You won’t like me when I’m angry.

July 18, 2012 at 10:00 am (Chronic Pain, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health) (, , , , , , )

Being sick makes me angry.

I think it’s the emotion I feel the most often in direct relation to my illness. I get depressed, frustrated, upset, but most often, angry. Really, boneshakingly angry. I get so mad I turn red, and shake, and can’t engage in polite conversation. I have to listen to loud music and feel like a suburban teenager whose every pore is screaming for something, anything to happen.

Sometimes, that’s how I feel. That even if things were to get worse, much worse, at least then something would be happening. I would be that much closer to figuring out what the hell is going on. Every time I get hung up on some other thing – like emergency surgery – I get even more angry. When that happens, something is happening, but it’s like your parents getting a divorce. It’s something, but it totally sucks and doesn’t make life any better.

When I get angry, my muscles tense up. I become hyper aware of my body, and every little pain seems that much bigger. My blood pressure and blood sugar go up. I am not breathing deeply, and I get lightheaded. I get nauseous and can’t even sip water without feeling sick. I start to get really worked up, and maybe I even vomit. My chest starts to hurt. I can’t make simple decisions. I fall behind in my work because all I can mentally handle is staring at moving pictures. I don’t stick to my diet. I can’t express how I’m feeling to my loved ones, even though they can easily see I am not doing well.

In other words, I get sicker.

These things have long term consequences. When I stop being angry and find a little piece of peace, my muscles ache from being tense for so long, or worse they won’t untense and I find myself with limited mobility. The things I do to control pain don’t work as well, since I’m hypersensitive. Usually that ends up leading to me in one of those bouts when clothes hurt and I end up having to sleep on fuzzy blankets and can’t touch anyone. I get intense headaches that come and go for days. My jaw starts to pop from all the clenching. My blood sugar control goes out the window and I end up using insulin. I have a backlog of correspondence and other work that I now have to face in a short amount of time. My loved ones are cautious around me and feel like they can’t come to me with their shit because I’m so lost in my own. But at least I’m totally up to date on the Glee Project, right?

It becomes a cycle. I get angry because I’m sick, I get sick because I’m angry, and then I get angry that I’m sick because I was angry. I feel like I’m always just this far from treading water. I either have to artificially reboot – cancel something and create some free time so I can catch up on the stuff I fell behind on; or I end up turning to those around me and begging for assistance. Well, that’s not entirely true. Another outcome is that I just don’t get stuff done. I stop going to doctor’s appointments, I stop answering email, I stop checking Facebook/Fetlife, I stop answering my phone, I stop engaging in anything that might, y’know, make me feel human.

I know what the answer is. I’ve always known. But it’s sort of like menstruation – I’ve been doing it since I was 18 or so (late bloomer) and I’m 37 and I still don’t always recognize the signs that its on the way. Because when I get lost in the cycle, the first two things I jettison are the ones that always end up helping me in the end.

Sleep, and meditation.

I’m never sure how to address the sleep issue. Stress gives me terrible insomnia. It’s never a good sign if I’m only sleeping 4 or less hours a night, or if I’m sleeping in 2 hour shifts. Now, a part of that is also related to pain – obviously when my pain is bad, I don’t sleep as well (often I have to sleep in a particular position, and if I move even a little I wake up). Sometimes I end up taking Alteril – an OTC mixture of melatonin, valerian, and l-tryptophan. I don’t like it because the next day I’m in a fog and lack motivation to do much of anything, which is kinda not the point. I used to take Ambien, but it’s expensive and I got to a place where I couldn’t sleep without it.

Meditation is another ball game. I’m a giant hypocrite, in that when I get angry, I stop meditating because my brain won’t shut up. And yet I tell people all the time that it’s better to sit still and breathe for five minutes even if their brain won’t shut up the entire time because it helps them create a habit of it. But as someone who is supposedly good at this stuff, I have a short temper with myself when I have to go back to basics all over again. Although really, that’s meditation in a nutshell. There’s really no such thing as “an advanced meditator”. Because once you believe you are, you’re not. It’s a Schrodinger’s Cat thing. But meditation is totally within my control. Even just taking five minutes to slow and deepen my breathing would make a difference. I just need to give a damn first.

