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Make Anger Your Ally

Monday August 21, 2017

One thing I did not expect to feel when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease was anger. Terror? Well, yeah! Depression? I should say so! Disappointment? No jive!  But anger? Anger at whom? And anger about what, exactly? 

blog illo 41 anger

Was I angry at God? Well THAT would be useful. Angry at Fate? Let’s not be stupid, as well as angry. Angry about the fact that I had PD? But PD has been with us a long time, blithely wrecking other people’s lives for centuries. Where was my anger then?  Was it somehow just fine that others had this destructive disorder, as long as I got a pass? Why be angry just because I have it? Is there something special about me? In the big picture, no, not particularly.

But the fact my anger is irrational doesn’t make me less angry. Anger is a product of Parkinson’s Diseases as surely as depression is. The question is not whether it is right or wrong to have the emotion. That is a matter over which we have little control. What’s important is how you express the emotion, how you work it out.

How do you direct your anger with PD? Many people with Parkinson’s Disease seem to gather their anger into a cold ball of rage that they then aim at their doctors. And many doctors oblige, pasting big targets on themselves by being callous and careless in their interactions with patients. (A friend once had her doctor accuse her of faking her tremor, for example.) But for those of us living outside major population centers who do not have access to boundless options for care, there is no point in alienating the people who are in the best position to help you.

So when your doctor says something insensitive or harsh, ask yourself if this is a reflection of the doctor’s knowledge about Parkinson’s or just their ineptitude with basic human skills. If it’s mere ignorance or insensitivity about interacting with other humans, and the doctor is otherwise competent at treating your disease, ask yourself if you can live with it. I would gladly be treated by a robot, if it knew what it was doing. You can get emotional support elsewhere. For extra credit, you might even seize on their lapse, and point it out to the guilty party. Don’t worry that it may offend, they have just demonstrated how little they care for the feelings of others. But even without empathy for others, they may benefit as a matter of professional pride in their technique and delivery of care.

Where should you direct your anger? Well, anger is a great motivator. And what do people with PD often lack motivation for? Exercise. It’s one thing that many Parkinson’s patients seem to hate more than Parkinson’s Disease itself. How do I know that PD patients hate exercise? Simple. It’s clear from the work of scientists like Dr. Jay Alberts that the one thing that we know will slow the beast down is exercise. Yet many will not take up this tool and use it, in spite of the benefits it brings. They have come to the conclusion that it’s better to let Parkinson’s do its worst than to counter with sweat.

What I try to do is connect the anger with the will to exercise. (What kind of exercise? Any kind you like, and can stick with, is better than none. Consult your doctor.) Anger can fuel those extra steps on the treadmill, additional pedal strokes on your bicycle, the number of punches you throw at the speed bag. This routes anger through an appropriate channel, elegantly targeting the source of the problem. It makes anger your ally.

Peter Dunlap-ShohlPeter Dunlap-Shohl
NWPF Blogger

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