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Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Anger

I am a cautious individual by nature. I fear falling, getting hurt, being embarrassed, making the wrong choice, answering too quickly, failing, disappointing people, breathing incorrectly---you know, the basic fears most people have.

Between my fear of falling and my cautious nature, my five year old self was scared to use crutches on my own after my achille's tendon surgery on my left leg. Doctor's orders stated that I was not allowed to put weight on my foot for a while after the surgery. My 5 yr old wisdom told me that was ridiculous, but found out it wasn't once pain upon standing showed me who was actually the ridiculous one. While I was unaware of it at the time, since my cerebral palsy is on the left side of my body, it also hugely impacts my balance--as in, giving myself even a little credit for balance is being generous--therefore making it even harder for me to use the crutches. As a result, my mom ended up helping me walk around the apartment anytime moving meant crutches would be involved.

At that time, much to my disdain, my mom felt it necessary to include an afternoon nap as part of my daily schedule. On one such afternoon, I was arguing with my mom about something (very important, I'm sure. I argued with her just about every chance I got on anything from whether or not my fancy socks should be pulled all the way up or folded down as designed to how I should wear my hair for the day.) and she decided that it was time for my afternoon nap. She got my crutches and came over to the couch to help me walk to my room as she always did. Furious as I was, I pronounced, "NO! YOU don't help me. I will do it myself!" So, my mom backed off to let me "do it myself."

It was a long journey down the hallway that day. I was scared as I wavered on the crutches on my own, but I was much too stubborn to let my mom help me. I was determined to do it alone. And I did. After that, though moving very slowly at first, I used the crutches on my own, but still recognized that I needed help for obstacles such as stairs. And in her everlasting patience, my mom was there to help me when I needed it.

It would be nicer, I think, if this little story went something more like this: because of my mom's love and encouragement, I learned to use the crutches on my own. Doesn't that sound so...Walgreen's? Or the way it would be if I lived with the cast of Full House...but I know better. All the assistance and patience in the world was not going to get me onto those crutches on my own; it was my anger that finally propelled me to take a risk.

Society often frowns on anger as though it is not ok to experience it under any circumstances. I will tell you that I disagree. There have been times in my life --sometimes lasting months, sometimes up to a year--where anger was the only thing to keep me going. It motivated me to achieve things when nothing else could, to take risks I would normally be too fearful to take, to make a change in my life so as not to end up in that position of anger again.

At Adult Partial Hospitalization, I found people who had experienced the same thing: where anger had caused them to finally get out of an abusive relationship they had been scared to leave, or out of a job that was suffocating them, or allowed them to confront a loved one who was not respecting their boundaries. Whatever the case, there was story after story, heart after heart, who knew that anger was what they needed in order to face whatever bear was in their way.

And yet, I can also tell you that I found people with story after story of how anger had trapped them, how their anger towards their past, their childhood, their present, their situations, their lives was just eating them up and locking them into misery. Even so, I am not afraid of anger and I am not ashamed when I feel angry. Anger is natural and even appropriate at times. It is what we do with our anger, how we decide to respond to it, that defines whether we are propelled to walk on our own or sit on the couch cursing the world for the fact that we need crutches.

I have been there. I have been that person on the couch cursing the world. I know sometimes it feels like the only defense we have--like if we aren't angry, if we get off that couch to try to walk without help, we are going to fall and things will be worse. The truth is, it might feel was a slow and scary walk to my bedroom the day I refused help from my mom. But once I had done it the first time, I knew I could do it again. Use your anger while you need it, but then let it go.

Let it go so that when you wake up from your nap, when you've had a chance to rest after your anger has subsided, you can say, "Look, Mom! Now I can walk on my crutches by myself!" and see her smiling back at you.

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