Faces with mouths open wide in an angry yelling expression

The Boogie Monster of Rheumatoid Arthritis: Anger (Part 1)

Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for 50 years, these days, not much surprises me RA-wise. I’ve lived through a lot, and changed over the years as a result.

The physical reminders that are in my line of vision every time I look in the mirror are old hat, so familiar that I barely see my crooked fingers anymore. What does a normal knee look like? This was a question that gave me knee-envy for years.

I’d look at the knobby knees of the people around me and I’d feel that pang of jealousy and longing, understanding that I’d never know what it feels like to go through life with knees that aren’t always paining me or resisting my efforts to squish them into skinny jeans.

A knowledge of self

These days, I expect that feeling as I expect uncertainty, flare-ups, and fatigue.

I’ve settled into a life that allows me to be flexible with myself, and I’ve managed the expectations of the people in my life so that I don’t have to explain myself every time things shift for me physically. I know what gives me anxiety, what scares me, what comforts me, and this allows me to take better care of myself.

Repressed anger for most of my life

Recently, however, I surprised myself. I was on a podcast that was focused on anger and rheumatoid arthritis. And, going into it, I had thought to myself that anger isn’t something I’ve had an issue with. Boy was I wrong.

When I started reading about anger and chronic illness/pain, I realized that I’ve felt anger for most of my life. I didn’t want to acknowledge this part of myself, and I sure didn’t want to be angry in front of other people.

Being chronically angry is a great way to push people away and end up on your own. So, instead of expressing it, I internalized it without even knowing that’s what I was doing.

Hiding my anger hurt me

When I was honest with myself, though, I had to admit that because I hid my anger, I had let it hurt me and the people around me in insidious ways.

My co-host on the podcast told me that he was angry for years, that he would explode onto his loved ones and, after a while, he realized that he needed to learn to handle his anger better in order to save his relationships.

How my anger would manifests itself

I never had that conversation with myself because I so rarely would outwardly explode. Instead, I would get angry at myself, berating myself on days that I was down, pushing my body more than I should, even going so far in my teens that my negative self-image became an eating disorder.

I never equated that with anger; I just used that knowledge to feel even worse about myself.

Our anger can be scary

There are many boogie monsters when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis and anger, I now understand, is one of them.

Anger is scary, and being angry feels like red ants under your skin. Anger as a response to RA is like a boiling cauldron with no place to boil over. If you show it and admit to it, you also have to admit to the many, many things about living with RA that are crazy-making and so wrong. But, just like the boogie monster, the only way to defeat anger is to show light on it.

In my next article, I’ll talk more about anger, give some ideas for what to do when it rears its head, and hopefully help you to shine that light.

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