First in a two-part series about the role of anger in a CFer’s life.
Life as a child with cystic fibrosis was grueling. I had frightening surgeries, hours of treatments each day, a cluster of never-ending infections ravaging my lungs and digestive system, and morbid thoughts that children shouldn’t have to think about. Worst of all, I had to clean my room.
At 5 years old or so, I cried to my dad that cleaning was too difficult. “Use the Force to clean,” he said. A “Star Wars” fanboy and not the brightest bulb, I asked how. “Just hold your breath and focus.” The Force didn’t help me clean my room that day, but I did seek the Jedi path for other purposes years after; holding my breath a couple times a day and meditating on healing my diseased molecules.
But I got older and sicker, and holding my breath got harder. The Force didn’t save me from friends who made insensitive jokes about my cough or dying early, or from school bullies who hit me. The Force didn’t save me from teachers who gave me bad grades because I was hospitalized. The Force didn’t save me from my panic disorder or depression. The Force didn’t save me from traumatizing procedures or caustic medications. Cauterizations, cuts, stabs, side effects. My body was brutalized, mangled. All because I drew the genetic short straw. How could I not be angry?
I loathed my body for having mutations instead of midi-chlorians. I was furious at my disease for drowning me in mucus. Outraged at those who treated me like I chose the curse, and forced me to compete on even ground with healthy peers. Most of all, I was afraid.
Master Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” If I once was a Jedi, I was a Sith by high school.
The rage consumed me. My teenage hormones burned fiercely, and antibiotics doused that fire like jet fuel, steroids like napalm. I acted mostly nice in public but was a vile monster at home a lot of the time. I lashed out at my parents, verbally clawing at their eyes, wanting them to be blinded by pity for me, punished for “letting me be born,” as if the disease was their fault. And I was bitter toward my sister for having healthy genes despite shared parentage.
I pitied myself, big time. I used to think late at night in the hospital about Prometheus getting his liver pecked out by an eagle every day. An old journal entry: “Did Prometheus, chained to that rock, ever look forward to new dawns? To the continuation of constant agony? If a Titan could scarcely endure, how can I?”
The sicker I got, the angrier. It all exploded in June 2016 when septic shock nearly destroyed me — my organs shut down as a result of a blood infection. I plummeted into ICU psychosis (a delirium resulting from crushing psychological pressures) when carbon dioxide flooded my brain.
Science lesson: Carbonation is created by dissolving carbon dioxide into water under pressure. And we know what happens when you shake bottled, carbonated liquids. I’d had these blistering emotions festering in my id for years, all bottled up, shaken plenty, and ready to be uncapped.
It all gushed out. My family later told me that I’d tried ripping out my IVs, kicked and punched those around me, screamed at people that I hated them, moaned for them to let me die. I even called my dad, who once gave me wise Jedi advice, a moron, and punched him in the head.
My only visual memory is a dozen hands shoving me into my hospital bed, pinning my arms and legs down with velcro straps as I literally went psycho. I couldn’t hear anything because I was deaf by then, which only added to the panic. I was in fight or flight mode — a caged, rabid beast.
I do remember emotions: blinding white, blood red, void black. Pain and trembling fear. In comics, Bruce Banner says he doesn’t remember what Hulk does — only the emotions he had. I can relate.
But I did “see” hallucinations: tripping backward into an oil-slicked tide pool over and over and over as a crab with Maggie Smith’s face hovered above me, shrieking that it was all my fault that I was dying. You know when you wake up from a “falling nightmare” with a pounding heart? It was that feeling for four days straight.
And then I suddenly snapped out of it. The septic shock, the hallucinations, the insanity. And even my misdirected lifelong anger.
Check my column next Tuesday for Part Two of the series.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.