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It's normal to feel moments of anger when you live with a chronic illness. It's when the anger stage turns into a lifestyle that one needs to consider how to use their anger for positive changes, avoiding the bitterness that can occur.
"When I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, I was relieved at first," shares Cindy. "So many doctors kept telling me to see a psychiatrist, but I knew it was my body, not my head, that was in trouble." She explains, "I had spent so much time before my diagnosis being mad, having my illness finally validated was a great feeling. But six months later, the anger set in the pain management of the illness seemed to barely exist."
Many people are familiar with the book "On Death and Dying," written by a well-known doctor in Switzerland, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The book explains how people deal with any kind of loss, but especially that which they face when coping with an illness. It includes a description of the cycle of emotional stages that people go through in dealing with loss. Anger is the third stage, following the stage of shock and denial.
When we discover that we have a chronic illness, meaning an illness we will likely have for the rest of our lives, anger is a natural reaction. So many hopes and dreams seem to be taken from us.
Admitting that we have deep emotions about the losses is part of the mourning process. The stages of the grief process differ for each person and how much time is spent there. You may find you breezed through the anger phase the first year for illness, but the second year when you lose another ability, you are angry for months.
Cheryl, who lives with diabetes, shares, "For the longest time the disease was just an annoyance, but once I had to start checking my blood sugar ten times a day and watching every bite I ate, I got angry. I lashed out at everyone, even my husband and daughter. I was so jealous they could eat whatever they wanted and didn't even appreciate it."
One thing is certain: anger should come. If it has not, you may want to take a closer look at why.
Linda Noble Topf author of "You are Not Your Illness" says, "It is my observation that the absence of anger in the face of a serious illness suggests that we have already withdrawn from life, that we have relinquished our passion for living, that we are resigned and emotionally numb."
Anger can be seen as something shameful to express, especially if you are a Christian, who has been told that angry emotions are not excused or even "allowed." You may experience some of these feelings:
- If my faith in God is solid, I should trust that He wants what is best for me. Doubting His hand in my circumstances to shows my lack of faith.
- If I reveal to other Christians that I am angry about my situation, won't they think I am weak in my walk with God?
- I know the Bible says, "wise men shouldn't anger." So how can be my real self with the Lord?
- I have seen how angry people become very bitter and I don't want to be that kind of person. So if I ignore my anger, I will eventually become a better Christian, focusing only on the positive things life holds.
These feelings are not unusual, yet, they prevent us from coping with the grief that we are experiencing by the loss of our health and lifestyle.
Here are a few tips to guide you in dealing with anger.
1. Are you angry? Acknowledge your authentic feelings and then get on with life.
It is easy to believe if we bury our anger we will become a stronger person. Topf recommends, "Think of anger as a resource that you can learn to harness and refine for your own benefit." By claiming your feelings you can reclaim your personal identity and your true emotions about the situation.
In the Bible the story of Job shows how he became angry at the events in his life (including the outbreak of sores all over his body). He even cursed the day he was born. As Job's life went on, God bless him with even more material assets, family, and choice. Job told God, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful to know" (Job 42:3b). Through his anger and frustration, he eventually found wisdom and character. You can't fake it through life or you will never benefit from this challenge you've been given
2. It is all right to get angry.
God designed us to feel a wide variety of emotions and one of these is anger. There are numerous instances in the Bible where Scripture specifically tells us about how even God got mad. What does the Bible tells about how to cope with our own angry feelings?
- "For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:20).
- "Wise men turn away anger" (Proverbs 29:8b).
- "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11).
God understands that anger is a part of our human instinct, but it should never become our lifestyle. Some people may point out that it takes anger to get things accomplished. Even Mothers against Drunk Drivers seem to have an appropriate acronym of "MADD." Topf says, "We discover that anger is first and foremost a demand for change." Some would argue that the attitude of "I'm-not-going-to-take-it-any-more" has been the beginning of great changes in our history. And this is true , but the key is not to get stuck in that anger phase for the rest of your life.
In Amos 1:11, God says, "I will not turn back my wrath... because his anger raged continually." God isn't upset because of the presence of anger, but because the anger was continuous. God calls us to put our focus on Him and try to make a difference that will bring glory to Him.
3. Walk alongside God and He will walk with you through the anger.
David experienced this and wrote, "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me." (Psalm 138:7). God is there when you need to feel angry and he wants to stretch out His hand against your anger and protect you.
"I'm still dealing with anger toward this illness, after two years diagnosed, and eight years of being sick," shares Peggy, who lives with fibromyalgia. "Each time a new realization hits me about my limitations, I experience anger. And yet, I know that God has a plan for my life that is perfect. I still battle the angry feelings, which rage inside, every time I have to say no to something I would like to do. I pray and expect His perfect grace and that He will become slow to anger, counting on the scripture, 'The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love'" (Psalm 103:8).
Anger is an emotion we will all encounter for the rest of our lives. Perhaps the simplest of advice is a scripture that I quote in my book, Why Can't I Make People Understand? Discovering the Validation Those with Chronic Illness Seek and Why" where I go through the mixed bag of emotions, especially anger and bitterness. It is Hosea 7:13b-14 in which God says, "I long to redeem [you] but. . . [you] do not cry out to Me from [your] hearts, but wait upon [your] beds." Instead of curling up in bed wailing "Why me?" pour our your heart to the Lord and simply ask Him for help.
"Why Can't I Make People Understand?" is author, Lisa's newest book that will get you through your emotions of anger at <a target="_blank" href="http://www.WhyCantIMakePeopleUnderstand.com">www.WhyCantIMakePeopleUnderstand.com</a> . Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from when you <a target="_blank" href="http://www.restministries.org/res-ezine_ill.htm">sign up for HopeNotes</a> at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Week.