What is Anger?
Anger is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as ‘a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility‘.
I was definitely angry!
I was angry that this had happened to me.
I was angry that I couldn’t work.
I was angry that I couldn’t socialise with my friends the way I used to.
I was angry that people kept saying “Sure, you must be having a great time off work. Enjoy it while you can.'”(SERIOUSLY??!!)
I was angry that my family, friends and colleagues couldn’t understand how I was feeling. You can see a broken leg, or a scar form an operation. You can’t see a brain injury. And that is one of the most difficult challenges.
I was angry because I had to spend most of the day, every day, by myself.
I was angry because I felt like I wasn’t getting any better.
I was angry when people looked at me with pity.
I was really angry because nobody could tell me when I would get better.
I was really, really angry when people who had no idea how I was feeling tried to give me advise “Oh you look tired, maybe you should go to bed?” or, “You’re not going there are you? Sure you wouldn’t be able for that”.
So yeah, I was angry a lot. And that is totally normal. Even without a brain injury it’s normal to be angry sometimes. So when you’re walking around all day, every day, with a brain injury that nobody can see, you’re bound to get angry a little more often.
Your brain is trying extra hard to process the world around you. So when you can’t keep up and it results in a bad experience or a bad day, you get frustrated, annoyed and angry. It’s just human nature.
Unfortunately, and I suppose unsurprisingly, it was those closest to me that bared the brunt of my anger.
Angry at My Family
I realised that it must be difficult for my parents to be down in West Cork feeling helpless, while I (their 24 year old daughter) was up here in Dublin suffering through a brain injury. And in their minds, suffering alone.
But many a conversation with them ended because I was too angry to speak anymore. Why didn’t they understand that I was doing everything I possibly could to get better? I understood that it was hard for them to see me suffering, but it was hard for me too! I knew they wanted answers, but so did I! I told them everything I knew myself, but it still wasn’t enough. They wanted more, but I had no more answers to give. Nobody did.
Many a visit home couldn’t end soon enough, as the fuss over me was unbearable…
“Stop looking at me like that. Stop being so worried and pitying me. I’m fine. I’ll be fine.
I can decide when I need to sleep myself. I can decide when I need to eat. I can decide when I need to get some air. I can decide if I am feeling up to seeing my friends. Stop trying to control everything. I survive every other day of the week just fine in Dublin.
Yes, I’m tired. Yes, I’m not feeling well. But this has become my new life. This is my new normal. I am always tired and I am always unwell! Why can’t you understand that and accept it? I have.”
So we’d argue. My brain couldn’t process that they were just trying to look out for me; they were worried. I was their baby girl. I was sick and they couldn’t do anything to help me. My brain couldn’t keep up. The pain would worsen, and I’d get so angry, so upset, so confused. “Why don’t they understand what I’m trying to tell them?”
One of the main struggles I had when I went home was the noise, and this lead to so much anger. My parents’ house is extremely noisy, and not in a ‘full of people, lots going on’ sort of way. It’s noisy in a ‘they make loads of noise’ sort of way!
‘Let’s shout to each other from room to room. Let’s watch the TV with the volume up full blast. Let’s use the glass placemats at dinner. Let’s bang all of the presses open and closed. Let’s throw all of the cutlery and delf from press to table, and table to sink.’
It’s not their fault. It’s always been like this and it’s never been an issue before, so they don’t even notice it. Before my accident, I didn’t notice it either. I did it all too! But after my accident all I could hear was ‘BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG”. And it drove my head crazy. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I felt nauseous, and I would get so frustrated and angry.
I’d ask them to please not bang things so loud, or please can we not use the glass place mats, or please stop boiling the kettle so loud. But they just thought I was being cranky. They thought I was making a fuss. “You must be tired, maybe you should go for a nap.” They didn’t understand the pain it caused me so we would argue.
But how could they understand? After all, how could something I’ve grown up with my whole life affect me this much now? How could eating a meal at our family table cause me so much pain and frustration when we were eating the same way we always have?
That didn’t stop the anger bubbling up though. And then, when they began to understand, it just made them even more worried that something so small could cause me so much pain. And this worry would just cause more (unreasonable) anger and lead to an argument. And I’m so sorry for that.
Luckily, I have the best, most loving, most supportive family anyone could ask for.
Funnily enough, the only person I never really got angry with was my brother, Colm. It’s just the two of us and we’ve always been more like best friends than siblings. So when things were all getting too much for me – i.e. my brain was about to explode with pain and anger – he would step in and take my side.
He was the mediator in our family. The peacekeeper. He saw it from both my side and my parents’ and always managed to diffuse the situation. He knew what I needed to hear, but he also knew what Mum and Dad needed to hear to make us all feel better. I wonder what he needed to hear to make him feel better? I know he was worried too… I honestly don’t know if we all would have got through it without him.
Colm lives in Dublin too so he was always there whenever I needed him. He was there to pick me up from my doctors appointments when I needed him, on the other end of the phone if I needed a rant, or cook me his delicious, unrivalled lasagne when I was having a bad week. And he was always checking in on me to make sure I was ok. Both for my sake, but also for my parents.
He would call in to visit me on this way to or from football as he “had nothing else to be at”, and I would let him think that I believed that. But I knew he was checking in on me to make sure I was doing ok and to see if what I’d been telling everyone on the phone was the truth. He could then report back to Mum and Dad how I was really doing and put everyones mind at ease for a while!
Angry at My Friends
Not only did I take my anger out on my family, but also on my friends. One friend would often call to check in on how I was doing. He would bring me for food or a (decaf) tea to get me out of the house, or stay in when he knew the outside world was a bit too much for me that day. He’d always have some bit of advice for me, and I’ll always love him for that.
But oh my god… If one more person told me to ‘stay positive’ I was actually going to scream. And so one day, I did….
One day Fergal called me to check in. I told him I wasn’t having a great day and, I’m not sure exactly what he said but, he definitely mentioned ‘just stay positive’. So, as one does, I lost it. I shouted down the phone to him as though he was every single person who ever uttered those words to me. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I knew I needed to be positive (and to be fair I was doing a pretty god job of continuing to be positive throughout this) but sometimes it was just too damn hard! Sometimes, when you’re not seeing any improvements, or if you’ve just had a particularly bad day, it’s hard to remain positive. Why don’t people understand that?
When I calmed down I apologised and explained how I was feeling and why I got so angry. He listened. He understood. It’s safe to say that was the last time he called to share that gem of advice. But he still called. He still visited. We’re still friends. And we always will be.
And my parents? Well, they’re just happy that I’m doing so well now. The arguments are forgotten. Although, I do get the occasional reminder every now and again! I’m sorry! I love you both more than words can ever do justice to and I’m so thankful for everything you’ve done to get me this far on my journey.
How I Manage My Anger
I don’t get as frustrated and as angry as I used to. (Although, I’m sure if you ask Noel he’ll tell you a different story!) But when I do, I don’t take it out on anybody. Again, I’m sure Noel will tell you a different story – but I do try! I try to remember that everyone is just looking out for me. We’re all on the same team. Everyone just wants me to recover and to be healthy. So instead of taking my frustration out on them, I go for a run, I practice mindfulness or I go for a nap to help me calm down.
I know how lucky I am to have come so far and how lucky I am to have had friends and family to support me on my journey. Thank you all of you! I couldn’t have got this far without any of you. And I’m sorry for the anger.