Sometimes I just need to get out of my environment and do something different for a while. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because I can’t just run away and pretend my life isn’t happening in my absence – I might as well stay home and watch Law and Order if that’s the case. I have to both get out of my routine, but not abandon it completely. So events don’t count, since I can’t spend hours answering email and writing there. (I always think I can, and then I totally fail, every single time.)

So what do you do? How do you break out of your cycle of anger-stress-pain-anger? What coping mechanisms work for you? How do you enforce meditation when you feel like everything is fruitless? I’m all ears.

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5 Comments

  1. Kate said,

    ::listening::

    Not sure I have any good answers– some of my cycle-breaking things are very physical– exercise is one of them. I’m not a traditional gym-workout person, but swimming laps, hard, for a while, helps me. (less punishing on the joints, for me, than impact exercise.)

    I have a bowl full of tiny polished hematite that lives near my front door. A calming/grounding thing for me is to plunge my hands into it, and just sit with it in my lap, moving the stones around. Not really a cycle-breaker, but it can distract my waking mind enough to get me to where meditation becomes more possible.

    Angry music, though… Yes. Definitely that. I’ve been working on a playlist that transitions from angry to mellow to quiet to meditative…

    • Amy said,

      Along the lines of the music thing – I would also posit that even sitting still listening to angry music for a while, is, in some ways, meditative. Focus on the anger really give yourself permission to just be pissed at everything. (I always found that the sound of shattering glass helped – when I needed to break that cycle, throwing cheap dollar store glasses against the wall was amazingly cathartic). And then once you’ve had a good fulfilling temper tantrum, everything can go back to a settled state.

      As for the meditation thing – Zen gardens? Doodling? Painting? Things like that that you could do that don’t require fine motor coordination, that are still expressive, that will still allow you to have an intent (or no intent) for meditating…

  2. Elizabeth said,

    I don’t think our situations are exactly comparable, since I don’t have a chronic condition with all the attendant frustrations that I’ve got to deal with every single day. However, I do have a bad tendency to let small things build up until something innocuous happens to tip the balance, or else suppressing anger or hurt over something more significant, and then literally making myself sick (nausea and puking, tension headaches that last for hours, nightmares if I’m trying to sleep.) It lasts for what seems to be a disproportionate amount of time. So that part I’m totally familiar with.

    Lately I’ve made an effort to catch myself when I start doing heading down that road. As soon as possible, I make sure I have some privacy, and I tell myself that I will not distract myself or ignore how I feel, and I’ll just be angry, whiny, and/or depressed for X amount of time, to be determined by the severity of what’s going on. I set a timer to go off at the end of that period, then I spend the time wallowing in it — being ragey or crying or listening to shockingly loud, angry music or writing screeds and hate mail that will never see the light of day. When the timer goes off, I stop and re-assess, and if I have to, set the timer for an additional period. In any case, once that’s over I make a conscious effort to set aside (rather than suppress) my feelings for the moment (and delete the things I’ve written, which I do NOT type into my email account, to avoid accidentally sending them) so I can get shit done.

    It works better when I’m sufficiently medicated and aren’t lacking in sleep, and there are times when I’ve been tempted to just say “fuck it” and not even bother with this exercise. But as someone who has had trouble in the past with splashing my feelings on innocent bystanders, and conversely, a history of being told that my feelings are inappropriate and irrelevant no matter how serious the issue, I’ve found that making a deliberate choice to just *be* sad, angry, angsty, or whatever for a period of time helps me a lot. YMMV, of course, but since you asked, here it is.

  3. gurus4life said,

    Illness sucks. Anger is a normal response, do not be too hard on yourself for feeling it. May you hold yourself gently today, and may peace and light be yours.

  4. Tracy Rydzy, MSW, LSW said,

    I really enjoyed your blog. I can relate to a lot that you are saying since I suffer from chronic back pain and have had a spinal fusion. Please check out and follow my blog on Chronic Pain at http://ohwhatapain.wordpress.com.

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