This is part 3 of a 4-part series on anger, a thing most people with disabilities deal with to some extent. Disability often means loss, and anger is part of the normal grieving process. There may also be frustration from new limitations, and resentment if the disability was inflicted by someone else (for example, a young man hit me on my bicycle). Two weeks ago I introduced the topic with how the anger of disabled people is handled in the entertainment world https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hidden-disabilities/2018/09/the-anger-series-post-1-tv-and-movie-tropes/. Last week I talked about the different ways people handle anger https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hidden-disabilities/2018/10/the-anger-series-post-2-whats-your-anger-style/. This week I’ll talk about my own anger and invite you to talk about yours, and finally, next week, I’ll move beyond anger to a theme of reinvention.
The reason I’ve been exploring anger is, I’m angry now. Not just fleetingly angry, I’m existentially angry and have been for a long time. The last few years have been kind of a death by a thousand cuts. At first my anger was a benefit—it gave me the energy I needed to go all in with my therapy. My occupational therapist knew exactly how to stoke my anger until it was time to break it with comic relief. Later, when it came time to get back on my bike, I was terrified, but my anger overrode the terror. No 23-year-old kid who lives in the back room of his parents’ business gets to take away what I love, and to some extent defines me. I am a bike tourist and I won’t give him the power to change that. When people tell me I’m brave, I tell them I was just more angry than I was scared.
As time went on and the barriers got harder to overcome, I still managed to override anger with gratitude. I couldn’t do the exact job I used to, but I could work from home and that’s what I always wanted to do anyway, right? The first Big Angry happened a year after impact, when I learned about the state of Washington’s insurance law. My case reached the auto policy limits, meaning it exhausted all of the hitter’s policy, then all of mine (even though my car was home in my driveway at the time), then the Blue Cross policy I still had from my old job under COBRA kicked in, and that only paid a portion of my expenses. What about all these cases where victims of horrific crashes were set for life? Apparently they were hit by rich people, or they weren’t hit in Washington. If I’d been hit by a stock trader in a Jaguar, I’d have had a very different outcome. Those awards are based on the personal assets of the responsible party, not the loss experienced by the victim. The kid who hit me had nothing to sue for. I rode by the family business where he lived in the back room and saw a new white full-ton Ram pickup gleaming near the back door. It was all chrome grill, an arrogant truck that shouted “I regret nothing.” His insurance company replaced his vehicle. I think if he wasn’t able to meet restitution for my damages, I should have gotten the money they gave him for that truck. What really upset me was the notion that if you buy your state minimum insurance policy and then do more damage than the policy covers, you get to walk away. I still do not believe for a second that if the roles were reversed, I’d have been allowed to just go on with my life unaffected.
I realized I was going to walk away broke with a maimed hand, among many other permanent injuries. In America. The coals of anger began to burn steadily.
I started listing my grievances here in chronological order and noticed I’d run to 3 pages, way over my 1,000-word limit guideline, and had barely gotten started. The specifics aren’t the point. In broad brush strokes, here is some of it—when I was in the hospital and rehab, and enjoying the benefits of an almost million-dollar combined PIP (Personal Injury Protection) payout, I was their golden girl. They couldn’t do enough for me. Every step of progress was celebrated—they ordered a sheet cake for everyone when I braided my own hair. My aftercare was excellent too, until the money ran out. I had to declare bankruptcy with about $50,000 in medical bills, and I was actually banned from the practice of the surgeon who reconstructed my arm. I reached out to my original care team asking for help with my disability claim but I’m persona non grata now. Disability coverage is all-or-nothing, so if you can reach an income threshold that is below the poverty level, you get nothing.
I’m supposed to simply accept all this, drop out of my position in the community, and quietly disappear. Like bloody hell I will.
Recently I got two hard kicks that set off this angst spiral. First, I’ve been dealing with a knee injury for a year. Every month I’ve had a major setback, and I haven’t been getting the level of care I got accustomed to after my crash. I recovered agonizingly slowly, and just when I was feeling pretty good, I fell again and reinjured it. It’s been 14 months since I’ve had a good workout and felt strong. When I can’t do my therapy, my body falls apart fast. I wish I could trade today’s body for the one I had 2 years ago. My recovery hasn’t progressed in that time, it’s slid backward.
Then, just days after the second knee injury, I found my dream home in my happy place. It was affordable and perfect, and I was so excited for a new life chapter. Then I lost the opportunity. It was a one-of-a-kind situation and that chance isn’t coming back around. I’m grieving it like a death, truly. Guess which of the five grief stages I’m in now?
My dreams are so modest; why are they so hard to achieve? The fact that I’m alive is a miracle. I want to spent my days grooving on that instead of dealing with frustration. I don’t want to be an angry person, but it’s not as simple as just deciding to be about puppies and rainbows. I see those positive-thinking platitudes on Facebook and want to strangle someone with a pink ribbon.
On that note, my fuse is much shorter than it used to be. I think that’s from dealing with 8 years of chronic pain. I just don’t have the patience to suffer the BS I face out in the world. I’m never mean to people but I don’t take crap from them with a smile either. I try to avoid being that person who abuses the help-desk schmuck, but I’m firm with my expectations and I make it clear I’m on my last nerve.
I wrote a letter to the guy who hit me to let him know I wasn’t okay and what he did was more than an interruption to my commute. That helped me let go of some of my anger toward him personally. My letter in no way absolved him for his actions, it just moved some of my pain onto him where it belongs.
I continue to advocate for myself, and that can produce more frustration than benefit at times. Anger that goes on too long without an outlet can turn into despair. I’m glad to have people I can talk to. I hope all of you have someone you can talk to who can help, even if by no other means than listening. I know I’m not alone. Tell me about your anger. It’s okay, this is a safe space.