After my husband, Hugh, sustained a severe TBI — and after the barrage of phone calls, food baskets, and visits from concerned family and friends — my daughters, my recovering husband, and I sank into the everyday life of rehab. We were deep in the learning curve and trying to find our way in a different, unwanted experience.
There were times when caregiving felt like a bag over my head, slowly sucking all the oxygen out of my life. Times when I felt so tired, so sad, so done I felt like screaming at the next person who looked at me the wrong way.
With a bit of shame, I did raise my voice and take my own stress out on other family members from time to time, and one day I recognized that I didn’t like myself and spoke to a social worker at Hugh’s rehab facility. Her calm demeanor and practical solutions were exactly what I needed. Here’s some of what I learned that helped me keep a lid on my angry feelings and reactions:
- What’s really bothering me? When I started to feel my anger building up, I learned to ask myself: What am I really angry about? Is this worth blowing up over? Is this a fight worth picking? Sometimes, I realized it was a minor thing that simply felt big after a long day, and I could let go of it.
- What triggered my anger? Is it always the same thing? For me it was the slowness of Hugh’s actions, how he was not motivated or able to figure out what to do next. I became exasperated by all the prompting I had to do. Part of what helped was realizing that this would change and improve over time. When I felt myself getting anxious because he was slow, I tried living in the moment, taking a deep breath, and saying to myself, I love this man. I want to help him. Finding a strategy that works for the one thing that always triggers your anger works.
- Using logic: Sometimes I felt like everything was caving in on me, like the universe was against me and I had the worst luck of anyone else in the world. Of course, this was a huge exaggeration; many people had harder lives than I did, so I would remind myself that this was just a hard day, maybe I didn’t get enough sleep (and I gave myself a small treat like a piece of chocolate or a bath) and I’d begin to calm down.
- Stopping myself from jumping to conclusions: After Hugh’s TBI, I could no longer anticipate how he’d react to situations and that frustrated me, so I would often jump to the wrong conclusions. Training myself to really listen to him and work toward solutions helped instead of harboring negative feelings. The same held true about my children. They had a completely different experience than I did, and a different perspective. I had to learn that this was just as hard on them in different ways and to not assume I knew how they felt.
- Self-awareness / Timing: I am a morning person, so I deal with things better earlier in the day. When we discussed difficult topics at night, I would be more likely to fly off the handle. I learned to use timing as a tool to keep my anger in check. Even if I wanted to approach a problem at night, I stopped myself knowing that the discussion might escalate, and we’d have better results in the morning.
When a loved one suffers a TBI, family life is disrupted in every way, and some degree of anger is normal. Recognizing that constant feelings of anger or the hurtful expression of anger are definitely signs to seek help. After all, if we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of our loved ones?