Anticoagulation & Anger Management

When I first began anticoagulation therapy, out-of-range INR readings scared the heck out of me. I was new to this whole thing, and didn’t know how high or low my numbers could go without something bad happening. I also didn’t know how bad that something bad might be.

After awhile all this worrying started to get to me. Instead of a fear response, out-of-range readings resulted in tears. I felt like I was failing myself somehow. I tried to shut this feeling away, and for awhile I pretended as hard as I could that INR readings and doctor appointments were all just bad dreams that would eventually go away. I focused on a future (which is possible, but certainly not here yet) where I would be taking new medication that wouldn’t need to be so tightly managed — or better yet, I wouldn’t need to take medication at all.

So basically, I’ve gone through several of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous five stages of grief already. And now I’ve arrived at another: anger. I get so sick of dealing with it all sometimes that I just want to scream, punch someone, throw my medications out the window, and run over the hills and far away to live out the rest of my days as the Wise Old Woman of the Forest.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Instead, I am stuck here in real life, taking medications I don’t like, throwing secret tantrums whenever my medical issues interfere in even the tiniest of ways with the rest of my life. Case in point: I needed to take some antibiotics for a non-heart-related issue this week, and found out that my INR had spiked an entire point in just three days. Of course, this might have been avoided if the antibiotic prescribed was one that didn’t have a “may interact with blood thinners” warning on the freaking label.

But I digress. The point is that this reading means my coumadin doses were adjusted and my INR will have to be checked again next week, instead of a month from now. The thing is, I have been killing myself this week trying to get double the work done so that I can have a bit of an at-home retreat next week. I just wanted one week where I didn’t have to think about work or my heart valve.

I walked out of that clinic desperately wanting a punching bag and a match with which to set the world on fire. But here’s the thing: my anger won’t change the situation. Freaking out every time things don’t go as planned, whether it’s because of my heart or not, only serves to stress me out and make things worse, not better.

Ross saved the best stage of grief for last: acceptance. I’m working hard to get there, and despite Hulking out lately, I do think I’m getting better at moving past it. I’ve figured out a system that helps, and while I can’t guarantee it’ll work for you, I do hope that you’ll find at least a grain of helpful truth in this little sandcastle of a post.

First of all, let it in.

I’ve found that one of my biggest problems with anger is that I often try to repress it. I’m not sure when or why, but somewhere along the way to adulthood I decided that anger has no good use, and as such, I have no use for it.

The problem is this: anger is still a basic, natural emotional response, and (to paraphrase John Green) it demands to be felt. Repressing it doesn’t make it go away — it stays inside you, festering and growing, until you finally snap.

Rather than deny it, accept it. Admit, even if only to yourself, that you are angry, and then remind yourself that it is perfectly all right to feel this way. Not everything in this world needs to have practical use — but if you need one, think of it like this: accepting your anger and allowing yourself to feel it is a way of letting off steam to prevent an explosion later on.

Then, let it out.

Once you accept your anger, it’s time to get it out of your system. Distractions like watching a funny movie or taking a nice, warm bath are fine and dandy, but those should come later. Doing something to constructively cope with your anger is the best medicine for it.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Work it out with a punching bag or on a treadmill. Write about it. Paint a portrait of your righteous fury. Channel that unwanted energy towards something positive until you run out of energy. It’s exhausting, but it feels so cathartic.

Finally, let it go.

I can’t guarantee you’ll successfully complete this step the first time you try it, or even the twentieth time for that matter. I’m still working on it, myself. But it’s the most important one, and even if you don’t succeed, the point is that you try.

Having admitted you’re angry and having burned through that excess adrenaline, it’s time to sit down, relax, and breathe. Focusing on breathing slowly and deeply is an extremely effective way to calm down. If you’re having trouble sitting still (like I usually do), yoga is a good alternative. It gives you movement to focus on without being too demanding on your body.

When you’re calm enough to be properly logical about the situation, do your best to accomplish at least one of the following:

  • Reframe the negatives as positives. This is probably the hardest method, but also the most effective. Finding a way to appreciate the benefits of whatever made you angry will help you be more positive, both in the moment and as a person, and therefore much better able to cope with future stress. For me, this means remembering that my medications and doctors are keeping me alive. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even have plans to break in the first place. I probably wouldn’t be here at all.
  • Focus on the things for which you are grateful. If you can’t bring yourself to see the silver linings just yet, focus on other positive aspects of your life which you do appreciate. Maybe you love your job, or you have a wonderful significant other, or maybe you’re just happy you were able to pay all your bills this month. No matter how big, small, silly, or strange the things you think of may seem, give them all of your attention. Think of how glad you are to have these things in your life, and keep thinking about it until you feel your anger subside.
  • Find something good to balance out the bad. This is where those distractions I mentioned earlier come in. Whether you’re rewarding yourself for overcoming your anger or still trying desperately to get rid of it, there’s nothing like a little self-indulgence. Go to the movies. Go out to eat with your friends. Binge watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Make yourself a decadent dessert and take a bubble bath. Whatever it is that makes you forget your worries, go do it — or find it, if you haven’t already — and enjoy it.
Photo (c) Kim Berkley 2016

One thing that always cheers me up: my kitty cats, Annabel Lee and Harley Quinn.

Notice that none of these things mean repressing your feelings. Like I said in the first step, you must let anger in before you can let it go. It’s a process, and it won’t always go as planned, but it’s better than turning yourself into a ticking time bomb. (Teehee. Ticking. Get it?) Go on, get angry, and then get over it and go live.

Do you have anger you’re trying to cope with? Any tips on how to get over it? Share below in the comments — and don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe!

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