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Anger


Like you, I don't deserve to be a bereaved parent (sibling/grandparent/relative/friend).

I was and am a good mum. I always loved my children. I gave them everything I had. And yet, here I am, crying over my dead son. My beloved son, who took his own life when he was at a very low point, and clearly could not see a way through. I ask myself what I missed, what else I could have done, and I have no answers. I ask myself how he couldn't have known without one shadow of a doubt how much he was loved and cherished; how he could not have had the faith and belief in himself and his own capacity to endure and thrive.


On better days, I know I was a Good-Enough Parent, but on difficult days, when those doubts creep in, I need to work hard at believing it. When I get depressed, particularly around the anniversary of Anton's death in December, I can't seem to access all those good memories of love and laughter; all I remember are the times I got it wrong, the days when I wasn't the best mum. And when I remember those times, and I can't recall the good bits, I forget to be self-compassionate. I forget to be kind to myself. I imagine I'm not worthy of kindness and compassion. I become angry with myself, and this further prevents me from accessing those happy memories, and knowing that I gave my son everything he needed. And so the cycle continues.


I still sometimes want to shout "Its just not fair!"


Sometimes I want to scream it from the rooftops.


And I know that my anger is justified, and I know I'm entitled to feel angry. But anger is uncomfortable, and miserable, and the truth is, it can make me difficult to live with. Strongly felt negative emotions can be terribly hard to negotiate and to manage, and they can impact heavily on our relationships with others. Anger is especially hard for me. I hate the feeling of being very angry. I find it frightening, and I don't always know how to cope with it. And I don't like myself when I'm angry. The more I dislike myself, the more depressed I become, and the more irritable I am, the more I make others miserable too.


I think of anger as a secondary emotion, usually originating from anxiety and fear. Think of times when you have felt very angry; if you dig deep enough into the reason, fear will usually be there. When I get sucked into The Black Hole the emotion underlying my anger is definitely fear. Fear that I will lose someone else whom I love. Fear that I wasn't a good enough mum to stop Anton taking his life. Fear that I will never feel happiness or peace again.


When we are continually anxious or afraid it can be nigh on impossible to tolerate things going wrong, or sudden changes to our plans, or someone saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment. Sometimes the pressure builds and we just explode.


The diagram below shows how, from a generally low ongoing stress level, there's a long way to go before feelings of panic or fear are activated. So it takes quite a major event before a laid back person is triggered into losing their cool.


But having a habitually high stress level means that something quite small can trigger feelings of being out of control, of fear or panic, because there's such a short distance to travel between the normally high level of stress and tipping into that scary zone. With high ongoing stress levels we can feel as though we are in control. But although we may be working very hard at maintaining an illusion of control, it doesn't take much to push us into a sense of panic or fear, and this can sometimes lead to anger or even rage.




When we have experienced a traumatic event, our daily stress levels can remain high for months, or even years. Since Anton died, there is an undercurrent of fear running just below the surface of my emotions. It primarily concerns the safety and wellbeing of those I love; particularly my close family, and most especially my beloved surviving son. If my brain picks up the tiniest hint that he might not be doing so well, my stress level rises, and I become anxious. I feel physically sick. I'm unable to concentrate. My chest feels tight. If this sense of unease continues for any length of time, I can become fearful. Fear makes me less tolerant, impatient, short-tempered, and, consequently sometimes angry. My ongoing stress level is too high, and I'm crossing into that scary place where I don't feel in control. I say 'crossing' but actually it can feel like I'm being propelled with the force of a rocket. It doesn't feel as though I have any control over it at all.


My resting heart rate increased by around 10 beats per minute in the weeks following Anton's death, and took 3 years to return to my normal rate. Recently, when I became re-traumatised, my heart rate went straight back up to the higher level, and stayed there for 2 months.


When I become anxious, as the chemicals of cortisone and adrenaline flood my body and mind, I have to work extremely hard to calm my physical threat system and rationalise the intrusive, fearful thoughts that flood my brain. I do this by taking active control of my breathing, breathing in a little more deeply and making my out-breaths a little longer than my in-breaths, or by focusing my attention on the out-breath. It doesn't take away the fear, but it soothes my mind and body sufficiently to allow me to think more clearly and rationally.


During the past few years I have found that practicing daily meditation and mindfulness helps keep me on a more even keel. It helps me to be able to step back from my emotions and my thoughts, and to stay mindful by being consciously aware of the present moment. This can help prevent my thoughts spiralling out of control, ruminating about yesterday, or being frightened about tomorrow. It doesn't stop me feeling angry, but it can prevent me from showing anger towards others, and therefore avoid it escalating, and ultimately making me feel even worse.


When fear and panic strike, I get outside if possible. I ground myself by noticing my whole body, particularly my feet on the ground. I try to involve as many senses as possible: things that I can see, hear, smell, touch, even taste. I keep focused on the things I can see and feel around me: the wind in my face, the sound of the trees, the smell of the earth, the green of the leaves, and the way my feet feel in my shoes.


The world may feel as though it has spun off its axis, but these grounding actions tell me this has not really happened, its just my anxious brain.


My feet remind me I am still standing.


Still walking.

Still surviving.



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