“I just want to be normal.”
“Why can’t I catch a break?”
“Why doesn’t anyone understand what I’m going through?”
“Why won’t my doctors listen?”
“When will I find a treatment that helps?”
At some point, most lupus patients wind up asking themselves these kinds of questions. Lupus is a fundamentally frustrating illness. From multiple wrong diagnosis, to side-effect-filled treatments, to the day-to-day fights with friends and family over your new boundaries and abilities, anger, frustration, loneliness and depression are very common.
There are countless ways of dealing with the stressful emotions that come from everyday life with an invisible illness. Just a few include meditation, journaling, exercise, support groups, creativity, and church or other social networks. Unfortunately, there are also more destructive ways to cope such as self-harming, isolation, and medication/substance abuse. Some people seek to squash their feelings and “put on a strong face”, while others will vent their problems to anyone within earshot.
I never liked feeling angry. As a child, when I got angry enough I would lash out, tearing my hair, smashing toys and raising holy hell all over the place. I pulled out a tooth one time in a fit of anger, a clumps of hair another time. It took years for me to learn to dial that back and handle anger in other ways – and that was before I was diagnosed with lupus. Once I started dealing with doctors and endless blood tests and the paradox of looking healthy while being anything but, I had to learn all over again how to deal with anger.
In my opinion, feeling angry is okay – it’s what you do with that feeling that makes all the difference.
How do you feel when you’re angry? Do flash and flare, snapping or screaming, and lashing out? Or do you get quiet, and feel a slow burn? Either way, chances are that you feel similar physical symptoms of anger: clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, tense muscles, headaches, faster breathing, and increased heart rate. Your thoughts might race faster, you might start to sweat – your body is getting ready for a fight. If that energy can be channeled into a useful place, you can harness that energy to better fight your lupus.
Below are a few suggestions that I’ve come to use over the years to help me better use my anger as a motivating force instead of a stressful one:
- Find what you can control. Obviously, there are aspects of life that you can not change, no matter how you might wish and want to – forget those and focus on what you can do in the moment.
- Arm yourself. Knowledge is power. If you’re angry about a diagnosis, then research it online and find out more. If you’re angry about a medication’s side effects, study up on alternatives. Feeling helpless is a big contributor to feeling angry, so combat helplessness by arming yourself with information. Avoid information overload, by focusing on one small topic at a time. For example, instead of trying to read everything about lupus, focus on the symptom that bothers you most and ways to combat it. Pick just one suggestion to try for a week.
- Be your own advocate. This goes hand-in-hand with arming yourself. It’s easy to become passive and let your doctor call all the shots – even if you feel differently about their choices. Doctor’s are people too, meaning that they may have their own agendas, biases and flaws. If you don’t agree with your treatment, get alternate opinions. If your symptoms are still interfering with your life, speak up. This also goes for the home front. If you need to change the way your home life works for your health, then speak up to your loved ones. Mad at the lack of support in your neighborhood? Write a letter to your local government officials or hospital center, demanding action.
- Avoid wasting energy. Wasting your energy basically means doing anything with your anger that doesn’t serve a purpose. While you think venting might help you feel better, you might actually just be fueling a cycle that gets you angrier with no resolution. The same goes for screaming or punching walls. They’re actions that you might think help, but leave you right in the same spot. When you find yourself tempted to spend 20 minutes online venting and griping, instead use that time to research a more constructive course of action.
- Be “selfish”. Another source of anger is the feeling that nobody is considering your needs – and you might be right. If you feel walked over by demanding friends and family, channel that energy into action. Write a list of demands or a letter spelling out how you feel, how your illness has changed and how your needs are different. Ask yourself: what’s worse; losing a few friends who apparently don’t care about your health or losing your health for a few friends? Which of the two will last you longer? Whose life are you living anyway?
- Walk away when necessary. If you’ve hit a wall, then walk away. Don’t feed your anger by repeating the incident over and over again in your head. Acceptance is not the same as surrender or defeat. Remind yourself that circumstances can change the next hour, the next day or in the next year. The physical toll on your body is not worth whatever situation caused it. Get out if you can, collect your thoughts, save your energy and tackle the problem again when you’re ready.
Of course, this is all easier said than done, and if you have genuine anger issues, professional help should be considered. But, for the rest of us, it might be worthwhile, when you find yourself brooding over a crappy situation, to ask yourself what you could be doing about it, instead of spinning on a wheel and raising your blood pressure.
Do you find anger useful? What other ways of coping with anger do you have? Don’t forget to subscribe to get new posts by email!