a light switch with fire flames, a metaphor for turning off anger issues related to HIV diagnosis

How Anger Took Over My Life and How I Took My Life Back

I don’t remember the first time I allowed my anger to take over. But there have been too many instances not to do something about it over the years.

Allowing your thoughts to travel down memory lane to indulge in nostalgia or fond memories can be very therapeutic. Is the same true when searching for examples of your destructive behaviors?

Oddly enough, the earliest memory of myself giving my decision-making over to anger was at my first ACT UP protest. I’m sure there had been moments in my life before that, but at the time, I was not prone to outbursts and, in general, was known for repressing aggressive behaviors.

Anger related to my HIV diagnosis

When I joined the group, we were encouraged to reach into ourselves and allow the anger to move us. People were dying, and the government and our families didn’t care. Anger was the emotion that would drive us to get things done. It removed my fear of confronting this disease and the stigma around it.

But I didn’t realize how much anger I had until I had the chance to release it. A childhood filled with bullying and family trauma mixed with the physically abusive relationship I had only recently let go of. The result was an overwhelming mix of adrenaline, hate, and emotions tinged with the desire to strike back. My own HIV status would push this emotion into overdrive.

It was exhilarating until it became the driving factor in my life. I would go into verbal attack mode at the drop of the wrong phrase, a sideways eye glance, or anything I deemed disagreeable with my own beliefs. No one was immune from it. I lost friends and family because I had failed to learn to turn something off that I enjoyed way too much.

Personal cost of anger

When I was angry, I was not thinking clearly. I could only view the world through my eyes. There were many irrational accusations and assumptions because I could not put myself in another person’s shoes. Not being able to see the other side led me to walk away from many friendships because I could not process someone else's opinion.

As this became my go-to solution for handling things, I became a one-note person. People did not want to associate with me, which made me feel isolated. In turn, I became angrier and blamed everyone around me.

How can anger issues affect your body?

Anger is a hot emotion. It will raise your heart rate and your blood pressure. And if you’re drinking, as I sometimes was, the strain on your body can kill you. The stress can lead to the possibility of a heart attack or even a stroke.1

That doesn’t even consider what that unnecessary stress will do to your immune system. Whether it’s the activation of the Shingles virus or the impeding of producing T-Cells, it’s harmful and life-threatening when immunosuppressed.2

Over time I realized I was wallowing in self-made misery. Everything had to be my way or my point of view, and I became very depressed.

Finding the time to relax

Eventually someone I respected a great deal sat me down and told me it was time to calm down. I began listening to relaxation tapes. These were guided meditations designed to allow the body to relax and heal itself. I enjoyed these, and the comments before and after these sessions about the wear and tear of negative emotions began to creep into my thoughts.

Then I tried mindfulness meditation. These were designed to put me in touch with my thoughts and my own body. They made me aware of my surroundings. These also helped remind me that other people have thoughts and emotions that matter.

Soon after, I began exploring the importance of empathy and understanding the world from the viewpoint of others. This was no overnight fix for my anger issues. This was a years-long journey that I still struggle with.

What I am doing now to avoid anger issues

Despite years of confronting my actions, I still find myself losing control. When that happens, I ask myself:

"Are you angry about something you have any control over, and if there is any influence you have, what is it?"

This question helps me to slow down my responses. It keeps me focused on what I can do if I choose to do anything. As I’ve grown, I’ve come to believe that sometimes the best response is none.

I also try to perform a kind act every day. Whether complimenting someone or allowing another driver to merge into traffic, I can reflect on that act throughout the day and the feeling it gives me is far more enjoyable than the anger I used to hide behind.

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