Anger! (And Diabetes)

I have no doubt that I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it again. I’ve been thinking about anger and diabetes this week. It seems to hit me in cycles, this feeling of, “Wait a minute, I’m angry about this!” I live my regular daily, diabetes-filled life without giving it a whole lot of thought, and then it seems to bubble up to the surface all at once. This week has been one of those weeks when it bubbles up.

During these kinds of weeks, I’m reminded again of the emotional WEIGHT living with this chronic disease has on a person. Even writing those words, “chronic disease,” causes my emotional self to stir a little. Because diabetes is NOT just some simple condition that means we “can’t have sugar,” as the wider world tends to think. No, diabetes is a complex thing to manage; it has serious consequences for any failure to manage it; it demands time, thought, energy, and focus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; and even after all of that time and effort, it can STILL misbehave and infuriate us some days. What I’m saying is that managing diabetes is an INVOLVED process — we don’t just take a pill and forget about it. No, we have to build our lives AROUND it. And we have a right to be mad about that.


Skillfully angry
Anger is not a bad thing. In fact, anger is a perfectly normal, even positive, emotion in our arsenal of reactions. There are many times when a little anger is needed. We SHOULD feel anger when we see injustice; we SHOULD feel anger when we’ve been taken advantage of or attacked. Without any anger, we would all be doormats! So feeling anger is not a problem. What IS a problem is unskillful handling of anger, and that’s something all too common for us.

You see, anger may not be an inherently BAD emotion, but it is a scary one. It’s an intense one, and so we’re easily thrown off by it. We avoid it by stuffing it down into ourselves and letting it fester, or we immediately explode and hurl it at the world around us, thinking we’ll “get rid of it” that way. Or, we simply get “lost” in it, allowing it to pull us away from productive actions and instead inviting us to simply stew in it. It can become a strange drug that we’re addicted to.

In spite of the obstacles, it is possible to be “skillfully angry.” A lot of positive changes in our world have come directly out of skillful anger. The Civil Rights Movement was an example of skillful anger — in fact, any good activism or movement for social justice is an example of anger handled well. In these cases, anger can be a motivating energy to push change. But what about something like diabetes — something that can’t be fundamentally changed? It can be managed, but it can’t be “defeated.” In our case, we can’t exactly redirect anger to “defeat” diabetes. We have to live with diabetes every day — if we’re constantly trying to “defeat” it, we simply end up bitter and unhealthy.

Catch and release
We need to have a “catch and release” approach to anger with diabetes. By that I mean we need to learn how to experience the anger and acknowledge it (to avoid stuffing it and letting it fester), and then release it (without exploding on those around us, and without latching onto it and getting lost in it). There are a number of things we can do to help us achieve this. Mindfulness practices help us experience our emotions without becoming stuck in them. We become better at both recognizing and acknowledging our feelings, and we become better at letting them go. Mindfulness practices include meditation, contemplative prayer, yoga, journaling, or even just taking a silent walk in nature.

We can also find healthy ways to express our anger moreā€¦ well, angrily. When I was in high school I had a punching bag in my room. I meditated, and that was great, but sometimes I just needed to vent, and the punching bag was a fantastic tool for that! A contact sport might fit the bill for some of you. Or maybe you can join a punk band — in my travels as a musician, I’ve met a few punk musicians. Most of them were amazingly calm, peaceful people. And I’ve often wondered if perhaps part of their secret was that they knew how to express those intense, angry feelings without censorship on stage, and so they weren’t carrying them around all the time as baggage.

Do what works
In the end, the most important point here is that we need to face our anger directly — without running away from it or getting drowned in it. Find the tools that help you do that, whether it’s running, playing rugby, screaming into a microphone, sitting in quiet meditation, or all of the above. Learn to experience the anger without judgment, and learn to let it go. Catch and release, catch and release.

The risk of low blood sugar differs from one sulfonylurea to the next, according to new research from Denmark. Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to learn more.