My Anger

I do get nice letters, but where did anyone out there in MS-land come up with idea that I am well adjusted, that I handle our shared life of debilitating chronic illness with grace and dignity?  I don’t think so.  Write a book, and folks believe you have your act together.  That is magical thinking.  The truth is, I am pissed.  Brittle?  How about volatile?

I am an angry person.  The emotion lies dormant most of the time but can be set off in the frustration of any moment.  When I try and fail at life’s little tasks, tying a shoe, buttoning a shirt, the mushroom cloud appears out of nowhere.  It is the small stuff that gets me.

A line has been crossed as this progressive disease progresses.  I feel so defined by what I no longer can do.  My dependence on others gets to me constantly.  It wears at my sense of self.   I gaze at the mirror and see such weakness.   The falls come regularly, in the street or onto the floor of my choice.  There is no early warning system.

Mishaps bring a self-loathing that can neither be denied nor explained.  High emotion is directed inward, inexplicably taking aim at my heart.  Sickness settles in, and fallout turns inward.  I am a walking, rather a stumbling implosion.   When the fuse burns, I seem unable to douse the flame.  It is as if I am responsible for my crumbling health.

When Meredith comments on my anger, she calmly says it upsets everyone in the family.  The family Diaspora began years ago.   Our children live in Shanghai, Spokane, Chicago, safely out of range of the emotional shrapnel.  A few years ago, I put our now twenty-one year old daughter, Lily, on the witness stand.  She did not blink.  “It is not pleasant being around your anger, hearing you yelling.”  Does it hurt the family?  Lily paused.  “Well it doesn’t help,” she answered, pulling her punches a bit.

I have distinguished between blasting those around me and firing into the air.  I still believe anger is a valid coping mechanism if it is a victimless crime.  There may be no such thing.  Lily told me that just because anger is not directed at her does not mean it does not get to her.  Anger directed at no one else should not hurt.  I have believed that, though perhaps that is only a cop-out. 

I figure lashing out at myself is nobody’s business.   Good luck with that one.  Letting out  anger can get rid of a lot of pressure.  It also can be self-indulgent if not damaging to others.  Illness is a family affair, so I have to think carefully about everyone under our roof.

At the same time, I think we need to give each other space.  If you have a serious sickness, maybe it is occasionally okay to react.  Let go of your emotions, fire at will, but maybe wait until you are alone.  Then run around the house screaming.  Of course, the neighbors will hear and have you locked up.

Do you get it?  I am not a perfect person.

 In the end, bottling up feelings is not a fabulous strategy.  I do not intend to go postal.  If there is a bubble under the rug, sooner or later it will pop up.  Anger is a part of life.  Anger also is an expression of the defiance I feel toward my pig of a disease.  I will not go gently into that good night.  Dylan Thomas’s formula for dying is mine for living.

22 Responses to My Anger

  1. Kate Aquilino January 15, 2014 at 12:51 pm #


    It’s hard not to be angry. Impaired would be the word I would choose. Don’t lose hope. You are trying a new therapy and hope is a big part of the dose needed.

    chins up

    • Richard January 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      You are right, but easier said than done.


      • Kate Aquilino January 15, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

        You are right. I know it’s easier said than done. I was Just cheering you on.


  2. Mischele Coon January 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    As a public figure, we see you as someone who has it together. We don’t see your daily struggles as you don’t see ours. I get upset when I’m unable to do the simple things, but I look back and sometimes I’m able to do things I wasn’t able to do last year. Having MS for going on 26 years has taught me patience and to be thankful for the people close to me who help but don’t judge. I wish you success with the stem cell journey.

    • Richard January 15, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      Thanks. Maybe you have learned more than I.


  3. MimiNOLA January 15, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    Thanks for your honesty. Once I couldn’t get out of a chair, got so angry that I attacked a TV table with my cane. No one was around. Sounds like the if tree falls in the forest and no one there does it still make a sound logic. My reaction upset me. I got off my energy medicine. Had a little too much energy. Working on being more Buddhist in nature, but still have my moments.

    • Richard January 15, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      The trick is to save the tantrum until we are alone. Then deny the whole thing.


