I’ve used on more than one occasion in my writing the example of squeezing an orange or lemon – when you squeeze it, obviously what you get from it is orange or lemon juice. Because that’s what it has inside. In the same way, if someone is walking along with a cup of coffee, and you bump into them, what you will spill is coffee – because that’s what the cup is full of.
Well, if you squeezed me – what poured out of me was anger. For so long, I was the angry woman.
In part, I was angry because I never learned how to manage anger as a child – it was “not a valid emotion”. Feelings of anger were invalidated – “you shouldn’t feel angry”. That’s not a very helpful way of teaching a child that is witnessing injustice to manage their pain and emotions. So, I swallowed my anger. Until it filled me up!
I learned people-pleasing – or “fawning” as you will read about if you read about trauma and abuse of children. You make sure that others like you by doing what they ask – especially when you believe that you are not allowed to say “no”. I’m not talking about sexual abuse – but there was emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse, which I have written about prolifically.
All of this results in feeling of inferiority, frustration and being powerless. You feel disrespected, until you no longer respect yourself.
But there was so much more happening in my life than just repressed anger that I was holding back. I admit, I don’t often talk about the challenges, but lately I’ve felt that there may be others that need to know that they are not alone in struggling.
I hope that this, in some ways, encourages you to get the help and healing you need.
Irritability and Celiac Disease
While I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease back in 2012 and I was so relieved to find out that my rage and irritability had a physical cause, that wasn’t all. In 2012 I felt I was going crazy with the irritability – my rational mind knew that getting angry over stupid small things made no sense at all, but the smallest mistakes could send me into a tailspin.
Over time, I learnt that the damage done to my gut – with about 10 years of misdiagnosis – I was not absorbing nutrients, I probably had leaky gut, and I most certainly was not producing enough dopamine, serotonin and nor-epinephrine.
My immune system was on constant red alert, in survival mode. My small intestine – and to some extent my large intestine – were constantly inflamed, overproducing stress hormones, and giving me brain fog.
Add to that the lack of sleep from an inflamed bowel
Unfortunately, Celiac Disease is linked to poor sleep, because of the restless leg syndrome (neuropathy), and the poor sleep leads you to feel exhausted. For me, any time there is bloating, I get a poor night’s sleep.
Of course, I finally had to accept a few years ago that I was no longer able to drink red wine or coffee – neither of which are directly related to Celiac Disease, but rather the damage to my intestines is such that I simply can’t handle it. I’ve since found out that wheat (or gluten) is a common ingredient – or at least cross contaminant – in coffee! If I want a coffee, I actually have to make sure that it’s gluten free, and not simply assume that because it says “coffee” as the only ingredient that there is no chance of contamination. I’ve since switched to hot cocoa – which guarantees much better sleep!
Emotional & mental challenges
I said I’d talk about healing, so I want to dive into the root causes of the anger I was feeling. Not just the physical, but also the emotional and mental causes. Anger is called a secondary emotion – because typically we feel it in order to hide another emotion that is “more uncomfortable”.
Pain, sadness & depression
I used anger, in part, to mask my pain. I got angry so that I wouldn’t have to acknowledge the pain that I was in – both physically as well as emotionally. Let’s be honest – it feels better to feel angry than it does to feel pain! Admittedly, it’s only a distraction. But it feels so much more “in control” than feeling vulnerable.
When I feel angry, I can focus that anger on something or someone. I can choose a cause and justify the way that I feel. In pain, on the other hand, what power do I have?
Of course, it’s really hard to differentiate the physical from the emotional, when rage and irritability are a side-effect of Celiac Disease. Chronic pain can also go hand-in-hand with Celiac, whether as bowel pain or even joint pain (like arthritis or a constant feeling of “I guess I’m getting the flu“).
The other difficulty is separating the depression you feel from sadness – and feeling sorry for yourself – from the depression you feel from the chemical imbalances that are happening in your body caused by the Celiac Disease itself.
Long-term anger can be a symptom of depression. And depression can be a side-effect of Celiac Disease.
And believe me. I was angry. All the time. I honestly thought I was going crazy, recognising how irrational my anger and outbursts were, and feeling so out of control. My responses would be so disproportionate to the triggering event.
Of course, if you look at the symptoms of depression – they forget to mention that anger and angry outbursts can be one of the symptoms that often shows up when someone is depressed and trying to continue functioning.
Fear and anger
One of the ways that we handle fear is by getting angry. Much like the way we deal with pain, anger allows us to feel more in control than fear does. So, many programs for anger management have a component of fear management. And part of managing fear is managing your mind and your thoughts.
Of course, a complication with Celiac Disease is that our immune system – the part of our body that is in charge of deciding what is “self and not self” is compromised. The very part of us charged with protecting the body is actually attacking it! It identifies me (or rather the gut lining of my small intestine) as the contaminant, rather than recognising gluten as the problem to be eradicated.
How do you manage fear when you body is attacking itself?
Ways of expressing anger
As I mentioned, I grew up believing that anger was unacceptable, and only saw unhealthy expressions of anger, as well as beatings if you responded to abuse with anger. Do not confront injustice. As I was not allowed to express anger, I never learned how to express it in a healthy way.
So I learned to swallow it down, to hold onto it and hide it deep within myself.
Unfortunately, repressed anger only has two ways to go:
- You can aim it at yourself, as guilt, shame and self-loathing; or
- You can turn it outwards, as projected anger towards others.
I learned that the first was safer, except for sarcasm.
Sarcasm and venomous retorts
They say sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, and the highest expression of intelligence – and I used it scathingly. Unfortunately, sarcasm is also hostility disguised as humour, a covering for contempt. People on the receiving end of sarcasm often feel put down – so this is not a healthy form of communication.
