From the day of my accident, and throughout my time in the hospital, I went through a range of emotions. Some days, when I wasn’t making progress, I felt depressed. Other days, I felt excitement when I reached a new level in PT. Some days I was bored, and other days just flew by. The one emotion that I didn’t expect to encounter as much as I did.. was anger. Anger is an interesting emotion. There are some things that are absolutely worth getting angry about, while there are others that seem like a waste of time, because no matter how angry you get, it doesn’t improve the situation.
As soon as I was stable enough in rehabilitation to have time to think, I got angry a lot. I was angry about a number of things – angry at the motorcycle, angry at the curb, but mostly, angry at myself, for getting into this mess. Angry at myself for putting my family through this. Angry at pretty much everything. I even got angry at BJ from time to time, pushing back when I thought she was pushing too hard.
I noticed that others were angry with me, too. My wife was angry about having to take on all the burden of the kids and running the house, along with coming to visit me. She was angry about my taking a risk that put my own life and the family’s stability in danger. I don’t blame her. It may have been an accident, but some risks come with what can be devastating impacts that can be life-changing….or life ending.
I remember one day, where I was working on climbing stairs. I could only go up 3 or 4 steps at a time, and my wife was helping watch me during my PT work, and…she was angry. I would try to stop after a couple attempts, and that was not going to work for her. She kept pushing me verbally, egging me on, and eventually said, “You got into this mess, and you’re going to have to get yourself out”, before storming out the door, leaving early.
I stood there, holding on to the handrail, watching as she walked towards her car. I had never seen her this angry in my life.
When I was a young child, anger was something to fear. I grew up in a family where anger was a bad thing. Nobody ever blew up, lost their cool or yelled at someone else. If they did, it was highly frowned upon, and seen as a lack of control. Sometimes, however, anger jumped out when you least expected it, in a fight between siblings, or worse, a parent losing their composure and using a paddle to angrily spank an errant child.
While I may have grown up in a generation where spanking was common, it was still a shock and frightening moment when it happened. I learned that making mistakes sometimes led to punishment. I learned that getting upset or angry also led to punishment. Anything that stepped out of the expected behavior or didn’t meet the standards could lead to being physically beaten.
Anger can be a scary emotion.
It can also be useful.
In the first Marvel “Avengers” movie, the Dr. Bruce Banner character turns into The Hulk when he gets angry and loses control. By the end of the movie, the team of Avengers needs him to turn into The Hulk to help them battle an overwhelming enemy. Captain America says, “Now might be a really good time or you to get angry”, and as Dr. Banner walks towards the oncoming battle, he looks over his shoulder, and says, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.”
Hulking out, he jumps into the battle.
I thought about that for a long time. Anger can be scary, but if it’s focused and directed on the right target, it can be incredibly effective. I started to get angry on a daily basis. Not at me, or BJ, or my wife. Not at the motorcycle or my bad fortune…but angry at the obstacle right in front of me. Sometimes it was the next step forward. Sometimes it was going from 4 stairs to 5. Whatever obstacle was in the way of my progress became the focus of my anger, and I would Hulk out on a daily basis.
I never turned green or ripped my shirts, but I would bear down, grit my teeth, and even growl at myself to push myself just one more step.
And it seemed to work. Getting angry made me progress much faster than I would have if I stayed passive and waited for someone to help. Some days I needed to ask for help, but if I hit the floor, I was not going to ask unless there was no other way to get up. I got angry. I pushed harder. I got up…and tried again.
A funny thing happened – all this anger I was using up on my obstacles….seemed to take it away from the other potential recipients. Both Peace and BJ noticed that my mood was much better outside of PT, or when I finished with another hard session. My wife and kids noticed my mood improving, and started to visit more often. Learning that anger could be a force for good was an amazing revelation for me. Anger wasn’t something to be feared, it was something to be focused. It was a tool that I could use to channel my frustrations into forward progress.
Ever since then, I haven’t feared anger, whether it’s mine, or someone else’s. If someone seems angry with me, I will attempt to see if I have done something that merits the anger, but if it’s just someone having a bad day, I just assume they’re angry near me, rather than at me. It’s not something to take personally. The same goes for me getting angry around other people. I try to make sure that I’m doing something positive to resolve the situation, rather than stewing in my own frustration or venting at someone who doesn’t deserve it.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t get angry. I do. Sometimes on a daily basis….but that’s my secret. I’m always angry. I’m just choosing the right target for the anger.