Dealing With Anger

     The venerable Buddha once said, “holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone. You are the one who gets burned.” If this is true, then this blog entry is my attempt to release the coal before I go up in flames.

     Anger is a strange and tyrannical emotion. If left unchecked it can consume you whole. For me, the feeling usually comes out of nowhere and brings on a wrath of disproportionate size for one so small. I can spend all day being uber- sweet to all my students; smiling and answering their often-ridiculous questions with the greatest of patience. But when I get home I can blow up over the most minute, inconsequential details: misplacing a piece of paper, discovering that the yogurt in the fridge is strawberry and not vanilla, watching Jon take heaps of un-sauced spaghetti while leaving all the sauce, veggies, and meat in the bottom of the pan…   And that was just yesterday!    

     Anger management is not a new problem for me. While having dinner with Jess in Sao Paulo the other weekend he reminded me of several incidents in my early twenties where I totally lost it and then proceeded to smooth all of it over and pretend like it never happened. And that was a long time before cancer, before I had something that truly deserved my anger. So, I guess, my anger problems have not appeared suddenly, out of nowhere. Unfortunately the past year has only served to make them much worse.

     I don´t think going through what I have been through is an excuse to let your anger fly whenever you feel like it, but I will admit it does make it difficult for me to control my emotions at times. The other day I arrived at school after a busy weekend chaperoning a middle school Model United Nations trip to Brazil. For three straight days we were up early and with the kids from morning until night. We left at 5:30 AM on Friday and I arrived home on Sunday night at 1 AM. I was tired, cranky, and had to fast all day because I was scheduled to take all of my one-year post cancer tests after school. I was in no mood to talk to anyone. I was beyond exhausted, stressed because of the tests, and incredulous as to why it was so cold and so dark at 7:30 in the morning. All I really wanted to do was get in my classroom, finish the grading that I did not finish over the weekend, and simply get through the day. Unfortunately everyone wanted to talk to me to find out how the trip had gone. It would have been very easy for me to gush about how amazing the conference was and how well the kids did, because both of those statements were incredibly true. Instead I nearly bit the heads off of anyone who dared to greet me. My poor friend, Amy, was first in line. Instead of answering her simple question of, “How´d it go?” with the polite and expected response of, “It went great,” I said, “I don´t really feel like talking this morning,” in just about the most curt, stand-off-ish tone that I could muster. Realizing that my reaction was completely inappropriate I put my lunch away in the fridge and hurried to the bathroom to gather myself before anyone else could become a victim of Hurricane Eli. After several deep breaths I emerged and apologized for my behavior. Luckily we are good enough friends that she completely understood and did not harbor ill will.

     But this is what I mean by anger. It is a like an untamed beast that rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times. It requires a tremendous amount of effort to safely secure it back in its cage where it belongs. I don´t enjoy being angry. In fact, I am often embarrassed by this side of me. Evil Eli is not an alter ego I am especially proud of, and is most certainly not the one I would like people to remember me by. Most of all, I realize that this anger I am holding inside prevents me from embracing the good points of life, and causes me to instead focus on the bad things that I often have no control over.

     I have never been, nor probably ever will be, a religious person. But after unleashing all the bitterness that I have recently, I do want to take a moment to count my blessings and remind myself that there are still a lot of amazing things going my way. Against all odds, I was just given a clean bill of health: I am officially one year in remission! I recently spent Easter weekend on the beautiful island of Chiloe with Jon and two other friends. Most people don´t have the time or finances to even dream of the type of travel I regularly participate in. And also, I am a newly wed with a loving and supportive husband who has dealt with my anger in the most amazing way. Sometimes his love and patience seems so unwavering that it is like a mirror reflecting back at me, forcing me to see that I actually have nothing to be angry about at all. (Which, of course, sometimes makes me even more infuriated… Haha!)

   And with that, my friends, I will stop my complaining and officially release the hot coal with the hope that it smolders and dies out before anyone else gets burned.


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  1. Jane Chesney

    Anger is a normal human emotion. What you have described happens to each one of us. The ones we love the most are usually the same people who are ready targets when the pressure valve inevitably is released.
    Elizabeth, you may not be seeking God through organized religion, but the words in your blog reflect a search for life’s deeper meanings.


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