Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

April 4, 2009

Anger’s Place

In my speeches, my blog, and my online work with survivors, I talk so much about the good that has come out of my injury and the joy I find in so many things, sometimes I get the impression that I alienate people who are tempted to tell me to take my baby bunnies and all my sunshine and go…

When you’re angry, hurt, and immeasurably disappointed about how something in your life has turned or turned out, the last thing you’re searching for is Little Miss Sunshine telling you it’s all good.  I get that.  I do.

It’s important, I think, to recognize how important anger, frustration, sadness and grief are.  They are real.  They are healthy.  And they are essential.  When you are moving from catastrophe to a new life you never imagined, they certainly deserve their say. 

And that can be any new life.  Not just brain injury.  Loss is loss.  Change can be hard.  Your significant other has an affair or terminates the relationship you felt perfectly happy in.  You lose your job in this still-crumbling economy.  You lose your home or find out you have a very serious disease.  Everything changes when you didn’t ask for it.

I’ve listened to people all across the country who  have shared their feelings of guilt for not always remembering how lucky they are to have survived.  Whether it is their brain injury or any significant life loss, they are scolding themselves for returning to feelings they don’t wish to have any longer.

If you’ve lost a parent, a child  or someone extremely close to you, it doesn’t matter how many years it’s been.  Grief returns.  And there’s nothing to apologize for.  Life can be incredibly sad.  Incredibly painful.  No two ways around that.

What I try to convey is that there is a difference between the death of a life or lifestyle you once chose and an actual death of a person you loved.  There is a time when anger over TBI has reached a point where it becomes as debilitating as the injury itself.  And, when it is spewed out at the people around you who don’t deserve it, then it’s a problem you need to get help with.

I never red-flag periodic anger in the first two years after injury.  Knowing how difficult it is to understand the intricacies of brain injury and the challenges that recovery poses, I think it’s totally normal.  As the injury continues to injure by slowly chipping away at jobs and marriages and hopes for recovery, there are new waves of disappointment and painful loss.  Anger in itself can be a symptom of the injury, when the ability to regulate emotions gets damaged.

No, I’m talking more about the too many people I meet who are four, five, six years post who tell me they spend their every day yelling at God, their families and whatever friends are left because they are still so enraged they got hurt.  That’s a problem.

I would imagine there are instances in life when it would be awfully hard to set down the anger.  Sometimes I look at news coverage of the families of victims of homicide and I wonder if I could forgive the senseless taking of a life I so love.  I honestly don’t know.

I think the difference in the case of brain injury recovery is the very fact that we didn’t die.  I can be all the angry in the world  at the woman who ran those red lights and smashed into my car.  But, in truth, I’m just so grateful she didn’t kill me.  The story didn’t end that day.

And that’s why I do seek the gifts and feel the joy.  That is why the anger and the frustration and the grief were so short-lived in my case.  Simply because she didn’t take everything. 

There are people in today’s economy who are choosing not to recover from the loss of their fortunes.  They have chosen not to see how it all plays out.  How it could be.  How it might feel better one day.  How they might turn it around.  They have ended their lives.  Similarly,  the ones who kill their kids and then themselves after a devastating divorce. 

It’s not my right to judge someone’s loss or how that feels for them.   But I really feel like death is different.  I’m not a parent and I cannot imagine how the loss of a child would be.  Can’t imagine.  I still grieve over my mom and she’s been gone for ten years now.  My dad’s been gone a year and a half.  I imagine, like waves, the pain of their loss will return to me now and again for the rest of my life.

But for those recovering from brain injury, I’m only trying to point out that, after five years, when you continue to spend your every day yelling at your spouse or your kids or your friends, it’s time to consider getting some professional counseling to address this.   They’re still here and they still love you and it’s time to get some help before they’re gone forever and the loss is permanent.  Before the chapter claps closed for good.

To wake up every morning means we have been given the opportunity to make things better.  To decide that anger only empowers an injury that has already taken so much.  I don’t believe that any person lives the perfect life.  I also don’t believe that, had we not been injured, our lives would have danced merrily on without some event just as horrific, or worse, at some point.

So I believe instead that, because we’re still here, we have the opportunity to create and design a life just as good as the one we lost to injury, even if it doesn’t look much like that first one did.  It’s not “all better” without brain injury.  It’s not.  And once you realize that it was not all perfect then and that it’s not all perfect for those without TBI, then you realize that anger doesn’t need to be quite as all-consuming. 

That life you had before will always look better until you start filling this second one with new and better things.  You can’t live that first life anymore.  It’s gone.  It’s time to live THIS life.  Love THIS life.  Rock THIS life. 

We can do this!!!!

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4 Comments »

  1. […] Anger’s Place « Kara Swanson’s Brain Injury Blog […]

    Pingback by Anger’s Place « Kara Swanson’s Brain Injury Blog — April 4, 2009 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

  2. This is so right on! My brain now has the ability to stay focused and interested. I wish more people could get the usefulness of these blogs. I wonder if therapists use them? Maybe you should reprint some of these blogs where more people could be touched by them? But then again, maybe you couldn’t handle the notoriety…lol

    Comment by Mike Altman — November 14, 2010 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  3. I need to note this post as it is empowering.

    Comment by Thomas — October 24, 2011 @ 3:49 pm | Reply

    • Oh, I’m so glad, Thomas. Thanks for writing!

      Comment by karaswanson — October 24, 2011 @ 5:31 pm | Reply


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