My tongue could be cutting, and easily hurt others. A harmful weapon, rather than spicy wit used in a conversation.
My anger felt overwhelming when it surfaced, and because I didn’t know how to allow it to empower me, I avoided confrontation, fearful that my anger would simply explode. It took me years of studying – even with my legal background and negotiation skills for clients – to have difficult conversations. It’s easy to represent someone else’s interests, but I did a terrible job at representing my own, especially when angered.
Anger left me feeling anxious, guilty and stressed. All I wanted was to shut it down, rather than knowing how to use my anger resourcefully.
Reclaiming the power and magic
I set out on a journey of healing many years ago. Initially, I was just interested in the physical aspects of it, but as I have learnt the hard way, it’s impossible to heal the physical without looking deeply into the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of being.
Unfortunately, I discovered that in order to heal the pain, you had to be present with it, instead of attempting to avoid it. I have been blessed over the past ten years to have therapy, breath work, coaching and even spiritual healers to work with.
The challenge of acceptance
I tried for forty years to avoid the pain, and then finally had to accept that the way to the other side was through the middle. Accepting that feeling bad might be the way to finally feel good.
I am so thankful for my journey in mBraining, getting present in my body and with all of my intelligence centres. Avoidance might provide a short term gain, but it brings long-term problems. Sometimes, acceptance that the way through is the only way is the answer.
Part of my process was accepting that I had stored so much sadness in ny body and never gone back to retrieve and release it. These emotions can be trapped in our fat cells, as storage, and then as we work to lose the weight, we come face-to-face with old emotions that we swallowed down. I finally had to accept that it was time to face the pain, rather than putting the weight back on again.
I know that sadness accompanies loss, but I held myself up as being resilient and strong. I struggled to see myself as vulnerable, and certainly not as “sad”. But in the end, I finally had to open up to the sadness that was causing bitterness in my life, in order to be able to release it.
Letting go and surrender
There is so much in life that is beyond my control, even if I am a control freak. While I might want to control everything, the one thing this journey has taught me is that I only drive myself into the ground and burn myself out attempting to control it all.
As I’ve allowed healing to start, I’ve accepted surrender. Some things are beyond my control and are not worth my time of day and the worry that I have invested. Control is my fear, saying that I need to control the outcome, because I don’t know what will happen.
In surrender, I return to the present moment and remember to breathe, asking myself how I want to respond and react. How do I want to be known to others? What habits would I like to build in this response?
Focusing on what I can control
I realized that I spend much less energy when I focus my attention on what is within my control – my choices, rather than other people’s reactions. I can choose what I say, but I have no control how another person will receive or interpret it. I can only be present with their response, and give further explanation as required.
While I can control how much time and energy I give to others, I have no way to manipulate what they think of me.
So, my choices are limited to choosing whether I procrastinate or whether I move ahead and work on something meaningful. Nonetheless, I cannot control the results of my work. I can only see the results that I get, and then refine my actions, until I get the results that I intend.
Fear and anxiety
Learning to focus on what I can control goes hand-in-hand with learning to manage my fear and anxiety. Similar to the lessons in dealing with pain, the only way through fear is into the middle of it. Facing the fear, rather than avoiding it.
The best lesson that I have learned in 2019 about fear is that there is always a treasure inside. At the very centre of the fear, there is something important that I am striving to protect. When I can identify what it is that I am protecting, I can choose a new way to approach the challenge. Perhaps the treasure is just a memory, and it no longer needs protecting. Or perhaps it is valuable, but there are other alternative ways of keeping myself safe. It is only by stepping into the fear that alternatives and options begin to emerge.
Forgiveness and release
You would think that growing up in a Christian household and being sent off to a Christian boarding school at 8-years-old I would have mastered forgiveness. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really taught how to forgive and forget.
I knew it was something we were meant to do. But no one ever took the time to explain to us “how” to forgive another. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the work that was required in forgiveness.
In order to forgive someone for making me feel angry, I first had to accept and acknowledge that I felt angry. And this is where my forgiveness was always faulty. I hadn’t realized that I had to get real about what I was feeling, and that even though “this shouldn’t bother me”, it really did bother me. And THIS is where the deep work takes place.
As long as I won’t admit what I am feeling, there is no way to release it and let it go!
Forgiveness is a dirty process. It really is going through your dirty laundry and the skeletons in the closet, and cleaning it all out to release it.
Without a doubt, forgiveness is only for the strong.
Facing depression and acknowledging its existence in my life
There is a constant struggle in my life with depression – whether the source is physical or mental and emotional. I know that the Celiac Disease causes depression, but my lack of control and the way I manage my Celiac can cause more depression.
Getting to know myself, and my body – recognizing the causes of depression and the signs of when my body is not getting what it needs – this has been hard work. I’m still battling it.
Which parts are physical and which are mental/emotional – the lines get very blurry. The question becomes one of what should I tackle first? And typically, I take care of the physical first and then check in on the emotional and the mental.
Unfortunately, depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness, especially when it’s all about the gut and inflammation.
But, each day I continue to work towards total healing.
Finding the magic and the power
Do or do not, there is no try.Yoda
Healing is fully owning my experience, my feelings and the choices I make along this journey. I can say “he made me angry”, in which case I have no power.
Or I can choose to say “I chose to respond with anger”, in which case I have all the power in the world.
But if I am choosing anger as my response, what is my underlying emotion or feeling? What have I been masking why I put on the face of angry woman?
Today I choose to face life from a different angle.
I hope that one day, I will simply be that woman that is compassionate, courageous and creative.
But until then, I will continue to explore the magic and power that lies beneath my anger, as I learn to let it all go and simply surrender into what is.