteous anger, felt first, identified, traced back to its source, brought back up from deep inside, put outside of self .... but, as you eloquently say; that is where it is met with denial, rejection, ostracising, scapegoating. By those who block, deny, turn away, find a scapegoat to carry their guilt, their discomfort.
I had to walk away from those (family/friends/employers/service providers) who scapegoated me, denied my reality. The anger continues, righteously. It is not lived everyday, but it is a good energy that fuels fighting the good fight, when and where it can be fought. And that is not with people who say "stay positive".
Congratulations on the stair lift - its just equipment after all - like scooters, wheelchairs, hearing aids, braille, walking sticks, even computers ... how many of us would be writing the rage, or commenting and blogging, if we did not have this equipment this bit of kit provided by blogging. Bloggerland is another piece of equipment - to get the anger out !!!

Sally said...

Huge apologies Seahorse - you are not Andrea ! Its been a long day and its only tea time - all the time I was writing my comment I knew I was writing to Seahorse, not Andrea.

seahorse said...

Hi everyone. Been stuck in the city centre today waiting a long time to get back home but alas my taxi didn't appear. Apologies for being late:

WCD: That's a difficult conundrum, but I feel self-expression indirectly calms anger - I know I've felt this when doing photography or painting. Cursing...oh yes! But only at weekends and moments when I just can't help it.

Mary: That's a huge frustration for you. And you are so right about being more in need of 'help' (and I use that phrase loosely) if you weren't feeling frustrated. You know something? Therapy is all very well but if you are getting told over and over "It's okay to feel like this, it's quite understandable" then I wonder sometimes if I need therapy...who is it for? That's another post I feel. I want a shredder, and I want one now :-)

cusp: I'm scared to cry too much as it obliterates me, but sometimes I put sad music on and allow a tear or two. I am working things out gradually, as best I can. I feel so glad to have this blog. I have perfected the art of naval gazing.

kacy: whether mental or physical ill health, any disablism we encounter causes anger. The main point is that I have been very angry for a long time. And I know a lot of other people have too. And I know that some of that anger could be alleviated if people just 'got' the disablism thing.

akakarma: Yes indeed, which is why I opted for therapy at least for the time being. I had been literally silent for quite some time and it was time to talk.

Ruth and David: Thanks for recognising the 'stay positive' comment was irritating. David you are right - it's a comment from someone not thinking too deeply about the person it's directed at. Ruth, I suspect some things won't be fixable, so I'm looking for ways to be resourceful I suppose.

anonymous: I think I may benefit from reading that book, thanks :-)

Sally: Good on you for walking away, it's what I had to do too. I now have ex-friends as well as the ex who goes with them. They still see him, because it's so much easier to hook up at weekends with an out and about sort of guy than an indoors sort of crip. Bitter, me? Sometimes the local 'community' have me raging. Then I realise what a trap it can be. Raging keeps people away. I need a few months in the foothills of the Himalayas (for accessibility you understand) on a Buddhist retreat. It's encouraging to read that you are not angry every day. I look forward to that time very much. Re Andrea: with so many blogs to visit (and I've barely got going yet owing to stupid taxi problems) I think you can be forgiven for being one blog ahead, or behind when you came out with Andrea. I was Andrea once actually. My best friend had a brother called Andrew. He was older than us. We used his passport to create fake ID for me so I could get into a nightclub. Can't believe they fell for a scrubbed out Andrew, hastily scratched over with an -a, and a photo of me stuck over his with glue. And I forgot 'my' birthday...they let me in anyway.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anger, now this is a topic that I have not even dared to touch. I fear my anger - I don't embrace it, don't understand it, don't know what to do with it. An abused child full of fear became and adult afraid of anger. I saw what anger did to someone with power over me - so now it sits, unexplored, on the floor beside me. Sad but true.

Sally said...

Seahorse, Dave, and every other crip, angry crip and friend-of-crip out there ... I hope I don't make it sound easy, dealing with the anger. It took 7 years of therapy ! (Can I take some space here Seahorse, sorry to go on about it on your page, but ...) I am not talking of anger that uses others to vent their anger on. Thats abuse. Righteouse Anger is a response to that done to me by others, individual or collective. My anger is never vented on others - I am too scared; my anger (I thing !) is an energy that protects me from abuse (I see it .. I see it coming now and I am old enough/independent enough to be able to get away) and which gets vented in righteous routes. Anger = Fuel.

Anonymous said...

Not one mention of God or prayer.

seahorse said...

Dave, I understand the not knowing what to do with it. I'm at a tricky stage of recognition I suppose because it really has led to this "Now what?" feeling.

Sally: Making that distinction about righteous anger is very important, but in my case anger depletes my fuel. I want energy for other things but find it hard with so much to be angry about.

Barbara: No. Well observed.

Anonymous said...

Yes I do think the best way to deal with anger is to channel it into a passion and/or something productive for me it's my website and helping people through it. This is an important topic thank you for the post :-)

seahorse said...

Pleasure. If this sense of not knowing what to do with it lasts, I will find something to do with it :-)

Anonymous said...

At my worst, I eat a lot and rage. At my best, I concentrate on placing enough distance between me and the anger, just a tiny crack, that I can use to observe the anger as information. Rather than saying "I am angry," I'll think "I feel angry." Then I say a prayer. This lets me step aside a bit so it doesn't overtake me. It doesn't yet work to stop the eating, but it certainly works to stop the brooding, the suicidal stuff, and the rageful acting out. It definitely stems resentment. For the record, my disabilities are mental, not physical, so I'm coming from a different experience. Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Seahorse, this is an excellent post. Sad, bittersweet, and angry, but honest and fundamental. I think all too often people are afraid to talk about their anger because it is seen as something we are supposed to "get over" and "push through" or in the states medicate. Anger is a powerful and basic emotion, and one that cries for attention.

I'd be pissed too.

seahorse said...

cathy: we're not entirely dissimilar as I've got ongoing mental health intricacies as I like to call them :-)
I really appreciated your observations. Very wise to create distance and thus allow for objectivity. I admire you.

emily elizabeth: I just couldn't post on anything else, though I wonder now if I could have said it better. But hey, at the time I was feeling that terrible blocked feeling that anger can indeed fuel. So it was just a big "grrr" from me. That's what it felt like but I'm glad you found more in it than that.

Tokah said...

I don't know if this will be of any help to you, but I deal with my anger by giving it away to God. I suppose that would count under relaxation exercises?

The Reluctant Pedant said...

Did I read that right - a woman you barely know decide to accost you and pour out her medical history? Did her brain illness destroy her sense of social norms? I know it can happen, if that's her story then I am sorry for her. But I suspect that she just saw the scooter and thought "Oh no, what can I say? I know, I'll talk about medical stuff, that's bound to interest someone with disabilities."

I've had this experience, strangers telling me about their operations and health problems. I usually listen politely, but what I really want to say is "why are you telling me this?"

Good on you for being polite and keeping the anger back. You know we have to be patient with socially inept AB's. The poor dears don't know any better.

seahorse said...

Hey there kewryta. There's a certain irony in what you write as sometimes I feel my own brain illness has destroyed my sense of social norms too. But then, there is no normal in my world.
I think to get back to your comment, she was maybe following a social norm, the one where 'kindred spirits' have a natter. She, recently recovered, 'relating' to me, totally not recovered. Common ground, medical stuff as you say.
I've had this type of encounter before too. People see you as ill, and somehow think you're the person to tell about all their woes. Does it never occur that maybe as I'm ill 24/7 I may want some time off from ill talk? I'm guessing you feel the same :-)