I didn’t know how to cope with my anger about having rheumatoid arthritis when I was a child. The flashes would come quickly and unexpectedly—how unfair! Why did I deserve to be just a child with a painful and disabling illness? I felt like screaming, but doing so never made it better.
Usually it was the disease I was angry at, sometimes my faulty luck. Later I began to notice how people perceived me as different, treated me as lesser—and that led to even more anger.
But I didn’t want to be that person who was constantly unhappy and angry with the universe. I had to decide not to be angry. Otherwise, the anger could be consuming. I’d forget all the great gifts I have in life—family, friends and more.
It’s a long process, deciding how you will handle the emotional turmoil of living with RA. I am still figuring it out sometimes, even 35 years later. Sometimes I still have the flashes of anger, but I’ve learned to recognize them as temporary and fleeting.
I have what I call “angry days,” when I feel grumpy about my pain, stiffness or having to cope with the constant challenges of chronic illness. Few people may know about my angry day (except maybe my husband—who knows all my worst secrets), but carrying those emotions around makes me tired and irritable. Finding a way out makes me feel better.
Yet, I wouldn’t deny the anger either. It’s valid and real. Pretending I’m not angry doesn’t work—acknowledging it and trying to move past is how I manage. Otherwise I find the anger just catches up with me at inopportune times and leaks out on other people.
It can be hard to pinpoint my anger sometimes. How does one take out anger at your own disease? My own failing joints? There’s a fine line of blame and self-hatred that I don’t want to cross over. I think it is about stating to myself “this is how I feel” and I may not be able to change the situation, but I can manage those feelings.
Still, I’m not perfect. I can deal with my anger most of the time, until it overwhelms me and I pop. Frequently these situations revolve around inaccessibility or what I perceive as prejudiced attitudes. For example, I just can’t swallow the people who take the elevators on public transit without letting people with obvious disabilities or parents with strollers on first. Call me intolerant, but I view them as truly scummy.
Fundamentally, I think it is injustice that raises my anger. Whether Mother Nature has treated me cruelly by assigning me RA or people fail to be considerate. I can’t stand for it. I see it and experience it, but feel the need to protest anyway. So my anger is my way of protesting injustice and not letting it pass unnoticed.
I don’t know if my anger will fade as I age. Actually, I doubt it. When the anger comes I feel it just as sharply as when I was a child. I just know how to express it and manage it better. Some people are naturally angry or grumpy all the time, but I am not an angry person. There’s a difference in feeling anger about my illness and living that way in a constant state. For me, acknowledging my anger and learning to live with it has helped me to be a generally happy person and not embittered by my disease. It is inevitable, with the frustration of RA, that anger will arise. Knowing how to live with it, may be one of the greatest tricks of successfully living with a chronic disease.