MS, Rage, and How I Stay in My Safe Place
Developing MS has affected my behavior in a thousand ways. I don’t mean it created behaviors that were never there before. Rather, it brought long hidden fears and insecurities to the surface and sprinkled radioactive dust on them, making them grow into the gargantuan snarling beasts of 1950s sci-fi movies that conventional weapons could not defeat. In real life, only human kindness and compassion can quiet the savage ogres. Though humans are all around us, kindness, compassion and understanding are not.
Rage festers in a hot, dry place. A patient, non-judgy ear and a few words of validation are like cool swigs of water made sweet by a pure, underground spring. As most of us have experienced, unkind sentiments abound, giving the impression that a sulfurous sewer flows beneath our feet instead. Where can we find the sweet water? Over the rainbow, my children. Drop me a line when you get there.
Maybe the sweet water is closer than that. Maybe we have to make our own. Or maybe if we are very patient, it will bubble up again naturally and according to its own timeline. Native-American writer Sherman Alexie made the point that Indian rain dances always worked because they danced until it rained.
Rage came first
Rage far preceded the onset of MS. Rage was modeled for me early on. That helps tremendously. For the first ten years of my life it scared me to see the raging parent’s face twisted into an ugly grimace, eyes flashing at me with hatred before the tongue spit its venom and the usually-calm voice modulated up into a piercing shriek. To survive it, I internalized it and used the scary tones to disarm an unlucky recipient in my adulthood. As inappropriate as that behavior is, I have actually cowed into silence two egotistical surgeons with my aggressiveness. A bully usually does retreat when their quarry fights back.
In my family, anger was okay but crying was not. We got slapped for crying so I learned to keep it in. I hid my hurt and funneled it into sarcasm. I wasn’t old enough or beaten down enough by life yet to express rage. My parents wouldn’t have allowed it anyway. One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “do as I say, not as I do.” So I saved it up for adulthood. Rage has only been fully realized during the past three years, and that is only because my mother died and I started living alone. So I let it out at the four walls.
But it’s not all bad. I have a great deal of tolerance for other’s anger because I know that pain is at its core. If I validate their anger, it won’t be long before that person feels safe enough to express the pain. It’s amazing how quickly our feelings can settle down if we get just a few calm words of support. Nobody had to teach me that. I consider it a gift I can give others that originated with the ranting of a deeply wounded, unhappy loved one. He’s been gone a while now, and I think about his wonderful laugh and gift for making people feel like they are the most special, interesting, amusing person in the world. People are so complicated. If we have any hope for our own redemption, we have to forgive them a hundred times over. Then we really ought to forgive ourselves.
How do I stay in a safe place?
There isn’t really a safe place, it’s a set of mantras, or thoughts, or fragments of images, sounds and phrases that pull me out of myself and back a few steps to take a breather.
I know my rage level is peaking when I can clearly imagine in detail a heinous act I’d like to try out on an unsuspecting A-hole that goes something like this:
Gee, I’d really like to push my thumbs into his eye sockets until he screams and bleeds and, if the gods are smiling on me today, will also cause permanent blindness.
I’m in the danger zone when I envision it with complete detachment, including a total lack of remorse after the deed is done. What stops me? I’ve often quoted my esteemed colleague, Ashley Ringstaff, who in a similar frame of mind once wisely stated: but I didn’t because I don’t want to go to jail. That is now one of my mantras. I’m convinced it’s the one thing that keeps me off the lethal injection gurney. Notice it has nothing to do with empathy for the wounded party and everything to do with saving my own hide. I’m going to give myself a break there, too. As uncomfortable as it is to wonder whether I’m a sociopath, even to a slight degree, I think it’s better to embrace that possibility and work with it than to deny it. Rage brings out the vengeful sociopath, so dialing down rage pulls me back to my better human qualities.
Are you an angry person? What do you do to remind yourself to take the high road? And if you don’t, what do you tell yourself afterwards?