Monday, November 28, 2005

After The Exodus...A Five Part Series On Grief Management...Part One: Anger

"Anybody can become angry, that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody's power, that is not easy."


After The Exodus...A Five Part Series On Grief

Part One: Anger

According to Dr. Elizabeth Kuber-Ross, grief has five stages. Denial, Anger Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. While most individuals will experience Denial first, there is no set pattern for the feelings one will experience after a loss. Grief is as individual as fingerprints, and there is no set timetable for how long the effects of grief will last. So what causes grief? Grief can manifest during any time a loss takes place. The most profound time of grief is immediately after experiencing the death of a loved one, but it will also manifest after other losses as well. The loss of a residence, a friendship, a love interest, an unmet goal in life, the loss of an important personal item, a change of employment, even the loss of a beloved pet. It can be even more pronounced when the loss occurs suddenly, without any warning. Sometimes, before we know it we are reeling, not sure what to do, and then the emotions begin to react to how we feel, and we will also begin to feel some physical changes as well. At this point the stages of grief are beginning to appear. For this particular series, I thought I would depart from the most common stage to first appear, Denial, and instead begin with the stage of Anger.


It has been very clear since "Black Tuesday" that the one emotion we all seem to be in touch with, although to deferring degrees, is Anger. It's understandable. The change that took place in the AOL Journal Community was one of sudden and absolute. In effect the placing of the banner ads on the top of the journals meant in most cases that an end was happening. It wasn't just any kind of an end, it was a blindside occurrence with which there was no compromise to at least mitigate the circumstances. There was no room for a compromise. The fact that it was the choice of each individual journalist to make up their own mind about either removing their journal or staying put did not change the fact that a transition was about to take place...a big transition. There was a loss felt for those who left and started over new elsewhere and there was a loss for the folks who remained, but had to watch their friends and community neighbors move elsewhere. This one of the few instances where everyone involved had a loss of some kind, to some degree.

Because this was so personal for so many, a lot of emotion rose to the surface quickly. Why were these ads being placed on our journals without warning or consent? Why had our trust in John and Joe seemed to be betrayed? Who was to blame for this decision? Could a compromise be met? Did we have any say at all in our own futures as journalists on AOL? How could AOL say they value us, then in effect ignore our questions? Then, how could they ignore our concerns? Then how could they ignore our outrage? Then how could they ignore our Anger. See, our anger was given all the space it needed to grow to a fever pitch and from there with no resignation, it remained for all of us in the it's varying degrees from mildly miffed, to disappointment in being let down, to anger. Anger loves to be fed, and it usually thrives on conflict. There is no greater way to feed and nourish anger then through being told, "No, this is the way it have NO choice but to accept your circumstances."

It's a harsh reality that when a loss occurs we rarely have any control to prevent it. Many things were said out of anger, some of them helpful and proactive, some of them hurtful, some of them dangerous. If not kept in check, things said in anger can do a lot of damage, and sometimes that damaged cannot be fixed. The damage I refer to doesn't just happen through the words we tend to speak without thinking, but also in the degree of anger and bitterness we feel about a particular situation. Physiological changes include; a rise in blood pressure, headaches, sleep disturbances, stress through ruminating on negative thoughts and feelings, tense or sore muscles, and a flux in appetite. I know about these physiological changes because I felt them for the first time when dealing with the death of my father.

Yes, one day, suddenly, I met the emotion of Anger upclose and very personal. After years and years of being afraid of anger, see, I was determined to never feel it. I had watched my family deliberately hurt other people for the mere sport of it, always yelling about this or that and of course the one who yelled the loudest...was usually deemed the one most correct, even if they really weren't. Well, when it came time for us to care for our parents, it fell on me to do the work, I was the youngest, I didn't have any children, so I was made the care provider. I didn't mind that, it was the constant criticism by my siblings that hurt. They visited my father on holidays only, and when they did they usually left with all kinds of reasons why I wasn't either doing enough or doing good enough. The hospital I chose for dad was wrong, it didn't matter that it was ranked the #6 acute care facility in California, they were somehow doing things to hurt our father.

The Christmas before he passed away, my sister came to visit our father in the hospital. My sister is a trained nurse, and therefore knows everything there is to know about medicine. During a break for dad's bathing time, my sister went out to the office of the charge nurse and demanded to see my father's chart. Now, of course the nurse couldn't allow her to see it, it was priviledged information between my father, his doctor and myself. The only reason why I had access to it was so that the doctor could give us updates once a month on his condition and progress. This was unacceptable to my sister. She reached over the desk and tore up the paper copy of his chart and began yelling at the both the charge nurse and the hospital administrator. Nice. It was Christmas, there were family members visiting other patients, and there was my sister yelling at anyone she could get in her sights. All because she couldn't have her way.

