A couple of nights ago I was at the kitchen sink, a big artichoke from the garden in one hand and a pair of kitchen shears in the other, cutting the pointy tips off the ends of the artichoke’s petals in preparation for steaming. There was a plastic bag full of them, waiting for my shears.
I was angry because I was doing this chore myself, even though Mr Wren had promised me he would do it. I was angry because my hands were swollen, twinging and aching as I wielded the scissors and the vegetables, and because I had to run lukewarm water for rinsing since cold water hurts my hands too much. I was angry because only a few days ago I felt so good, and now, along with a new flare of bursitis in my hips, my bloody hands were back to their old tricks. I was angry because the kitchen was too warm after a day in the high 80s and there was nothing I could do about it. I was angry because I had to keep telling Shadow to get out of the kitchen, over and over again.
But mostly, I was angry at myself for being angry over things that were so trivial.
I have a confession to make. After reading Kelly’s post about RA and anger, and then Kris’s short post referring and commenting on Kelly’s, I had a minor epiphany. I’d commented on Kris’s post that I don’t get angry, I get frustrated. That I find anger useless, basically, and I don’t like directing my frustration at others. I do let it vent, though, usually in short bursts of blue language.
Or by gritting my teeth as I snip the pointy petal tips off artichokes.
So what was the epiphany?
I realized that I do get angry. Not just politely frustrated, but seriously angry. I had to acknowledge it as I worked on those artichokes.
One of Kelly’s points was about articles in the media that seek to blame RA pain on things like repressed anger. Or articles that indicate that people with RA have lower pain thresholds than people without it. This sort of thing is so useless – and worse, it creates stereotypes that can actually harm people who have RA. When people are told, by seemingly reputable sources, that women diagnosed with RA not only cause their own pain by repressing their anger, and are weak and wimpy on top of it, it hurts. And because some otherwise good doctors are also influenced by this sort of BS, many of us are given the runaround when it comes to diagnosing the disease and getting adequate treatment and pain relief strategies for it.
I can’t deny that repressed anger creates inner stress and angst. Or that stress, endured without some sort of outlet, can certainly make a flare seem a lot worse (if not actually make it that way). It’s even possible, I suppose, that repressed emotion can trigger a flare, though I’m not convinced of that. I can be happy as a bluebird and flare up. Go figure.
And I also know that different individuals perceive and experience pain in different ways. I know for a fact that I can endure a lot of pain before I break down. I’m quite experienced with it, and I know the difference for me between light pain and heavy pain. The thing is, that perception is one of the main problems that doctors face when trying to treat a patient’s pain – they can’t accurately measure the amount of pain their patient is feeling. They have to take us at face value.
This would be fine, except not all patients are being honest about their pain, and doctors are rightfully wary about prescribing narcotics without being sure. Not only might they be initiating or feeding an addiction (which will only get worse with time) by prescribing narcotics, they could be an unwitting party to the black market in prescription painkillers. Being “easy” could cause them to lose their license to practice medicine.
That’s another issue, and a big one. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer, but articles that push these erroneous theories about women who have RA are both unfair and harmful. They need to be debunked.
Anyway, yes. I do get angry sometimes about having rheumatoid arthritis, and now, bursitis. It manifests in me mostly as frustration, and because I’m a low-key type of person, I generally blow that off and move on. Life is too short, I’ve always figured, to waste on being angry about something I can’t change. Anger makes me focus too much on the moment’s disability and pain. It makes me feel sorry for myself, which I hate. It makes me feel angry at my family – and it’s not their fault I’m hurting.
The epiphany of the other night did, however, allow me to look more closely at why I was angry and what I can change, myself, to avoid it in the future.
First and foremost, I can be more assertive. I can hold people to their promises rather than picking up the slack without a word. It wasn’t Mr Wren’s fault that my hands and hips were hurting me, but when he wasn’t available to prepare those artichokes he wanted for dinner, I shouldn’t have done the chore myself. Instead, I should have told him, later, that the reason we weren’t having his artichokes for supper tonight was that he hadn’t prepped them as he’d promised.
Because if I think about it, that was really the source of my anger that evening. The rest of the things I felt angry about – my physical pain, my disappointment that it had returned so quickly, the pesky dog, the cold water that hurt my fingers, the hot, stuffy kitchen – all those other frustrations grew out of it like the tendrils of a noxious weed.
That sort of thing does me no good. By the time supper was on the table, I’d let it all go, vented bit-by-bit in dark, muttered cussing and banging things around a little more than necessary. But for that thirty minutes or so at the kitchen sink, I was in a deep funk, furious at my lot in life, acutely aware of each twinge in my hands, of my aching hips, of my “misfortune,” and of the thoughtlessness of my loved ones. I absolutely wallowed in it. And if I’m honest, I have to admit that my anger colored the rest of the evening even though I’d thought I’d dropped it. Later on I felt blue. I didn’t enjoy the softness of the summer night, or go outside and look at the stars while I listened to the cricket songs. I forgot to laugh. I forgot how to look for the gifts.
So I’m working on this issue. It may be natural to get angry over things we can’t help that hurt us, but it’s not natural, or healthy, to aid and abet it. I’ll be speaking up for myself more often. Thanks, Kris and Kelly.