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Anger, Caregiving, and Thanksgiving

At this time of Thanksgiving, we can get in overwhelm. “On top of doing all of the preparation myself, I’m supposed to be thankful?” This is the way that Thanksgiving has felt with an entire family suffering with undiagnosed Myotonic Dystrophy (DM).

This year my sons were so sweet about Thanksgiving. They didn’t want me to have to do all of the work. Of course, having them help lighten the load of preparations isn’t an option. My sons brainstormed for a way to have Thanksgiving without overwhelming me. We have gone out to restaurants in the past and that isn’t very rewarding.

The idea that my sons came up with was to see if there is a Thanksgiving dinner at their grandfather’s senior residence. There is, and it’s a big spread. We just have to pay $15 a person. My sons were happy to cover the costs in order to keep me from having to do all of the work.

In the past when I have taken on all of the preparations I did everything in my power not to explode. That’s why I take Prozac, to numb my reactions. Especially since I’m the only one in my family that reacts to things. Most of my family are deprived of sensation due to the effects of DM. Due to that, in my past, I have carried the responses and reactions for everyone which has created an over-reaction in me. When I started on Prozac, over 25 years ago, it gave me the ability to not over-react. I think that I have found a good balance in that I don’t over-react but I am still able to address things that need to be addressed.

Anyway, by medicating myself and doing things that keep me from exploding, I sometimes carry my anger in other ways. I have attached a picture to this post. It is a picture of “The Anger Iceberg”. I have found this diagram to be very useful. It’s a picture of an iceberg. The part of the iceberg that is showing above the water is ANGER. In my family, when I have gotten angry it has been counterproductive. Instead of getting everyone to get engaged and help with the situation, it causes everyone to withdraw, both physically and emotionally. That is the last thing that I want, especially since it is already so hard for my family to be in touch with their emotions. Besides the fact that I feel horrible about myself on the occasion that I get angry, in order to prevent my family from suppressing my anger and having it show in other ways I have done a lot of work with therapists, doctors, and self-awareness to deal with my anger. I have found my voice and my inner power to deal with things appropriately instead of getting angry.

What I learned over the years is that there are so many other ways to experience anger. I just recently discovered the Anger Iceberg and it is a very visual way to explain all of the ways that we show our anger when we’re trying to suppress it.

Below the tip of the iceberg are many sensations and emotions. Some of them are feelings like hurt, grief, scared, guilt, insecure, helpless. Others are sadness, disappointed, lonely, overwhelmed, and embarrassed. Not to mention, stress, anxiety, tired, and shame. Especially with the extreme amount of needs that our loved ones have due to DM, isn’t stress and anxiety always being experienced?

I struggled for years with feelings of embarrassment. My family did not function the way that other families seemed to function. This caused me to withdraw into my own home and not interact with others except superficially. I love interacting with people. It feeds my soul. But, when others would get to know us more intimately I would always feel embarrassed. I would even get feedback such as “Let them fail, they’ll figure it out.” How frustrating it was to receive comments like this.

Obviously they didn’t understand the effects of DM on my family members. The truth was, I didn’t understand either. If I had understood I would have been able to ignore their comments. But instead, I took it personal. Those were the times that I experienced the emotions that are below the tip of the iceberg. I would feel so lonely, frustrated and insecure.

In some families, anger is seen as more acceptable than other emotions. A person might express anger in order to mask emotions that cause them to feel vulnerable, such as hurt or shame. It wasn’t that way in my family. Anger was a very shameful behavior so I tried to suppress it until I learned healthy ways of behavior. However, my oldest son was angry a great deal of the time. He now tells me that it was traumatic for him that we all withdrew from him and shamed him when he was angry. If we had only known all of the other emotions below the tip of the iceberg. Maybe we could have understood and accepted his anger and helped him understand what was going on inside of him.

No one else seemed to behave like my family therefore, I assumed that there was something wrong with us. Ha ha, there WAS something wrong with my family. It was genetic but back then I didn’t know about DM or that it was affecting all of my family members. I knew that my family couldn’t help their behavior but I didn’t understand why. Therefore I internalized everything and assumed something was wrong with the way I was mothering. Especially since I knew that they were trying. I never acknowledged how hard I was trying. I knew not to criticize them. I’m sure that I tried criticism but it didn’t make a difference and I didn’t feel good after I criticized. Also I knew in my heart that my family members were trying even though to others it didn’t look like it.

I hope that during this holiday season you can recognize any anger that you might be suppressing and find ways to process it. The holiday season can be very stressful for caregivers, instead of being a time of enjoying our family it can turn into a time of overwhelm and frustration.

As caregivers, the very term of caregiving states that we care. Don’t forget to care about yourself. In fact, if you don’t care about yourself you defeat your intentions. You are the lifeboat for your family.

If your lifeboat gets a leak in it everyone in your family is compromised.

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