Thursday, September 19, 2013

#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: "Anger management? I just want to punch somebody in the face."

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: Every time someone comes up to me and says, "How ARE you?" or tells me what an inspiration I am, I just want to punch them in the face. It's not their fault, but it pisses me off. What am I supposed to do with all this anger?

Ashley says: Feeling anger towards friends and family is normal. From people who are currently undergoing treatment to people who have been in remission for years, they all go through a rollercoaster of emotions regarding their experience with cancer. Having the emotions is neither positive nor negative; it is how you cope with them that matter.

One option for coping with anger is to focus it into energy and motivation to do something active. For example, take up running, biking, dancing, or some other activity. This helps to relieve the tension and gives you an outlet that you can utilize again and again.

Another option is to use your anger as fuel for creativity. Try your hand at painting, restoring an old piece of furniture, or pottery. These tasks require your focus and attention to detail. They can distract the anger you feel and burn it up in mental focus. You can come out feeling less angry and have a work of art you can be proud of.

Or perhaps, a more internal medium is what you are looking for. In that case, journaling can be an excellent tool for coping with the anger you feel. It can be a daily effort or utilized only on occasion when the emotion seems over the top. Getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head and on to the paper can help lower its intensity but also help you to focus on what it is exactly and where it is coming from. Processing the emotion can help you understand its origin and what it means for you.

Communicating how you feel with your family and friends is an option, and an important one. These other options described above can help you independently manage the anger in a healthy way but preventing the build up from happening in the first place comes with sharing how you feel with your loved ones. It may be that they want you to know they care by discussing the topic of cancer specifically. You could tell them that you would prefer more of the day-to-day conversation and less reminders of cancer. This gives your loved ones choices on how to interact with you rather than simply being pushed away. Chances are they will choose to adjust their conversation topics in an effort to stay connected with you and be supportive.

The Mayo Clinic’s Nurse Educator, Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. has more on anger and cancer here.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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