I have been told and have read in every bereavement reference tidbit that anger is a normal part of the grieving process. I have been asked by counsellors, friends and everyone in between if I’m angry. My answer all the way along these past 15 months has been “no”…and that was true. Up until just recently that is.
A few months ago I noticed that I was reacting far outside of my norm with regards to one person in particular; that I was venting and ranting and over-reacting to certain situations. That I would bring up past arguments and indiscretions by this person and flame at him in a big way. Dragging up old hurts and transgressions and swirling them about until I yelled and screamed at him and tried to hurt him. It always ended the same way…with me in tears and him holding me while I cried and sobbed and the anger directed at him turning to me asking why was Willie dead. After a few months of this, at the end of yet another evening of tears and yelling, I asked him what was wrong with me? Why was I doing this when I had no idea why I was? He said something very simple and very hard to hear.
The simple fact that he suggested was that I was angry at so much…at Willie, at the doctors, at the “system”, the universe, anything and everything…and between not wanting to even acknowledge that anger and not knowing how to direct it…I directed it squarely at him. Someone concrete and safe. Someone who would take it and just simply nod and agree and then hold me when I broke down.
Since that time I have grown to understand that yes, there is anger inside of my thoughts. That in fact, I find myself almost consumed some days with anger. Going through the medical reports and doctors files infuriate me. I find myself torn up with the frustration about the details of his “care” and all of the possibilities of “what-if”. Like one of those “choose-your-own-ending” books that I read when I was little – when my ending wasn’t what I wanted I would turn back the pages and make a different choice; repeating until I got the ending I wanted. But with real life I can’t do that. I can go back in my mind and ask myself what would happen if I made a different choice, if I acted differently or went in a different direction because the reality is that it won’t make any difference to where I am now.
Mental illness isn’t black and white. The treatment options and “what-if’s” are rampant and seemingly never-ending. Unlike many physical illnesses where you can look back at records and pinpoint that the patient is dead because Dr.ABC failed to administer XYZ treatment plan you can’t do that with something like depression or a suspected pre-psychosis even. We’ll never know if Willie would still be here now if his care had been different or if he had been medicated differently or his treatment started when he was younger. Maybe he would be, maybe he wouldn’t be. Maybe he would’ve been fine for 5 years, had another break then killed himself. Or he might have lived a full life, overcoming or managing his mental illness and living with it – however that would look. We’ll never know.
So the anger is sitting firmly with me now. Some days it flames externally and I lash out with the frustration and the despair. Mostly thought it turns inwards and the toxicity and the pain feels insurmountable. Trying to find a healthy way, through the filters of depression and grief, to process the anger is the daily challenge.