“When I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, I was relieved at first,” shares Cindy. “So many doctors kept telling me to see a psychiatrist, but I knew it was my body, not my head, that was in trouble.”
She explains, “I had spent so much time before my diagnosis being mad, having my illness finally validated was a great feeling. But six months later, the anger set in the pain management of the illness seemed to barely exist.”
Many people are familiar with the book “On Death and Dying,” written by a well-known doctor in Switzerland, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The book explains how people deal with any kind of loss, but especially that which they face when coping with an illness. It includes a description of the cycle of emotional stages that people go through in dealing with loss. Anger is the third stage, following the stage of shock and denial.
Anger is a natural reaction to a diagnosis of chronic illness. Acknowledging the feelings and working through them is a part of the cycle of mourning and grief. And any loss in life requires us to go through a time of mourning, especially the losses of our dreams when we find out or body will never be the same.
Admitting that we have deep emotions about the losses is part of the mourning process. The stages of the grief process differ for each person and how much time is spent there. You may find you breezed through the anger phase the first year for illness, but the second year when you lose another ability, you are angry for months.
Cheryl, who lives with diabetes, shares, “For the longest time the disease was just an annoyance, but once I had to start checking my blood sugar ten times a day and watching every bite I ate, I got angry. I lashed out at everyone, even my husband and daughter. I was so jealous they could eat whatever they wanted and didn’t even appreciate it.”
One thing is certain: anger should come. If it has not, you may want to take a closer look at why.
“It is my observation,” says Linda Noble Topf, author of You are Not Your Illness, “that the absence of anger in the face of a serious illness suggests that we have already withdrawn from life, that we have relinquished our passion for living, that we are resigned and emotionally numb.”
When you are Christian it can feel shameful to even express that you have angry feelings. Too often Christians believe that their angry emotions are sinful and something that those with a great deal of faith never experience. They even believe that those feelings they do have are not even quote “allowed.” Have you ever experience some of these feelings?
- If my faith is strong enough, then I should trust that God is in control, so I shouldn’t be angry at what He has planned. Doesn’t anger show a lack in faith?
- If I tell other Christians about my angry feelings, and how frustrated I am with this disease, won’t they think I am weak in my walk with Christ?
- The Bible says, “Wise men shouldn’t anger.” I am far from being wise, but I still don’t want to disappoint God.
- I understand anger can lead to bitterness. So if I don’t admit I am angry, will I be a better Christian, focusing on just the positive stuff in life?
These feelings are not unusual, yet, they prevent us from coping with the grief that we are experiencing by the loss of our health and lifestyle.
Here are a few tips to guide you in dealing with anger.
1. Are you feeling angry? Acknowledge this emotion and then move on with life
It is easy to believe if we bury our anger we will become a stronger person. Topf recommends, “Think of anger as a resource that you can learn to harness and refine for your own benefit.” By claiming your feelings you can reclaim your personal identity and your true emotions about the situation.
In the Bible the story of Job shows how he became angry at the events in his life (including the outbreak of sores all over his body). He even cursed the day he was born. As Job’s life went on, God bless him with even more material assets, family, and choice. Job told God, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful to know” (Job 42:3b). Through his anger and frustration, he eventually found wisdom and character. You can’t fake it through life or you will never benefit from this challenge you’ve been given
2. It is all right to have angry feelings
God designed us to feel a wide variety of emotions and one of these is anger. There are numerous instances in the Bible where Scripture specifically tells us about how even God got mad. What does the Bible tells about how to cope with our own angry feelings?
- “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20).
- “Wise men turn away anger” (Proverbs 29:8b).
- “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11).
God understands that anger is a part of our human instinct, but it should never become our lifestyle. Some people may point out that it takes anger to get things accomplished. Even Mothers against Drunk Drivers seem to have an appropriate acronym of “MADD.” Topf says, “We discover that anger is first and foremost a demand for change.” Some would argue that the attitude of “I’m-not-going-to-take-it-any-more” has been the beginning of great changes in our history. And this is true, but the key is not to get stuck in that anger phase for the rest of your life.
In Amos 1:11, God says, “I will not turn back my wrath… because his anger raged continually.” God isn’t upset because of the presence of anger, but because the anger was continuous. God calls us to put our focus on Him and try to make a difference that will bring glory to Him.
3. Walk alongside God and He will walk with you through the anger
In the Bible, David experienced this promise and wrote, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me” (Psalm 138:7). God is always waiting for you to stretch out your hand to Him, especially when in anger reigns. He will protect you from using it unwisely.
“I’m still dealing with anger toward this illness, after eight years of being sick,” shares a woman who lives with fibromyalgia, Peggy says, “Each time I experience a new limitation, I get angry all over again. But as I learn to cope with living with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and the limitations it places on my activities, I expect God’s perfect grace. I pray that He will become slow to anger, as I am depending on the scripture, ‘The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love’” (Psalm 103:8).
Coping effectively with anger will be a challenge we deal with for the rest of our lives. Some of the most vital guidance to cope with it is in a scripture that I point to in my book, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? Discovering the Validation Those with Chronic Illness Seek and Why where I steer one through emotions of bitterness, jealousy and anger that accompanies illness. Hosea 7:13b-14 says: God says, “I long to redeem [you] but. . . [you] do not cry out to Me from [your] hearts, but wait upon [your] beds.” So don’t flop down on your bed and wail “Why is this happening to me?” Instead pour out your heart to the Lord and merely ask Him for help.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.