Now what? It was now on me to control the uncontrollable. No room for compromise, no room for bargaining, no room to deny what was happening, no choice but to focus on what was best for our father and ignore the tirade of my sister. That was going to come with some consequences whether I wanted it to or not. When the hospital administrator called me the next day she asked me why I couldn't control my sister. I felt myself begin to shake. Control her how? I told the administrator I was powerless to control her...I had no influence of her what so ever. The administrator then said that for the good of everyone involved, they would have to pursue a restraining order against my sister if just one more incident happened. I was being warned. All I felt was relief. I asked them to speak with her when she came in the next time and let her know their plans. Fortunately that stopped her from engaging in that kind of behavior to that degree again. She found other ways to act out, but not quite so demonstrative after that.

Her anger had got out of hand, because she believed she had a right to something she simply didn't. She made her circumstances a lot worse for herself by causing the person on the receiving end of her anger to search for a way to have no dealing with her. Wouldn't you? If someone were yelling at you over a circumstance way beyond your control, being belligerent, and in a way that makes you feel threatened, would you really want to answer their questions or for that matter, deal with them at all? In this situation I took the anger I was feeling, and applied it proactively. There was a time when I would have taken full responsibility for the actions of my family. In that moment, on the phone, feeling the anger of the hospital administrator, I made a decision to allow my anger to work for me and not against me. There would be many more instances of anger dictating less then perfect results in situations regarding the care of my father and two stand out in particular in regards to the days immediately after his death. After someone dies, people can be so thoughtless.

The day my father died I was at the hospital. His doctor came out from examining him to tell me his condition. He showed me EEGs, EKGs, results of his blood work. He said my father was hemorrhaging in his brain, but he never, ever said the words..."He is dying." I left the hospital to go and tell my family in person, so they could get to the hospital. I didn't have the heart to try and explain over the phone what was happening. I must have asked Alan a dozen times as we drove the 4 miles, "Do you think dad is dying?" Alan answered me, "yes," each time I asked. He let me asked him the same question a dozen times. He was quiet and patient, he allowed me to begin the first stage of profound loss...denial. Sigh.

When I got to my sisters house, I called the hospital for an update and I got the hospital social worker on the phone. I knew right away from the way she said, "hello." I asked how he was and instead of telling me he was sitting up eating or reading or really mad because he was missing the ballgame on TV, she asked me, "Are you alone?" I began to shake. I knew, somehow, I knew. Then I became really intune with my anger. She said to me, "Yes, your father did pass away, do you want to know if he was in any pain or how or if he suffered?" Huh? I felt all the air in me leave, the room began to spin, and I saw red. Before I knew it...I SAW RED! "Now why in the HELL would I want to know if he had been suffering? Ignorance is bliss...right?" The words were out there. No taking them back. I had just spoken in anger. I didn't feel any better, it didn't bring my father back, it didn't make the situation any better. All it really did was allow me to speak without thinking, the same as the social worker just had.

Here I am, years later, and I have learned that acting out of anger will probably never end well. Speaking in anger, will never really get the point we want to make across to the person we need to understand it. Do I get it right every time? Oh no. LOL. Do I never get angry. Oh no. LOL. I get angry, but it is much more important to me how I behave then how someone else does. What I do, what I say and how I say it will stay with me forever.

Listen, we are all angry right now. We have a reason to be. But for our own good, let's try to remember we are grieving. Joe and John are grieving. They are faced with the anger of all of Journal Land. They are facing the very same losses we are. A once tight community of talented and creative people has just been changed, without their input being considered, without their consent, and they are the ones who have to endure the wrath of our community as well as the apparent indifference of the AOL higher-ups. They could quit and run, but would that serve any of us? It's just my opinion here, but, it seems to me that all the genuine anger and honest betrayal we are feeling and acting on, is being aimed in the wrong direction. That isn't uncommon with grief because that is what it feeds on when it is at it's most negative...conflict.

Here are five small ways to care for yourself during times of grief...

1. Frequent breaks from the situation. Try 4 five minute breaks for complete quiet. Set a timer and sit alone in a dark room with your eyes shut. Focus on what you need to think about. Don't plan what your thoughts will be. If you need to cry, go ahead, knowing you are safe within yourself.

2. In this case, completely turn off the computer when you go to bed. Leave the situation for at least as long as you sleep, dwelling on this and ruminating will only continuously stir all the negativity.

3. Write an email or snail mail letter to the powers that be at AOL specifically. Let's forget the companies who bought the ad space for a moment. When all is said and done, it was the responsibility of AOL to choose when and where the ads were placed. Write a letter about how you feel, remembering the more you keep on topic the better the communication will be received.

