Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Stroke Survivor ~ Grief- Anger

For today it's part two of the grief series that deals with anger. You know that emotion where there's this devil on your shoulder poking you until it overrides the angel whispering in your ear.

After a stroke or a death of a loved one, your emotions are raw and exposed for all to see. But with strokes sometimes comes the added bonus of inappropriate responses like I suffer from. I can explode in anger or break down in hysterical tears, or laugh myself sick at the drop of the hat. That is understandable to all that know it is part of my injured brain being over stimulated, but with strangers that's another story. My medication goes a long way in suppressing these but all bets are off id I'm under stress like the one wedding I officiated at or with coping with my husband's recent downhill health turn.

Besides this with the grief of loss, you become angry at everything. The dog barks. The cat meows too loud. The kids drop a cotton ball on the floor. Someone whispers "boo." Or nothing at all. It can turn you into a screaming meme. It's all part of your grieving process. It's also one that will revisit you periodically in years to come. Grief doesn't end, but it does lessen over time. You learn to cope better the farther you get from the incident. You won't stop missing what was lost ever, but adapting to your new reality.

You are walking down the hall and the toe of your shoes hits the floor wrong. The cat runs
between your legs and causes you to fall. You end up hitting your arm or leg for not catching you. "Stupid! Useless things! Why did this happen to me." You lash out at the first available thing. You aren't really angry at that person or thing, it's just handily available. In the short term this can be tolerated with open communication lines, but the long term is a different story.

What you are actually angry at is the loss. The fact that your comfortable circumstances are forever changed and changed drastically. There's the crux of the matter and if you are honest with yourself.  You will see the truth in the matter. It hurts your ego. Your life is changed from comfort to uncertain. Your future is changed irrevocably. What you thought about yourself has changed.

People do not like change. People don't like adapting.  For both of these statements I'll add ...unless they have to. That is exactly what happened to you. You had to make a change not by choice of want to or need, but had to. It's easy to blame someone or something as the cause for this change. But ultimately it is only your resistance to change that causes anger.

So how do you break this cycle? What do you do with a child in the middle of a temper tantrum? Well, you examine the cause. Can you change what causes these outbursts? Absolutely! Granted you can't physically bring back what you lost. No one can. No matter how much we beg and plead our case. It happened. It's real.

Now some coping skills to deal with your anger issues during grief.
  • Take a minute to breathe and think before you act or in this case act out.
  • Examine to root of your anger and the real cause. Are you angry at yourself or something else.
  • Does the person you are directing your anger towards really deserve it. Part of your mind will say yes but to the extreme you want in to take it?
  • Realize that the anger you feel may be justified but gauge an appropriate response.
The fact is you are not a two-year old who can't express what they need. Well, I take that last statement back in aphasia affected stroke recovery patients because they can't not fully express their needs. With aphasia, the difficulty is with communicating your needs and expressing what you are angry about.

I find the more upset I get; the more problems I have expressing myself. It becomes a vicious cycle if I let it. Instead, I'll hold up a finger to pause what is going on. I'll follow it with my version of "Be right back." I'll walk away or take a couple  seconds to gain control of myself.  A prime example of breathe and take a moment. Just because I'm a minister and have in depth knowledge of this process doesn't mean I don't struggle with this. I do. I'm only human and not Divine. That being said, there are ways to communicate your needs without speaking even if your partner has to play twenty questions, or extreme facial expressions.

If your first impression is anger don't give in to the emotion. If you need to absolutely vent your rage, do so in a pillow. Those around you will greatly appreciate it. It also saves money for all the things you didn't break. A mad at the world attitude gains you nothing but is self-feeding and perpetuating.  Make all around you aware that it's not them but you before you vent to broach any misunderstandings.

Again face the root for your anger. It's how you are adjusting to change with all the frustrations it brings. Deal with the anger and vent if you really need to. Be cautious though of lapsing back into the guilt trip discussed last week. If you have lapses be the first to apologize to those around you. Even a dog will wag its tail in response. It's time to put your big boy panties and move on.

Don't expect knowledge to be an instance cure. There is none. Yes, you will relapse into this stage many times during the coming month and years to come. Accept it. Be forewarned that this might happen again and be on your guard. You know the warning signs better than anyone else.

So what are you really angry about? Isn't it all about you? Isn't it resisting or adapting to changes?


  1. It's amazing how closely anger and grief are linked. I think people forget that when they're trying to comfort those who are dealing with a loss.

  2. Jo, nice hit.

    Sometimes I recognize that the target of my anger should be the stroke, but sometimes I get mad at the person because it was the person who was being a thoughtless jerk. I TRY to tell myself it's my grief, but, let's face it, the person's a jerk for doing/saying whatever.

  3. Barb, The world is full of jerks. The point is how do you gauge your anger through the encounter. Do you go ballistic on them right there and then or do you temper it?

  4. Hi Jo - it's such a major change and your emotions have changed too .. your whole attitude to life has changed in ways you have no idea about .. strokes alter so much ...

    These posts must help many, but some it is not possible to help as their brain injury is 'too' much, or that little bit worse .. or affects other parts ..

    It's great you're writing about your feelings and will be so appreciated by others .. also by carers, family and relatives and great friends .. cheers Hilary

  5. Jo do you meditate? That's what has worked best for my anger.

  6. Hilary,
    Actually, the only thing that has drastically changed is somewhat my ability to do certain things. My outlook is basically unchanged, but then I'm luckier than most.

    Amy, Yes!

  7. I was very angry at many members of my family for not responding to my health crisis in a way that I thought was "right", nice, or how I would have if the tables were turned. It took me a long time to let that anger go. I eventually realized that they "couldn't" be supportive in a nice way because they were/are way more messed up than I ever was.....and they didn't have a stroke. They did their best....whatever that looked like. Unfortunately, I come from a very sick family. I'm grateful I learned differently by some miracle. Letting go of all the anger was probably one of the best gifts I gave myself.

  8. Elizabeth,
    Perception and perspective is everything when dealing with yourself and others. I agree letting go of anger is much healthier. Wtg! on letting go of yours.


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