  4. Nicole January 15, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    Mr. Cohen, I get it. I apologize for putting you on a pedestal, I’m the one who needed someone to look up to. However, I’m still honored to be conversing with you, even if it’s via the Internet!

    My husband tends to get the brunt of my anger. You’re safe!

    • Richard January 16, 2014 at 7:37 am #


      We are all survivors, taking it one step at a time. No medals or merit badges. Anger is part of the equation. Handle with care.


  5. Geof January 16, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I view my anger as part of the 5 step “normal” grieving process. I get angry when I can’t button my shirt or tie my shoes or remember my wife’s name… I tell myself it’s normal to be angry at such things, and the anger will allow me to move on to someday reach acceptance.

    Then I get angry at ever having taken a psychology class because it seems the validation of normalcy makes the anger I feel less significant…and when I’m angry I don’t want to hear how everyone else gets angry in these spots too! I want to rant.

    I hope my post never make it seem like I put you on a pedestal expecting inhuman responses. On the contrary, your clear writing of struggles you face and your responses to them allow me to feel more normal. When I’m not in the heat of frustration, knowing others get similarly frustrated is a huge comfort. Thank you for sharing your blog.

    • Richard January 17, 2014 at 6:40 am #

      Maybe we think things to death. Let’s just get pissed off and get it over with. Then we can get on with our lives.

      I do agree with your view of angewr.


  6. David January 16, 2014 at 3:13 pm #


    Pissed, Brittle and volatile, I get it.Its good to know that I am not unique in my feelings. Its also good to know that every time I see you and Meredith on TV that your being of good humor is an act.Most of our friends see me and my positive attitude and say wow, David is so positive, how brave he is. Again the truth is , its an act, all the time.I do believe that acting is essential because if we were honest all the time, everyone would run the other way.I do believe its best to act positive for two reasons. The first is that it makes us more sociably acceptable and the second, its the only thing we can control.

    I wish you and yours the best.

    • Richard January 17, 2014 at 6:45 am #


      I don’t think it’s an act to stay positive most of the time but allow yourself your moments. You make yourself sound like an imposter. I will bet you are not.


  7. Kerri January 17, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    When things are calm, it helps me to remember that anger is a secondary emotion that stems from hurt, fear and/or frustration. But in the heat of the moment, screaming (not analyzing) is the most effective therapy!

    MS is the enemy. We’re yelling at IT, not the people around us. Instead of taking it personally, it would be great if those nearby would let us know they hate the enemy too. Stupid MS!

    • Richard M. Cohen January 17, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      You are right. Well said. But some in our lives do not get it. And I guess that is okay.


    • Karin January 22, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

      I think that is the best explanation I’ve heard yet and I will borrow it. Being a natural Type AAA personality does not help. Thank God my dear husband is a Type Z and has learned to shut me out when I start melting down.

      Richard, I met you a month ago when I was walking out with Dr. Kanter and you were his next patient. I am relating to your blog on so many levels. Thank you for putting so eloquently in words the roller coaster of frustrating emotions we feel. Thinking of all the stem cell participants and sending them my heartfelt positive vibes and prayers.

  8. Lisa January 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for the great piece of advice “Let go of your emotions, fire at will, but maybe wait until you are alone. Then run around the house screaming. Of course, the neighbors will hear and have you locked up.”

    I live with my boyfriend and for the most part he is very understanding and patient but I don’t think he always gets it when I drop things or can’t do the simple things and get frustrated and have a little tantrum. I will remember what you said and try not to get angry because I think people just can’t understand what the big deal is. It’s just hard when you USE to be able to do the little things and now you can’t.

    Take care Richard and I wish you all the very best!!!

  9. Cindy January 26, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Thank you so much for articulating how I feel when so many around me do not understand. I too am angry at my body, the betrayal is unbearable. I have just been diagnosed at the age of 54 although I’ve had symptoms for years that I completely ignored. I look forward to keeping up with your treatment and pray that it works and becomes the standard for treating these awful auto-immune diseases.

    This disease has completely shattered my self-confidence and I worry about my ability to continue to work and take care of myself. My anger turns into tears of sorrow and complete despair. Part of the emotional side of MS I am sure, but nonetheless very, very real.

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