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7 ways to extinguish MS-induced anger

By Dan Digmann

A small fire is smoldering deep inside of me. 

You’d never sense it by the way I carry myself in how I’m living with my Multiple Sclerosis. After all, it’s in my nature to exude optimism and naturally find the bright sides of any negative situation that comes my way. 

I am unapologetically positive. But still, a faint flame smolders among the embers of my anger.

It’s an anger that ignited the day I was diagnosed with MS. A neurologist told me that for no reason I was randomly chosen to carry and pay perpetual attention to a chronic condition that I’ve since learned is hellbent on bringing me down.

Sure, I’ve kept this emotional fire under control with my optimistic outlook and immeasurable sense of gratitude for everything that is good in my life. But all it takes is an unanticipated challenge or a this-shouldn’t-be-this-difficult moment to douse gasoline on the embers and set my anger ablaze. 

Why can’t I feel the laces to tie my stupid shoes? What do you mean it’s nearly 200 yards to the nearest restroom when I have to go right now? When did it become so freaking difficult to lift my left leg to go up five steps? 

How much more is MS going to take from me?

I know I’m not alone in getting angry about what MS is doing to me. Anger is very real and is one of the main emotional effects of living with MS. While this anger can go beyond our control and professional help is needed to manage it, there often are actions we can take to smother the emotion and return to our emotional baseline.

In the 22 years I’ve lived with this anger-inducing disease, I’ve developed several strategies to help me recognize the anger, allow it to roar in a controlled burn and extinguish it before it destroys anything of value in my life.
  • Remember that anger is a natural emotion and is part of everyone’s life (even people who don’t have MS get angry). And sometimes you need to just let the anger go. Think of it as a controlled burn similar to when they intentionally set fires for forest management or in farming to prepare for spring planting. It needs to happen to get rid of the weeds that are holding you back from flourishing.
  • Just as fire needs oxygen to burn, you also can use it to put out your emotional fire of anger. When your anger verges on getting out of control, give yourself a moment to stop, take several deep breaths in and out to clear your head.
  • Give yourself the latitude to cry and/or shout out loud (I often yell into my pillow). This emotional release helps the anger to escape and keeps it from blowing up into a bigger blaze.
  • Have a music setlist ready to go that is full of intense music that will help you to escape and blow off steam (Metallica is front and center of my rage rock playlist). Over time, this level of loud intensity calms me down because, quite frankly, it wears me out.
  • Connect with friends and family members ahead of time to line up a team of listeners. MS affects everyone differently, but one thing we have in common is none of us are facing it alone. Reach out to people in person or in online communities to find those who will be there to listen and help you when the anger is more than you can take on by yourself.
  • Don’t let the anger get the best of you. Take the time you need to respect it and give it the attention it warrants, but then empower yourself to turn that emotion into something more deserving of your time and effort. My go-to emotion is one of determination – making myself determined to rise above the anger of MS and make myself better in sheer spite of it.
  • Have faith in yourself and be your biggest fan. Whatever situation or circumstance is triggering your anger, pause and remind yourself that you’ve made it through moments like this before. It wasn’t easy, but you persevered and reached another day.