4. Because of all the physiological reactions that occur with anger ie: muscle aches, headaches, clenched jaw, grinding teeth, it's important to maintain a proper diet and sleep hygiene. You must take care of yourself.

5. Find the balance in life. There are many other things to focus on. The holidays, your pets , your family, job, hobbies, the book you have been meaning to read, the book you have been meaning to write, those double chocolate chip brownies calling your name...LOL. The point is take care of yourself, and know the five stages of grief, while hard to face, will eventually lead you to a better understanding and tolerance for the inevitable changes in life we simply cannot control.

*Note: I am not a mental healthcare professional. I offer this series as a peer to peer suggestion only. Please contact a qualified mental health care professional to assist you in any long term care or need you may be experiencing.

Note: This will be the longest entry of the series, because there was a lot to cover with this particular stage. The next entries will be more basic then this one, and I apologize for it's length.

"The Flower Of Anger."
Berkeley, California
November, 2005


Kat said...

Hi Carly,
This is a very good journal entry. I liked the 5 simple ways to take care of yourself during grief. They are very helpful.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

There's a lot of wisdom here, Carly, and that quote from Aristotle is just perfect! I agree with all of this.

You know (keeping in mind that you are not a doctor), John has been complaining that I've been snoring recently, moaning in my sleep, even babbling. He thinks it's because I've been gaining weight, and having allergies. What if it's not that at all? Well, anyway, I told him to wear earplugs. :)


jennifer said...

I was raised under the rule that I was not allowed to be angry. After all, my job, as the eldest child, was to be the peacemaker, to keep my voice quiet and my eyes dry as everyone around me was falling apart.

So I rarely cry, and I even more rarely show my anger.

When the one place I had that was all mine, where the people I associated with were people I chose and I came to admire and love, was dirtied without any warning, I think a lot of pent up anger about a lot of things just came out. And they came out fast. And while I probably should have watched my words more carefully, those were honest words. Honest anger.

Some people took my anger at AOL personally. They were wrong to do that, because it was never intended as any reflection on anyone, simply my own reasons for being so hurt and my own reasons for leaving so abruptly. So I was mad right out of the blocks.

And, to be honest, it felt good to have a place to let it out, to scream foul and to defend my principles without (I thought) being told to be quiet.

And I'm glad I did rather than bottle it up yet again. Because now the anger is gone from me. I still grieve what we lost, and I will still fight for what I think is right, but I'm ready to move forward now.

But I certainly recognize those physical symptoms you list. I don't know how many times I would awake only to start grinding my teeth all over again.

Excellent idea, Carly.

DesLily said...

Good entry.. thank you.

I know i still have built up feelings about it all. I decided (finally) to move all my journal to blogspot, which i did.. then i also moved my UK journal "back home" to my normal aol journal. Because I was frustrated no matter which way i went "in aol".. if i remained at UK i had to move it all there (a second move) and who knows when the banners will show up there too? And then i would find myself right where i was again. So i was "tense" waiting for ads at UK and frustrated at my "home journal in aol"..

the animation of the ad is what bothers me most.. both the movement and the fact i am on dialup and it makes loading my journal that much longer.

So I am still "unsettled" in my feelings. I want to feel comfortable with BOTH the journals since they are mirror copies (so the disaster that happened to someone when aol lost 18 months of his journal doesn't happen to me!)

I'm no one important in "journal land" but i enjoyed it.. since it all happened I'm still not back to the enjoyment i had before it all began. I don't even write my posts with the feelings i had.. sure hope it gets better

Barb said...

I pray that those who read this will take to heart every word you've taken time to type out. Wonderful insight, terrific information, much to uplift one and get one feeling hopeful again.
Thanks and God Bless you, dear one.

sunflowerkat said...

It's funny...anger isn't what I feel, it's more a sense of disheartenedment. But, I'm the queen on shut down emotions.

Great entry Carly...very insightful! You turn your experiences into an oppotunity to learn, then share that wisdom with us all.

Thank you.

Globetrotter said...

Hey Carly,

At least I don't feel so bad now that I know that other people have felt enormous grief over the loss of a house.

I thought I was the only materialistic slut to feel that way!

Finally, a year later, I have entered acceptance and the nightmares have ceased.

Time always marches on, doesn't it?


V said...

Hi Carly,
I appreciate the amount of work and the personal sharing you`ve put into this part.

Madmanadhd said...

When I think about how much effort I put into my entries on ADHD I realize what effort and thought you put into this entry. Thank you for that.

Anger is often a secondary emotion whose flames are fed by other emotions, i.e. betrayal. Your explanation of how the anger can consume and your personal sharing make this a powerful, poignant entry.The suggestions at the end are ones I ahve seen before but needed this refresher. Thanks.