A friend asked me recently if I was angry about my ALS.
The honest answer is that a year ago anger was one of the strong emotions running rampant through my head and limbic system. I have gotten past that intense anger now and can avow, with regard to my ALS, that I am mostly anger-free.
I say mostly because as I typed this a very strong image from earlier this week came strongly to the front of my mind. We were meeting with my Hospice care manager Priscilla, a wonderful caring nurse who visits every week. We were discussing a mixed up order for my new breathing equipment, and my frustration with not being able to speak clearly was making me very agitated – yes angry. I soon was literally yelling at her and Roz and anyone else within a three block radius. And given my speaking ability these days, my yelling is a real piece of work.
I was not angry at the medical supply company or Hospice – it was a simple mix-up that was soon to be fixed. But I was angry about my inability to communicate effectively in that situation.
Fortunately my outburst provoked by this anger was short-lived, although recalling the incident is very powerful for me right now as I write.
So that pretty much disrupts the high-toned philosophical essay I was planning to write about how anger is not a useful emotion to be carrying around.
Well, maybe not completely. It is certainly not helpful to be dragging lots of anger around all the time. That in my experience only leads to resentments and further anger, without resolving problems or strengthening relationships. But feeling and expressing anger as it happens (as appropriately as possible) is different. Get it out, let things cool down, apologize if the expression was inappropriate, and get on with life.
People give me lots of leeway these days – behavior that would have been unacceptable a year ago now slides by. I try not to take advantage of that lower standard for my occasional verbal excesses – unlike my slow walking where more tolerance seems appropriate.
So back to the question “Am I angry about my ALS?” “Not angry” is my answer. The emotions I feel most these days are sad, disappointed, frustrated – not with my disease but with the effects of my disease on my ability to live my life as I had imagined I would.
Imagine that, I am not in control.
But there are other feelings these days that are even more powerful. Gratitude for all the excellent health services I am fortunate to receive. Love for the family and friends who bathe me in their thoughts and actions every day.
Now, since I have made a new commitment to read poetry, here is a short work by the 18th Century British poet Charles Lamb.
Anger in its time and place
May assume a kind of grace.
It must have some reason in it,
And not last beyond a minute.
If to further lengths it go,
It does into malice grow.
‘Tis the difference that we see
‘Twixt the serpent and the bee.
If the latter you provoke,
It inflicts a hasty stroke,
Puts you to some little pain,
But it never stings again.
Close in tufted bush or brake
Lurks the poison-swellëd snake
Nursing up his cherished wrath;
In the purlieux of his path,
In the cold, or in the warm,
Mean him good, or mean him harm,
Whensoever fate may bring you,
The vile snake will always sting you.