See updated post on this topic.
I often take a look at some of the searches that venture to my blog and this is another one that stands out: anger and chronic pain. For those of us who suffer from conditions that cause us to be in constant pain, anger is a typical emotion. This search option always leaves me teary-eyed because as kind of a person as I try to be, I find myself angry often. I am angry at my diagnoses, at my doctors, past and present, the misdiagnoses of nearly ten years, at the world, and that the people in my life that don’t always understand.
You know that saying, “put your best foot forward,” but that isn’t easy when that foot hurts and is causing you so much pain and hurt. Imagine someone stepping on that foot. How exactly do you respond? Do you thank that person for making you hurt more or are you angry? Of course, you are angry and probably fuming with anger.
Chronic pain makes a person angry at life, that his or her body, his or her limitations and at the attitudes of others. While anger is healthy, it is problem when you spend your day ticked off in a boiling and raging matter. While anger can distract you from your pain, it will ultimately defeat you.
The Problem with Anger
The problem with anger is that affects your health and your relationships with others. Whether you make a choice to hold it in or express it, you are damaging your physical health. Angry people will develop high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, headaches, rashes and susceptibility to infections. In addition, it causes muscle tensions thus increasing pain levels. With relationships, anger and aggressive behavior can destroy those leaving you without a support system. Anger destroys trust and communication within those relationships and triggers aggression in others. It is not fair to those you say you love to have to tiptoe around you because you are angry. The end result of your anger will be isolation, loneliness and alienation. Anger also feeds depression leaving a circle of emotions of anger, pain, and depression that have no ends and no beginnings.
Recent studies show that anger and sadness increase pain so it is important to learn how to express anger in a healthy manner and how to deal with the stresses that trigger your symptoms and increase your anger. We all experience anger because it is part of being human but when that anger is handled poorly, the person expressing the anger hurts him or herself and the people that they say they love.
Managing anger means understanding what you are angry about. In addition to chronic pain, the symptoms of chronic conditions are exacerbated because of stress and sleep deprivation. Sometimes it helps to keep a journal to write in and express your feelings especially why you find yourself angry and it allows you to see what triggers that anger. Talk about your anger with a good friend or even see a therapist so you can better understand your anger and learn to deal with it. Sometimes, you can learn this on your own, other times you need a friend, and sometimes, you need professional help, but don’t continue to be angry because anger can be unhealthy.
Anger part of dealing with anger is learning to express yourself better. It also means taking action to deal with it by eliminating triggers and fixing problems that make you angry. It is also equally important not to obsess over your anger unless you welcome an ulcer and high blood pressure. Learn to solve problems rather than lashing out. In addition, sometimes avoiding the issues that cause your anger can be just as beneficial as talking about them. If there is a topic that increases your stress, then let it go and find a way to avoid it and to try to find solutions to dealing with it so that it does not make you angry often.
With chronic pain, pain management is the solution to dealing with anger, in addition to stress reduction, better quality sleep, and expressing your feelings in a healthy way. Understand that managing anger is just one of the many emotions that those of us with chronic pain and chronic illnesses have to endure. These feelings are normal part of responding to the pain and they are also a step forward towards coping.
Why Me? Why Now?
When we are first diagnosed, we go through all the grief and mourning that we can possibility handle. We get past that especially when see that our treatments are working and we start to get back part of the life we had before. However, the pain and the waiting to get better can take a toll on a person’s patience. This is because pain is something we never get used to but anger management is easier than pain management.
I get the anger that chronic pain sufferers feel because I live it every day. I miss the old me – carefree, active, happy, and lovable all the time. I long for days when my kids’, my nephews’ and nieces’ hugs didn’t hurt and when I didn’t hate to be touched. I still work but at the end of the day, I feel like I have been run over by a monster truck, and some mornings I wake feeling like that. While I am still not the same person I was two, three, four or five years ago, I have learned that chronic pain brings with it many emotions and anger is only one. Managing anger take skills and these are skills we learn over time. Sometimes, we need counseling to learn those skills and sometimes, we learn them through patience and perseverance.
The first thing we learn about managing anger is coping and that means realizing why we are anger. Coping with chronic pain causes our tempers to flare more quickly and easily and as the pain worsens, we become angry because the pain is taking up too much of our time and our thoughts. When you need to vent, let the people in your life know you are not angry at them and ask them to listen. This is a healthy way to express your angry rather than lashing out at everyone that comes your way.
Other ways of managing your anger include learning about the feelings that cause your anger, other than pain. You can remove yourself when the anger gets too much, i.e. take a walk, write your feelings down, or find a quiet place to be alone. Try deep breathing when you see your anger starting to take hold and remind yourself that you are responsible for managing your anger and anything that happens as a result of that anger. Find something to relieve the stress such as watching a funny movie or show so that you can just forget about what hurts. Cry if you have to or laugh at yourself but learn how to manage and be responsible for your anger. Most of all, accept where you are now and think realistically about where you want to be.
I have struggled with my own anger issues, first with finding a diagnosis and second, with my symptoms and pain getting worse. Sometimes, I keep going and keep my anger inside, sometimes mumbling under my breath and even talking to myself in order to get through. Sometimes, I cry and sometimes, I find a quiet place to be alone where I cannot overburden anyone else with my anger. Other times, I call one of my sisters or a friend to vent.
I am not saying that the way I deal with my anger is correct, but it works for me. I know that sometimes it keeps me doing everything that I need to do – working, taking care of my family, etc. – because it keeps my mind busy, my body active, and it keeps me from thinking about the pain. I try every day to find ways to deal with my anger, in particular I remind myself that I am grateful for my family, my career, my advocacy work, and my mind even when my body isn’t working. I have days where my pain requires a pity party and I deal with that, but I do NOT give myself permission to spread my anger to others. Remember, the Law of the Garbage Truck. – don’t accept garbage and don’t spread it.
How do you deal with your anger?