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May 11, 2013 / Mark Kerrigan

Survivors and Anger

Probably the most famous (or infamous) example of someone having excessive anger without the coping skills to go with it is Coach Bobby Knight throwing the chair across the basketball court.

I know just how he feels, just not about basketball. Sometimes I just get so mad! You know, the feeling of rage you get when it’s hot, your sitting in traffic and some butthead behind you is blaring his music so loud that the bass makes your chest vibrate. You’re reminded of the opening scene in the movie Office Space. Then sone dang yahoo just cuts you off. And that’s the catalyst that makes the fuse in you head just blow, leaving you with smoke wisping from your ears. You could kill that asshole in front of you. Quite literally, if you had a gun, you would shoot that person in the head. That’s kinda what a full-blown rage is like for a BI survivor.

But it doesn’t take a traffic jam to set us off.  Anything can do it, and I was sent into a rage just this past Wednesday because I knocked over a glass of water on the dining room table. Normally, this wouldn’t set me into a rage, but today it did because I was running late. So off I went screaming at the top of my lungs, throwing stuff into the kitchen sink, removing the tablecloth and making sure I wiped the table well enough that it wouldn’t leave watermarks. Then I thought, as I got most of it all cleaned up, If I throw shit all over the house, essentially, throw a tantrum, I’m gonna be the one who has to clean it up. Well, duh! Why would I make more work for myself.

My wife works full-time and then some, which leaves me at home to write, go to a coffeeshop, read, watch TV, and of course, clean up. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mind, but I just came to realize that my mother would not have, nor did she, clean the mess from a “temper fit,” almost rewarding me for throwing stuff all over the place or breaking something. My wife wouldn’t do it for the same reason. She doesn’t want to reward bad behavior, and thereby encourage me to remain the same. That’s something my wonderfully amazing wife always encourages: my getting better.

People who have sustained injury to their temporal lobes can become enraged rather than just becoming irritated or angry. This, too, affirms my belief that I sustained damage to my temporal lobe. Unpleasant noises can often set the survivor with temporal lobe damage into a rage. Also, these people have can become enraged by difficult or troubling social situations.

The people who have frontal lobe injuries, such as myself, can react impulsively when they fly into a rage with little or no regard to the appropriateness or the consequences. These folks can over-react, which is not well-tolerated by the “Normal,” outside world. They think the survivor has lost his mind and gone berserk, which can lead to jail time or commitment into a mental hospital. Many times, so I am told, survivors often don’t realize how they appear when they are raging. I know that my wife tells me that same thing, but I don’t realize how angry I’ve gotten until it’s all over. If you are the survivor’s significant other, try to film him or her. Make an audio tape of the interaction. My wife says that the rage happens so fast that she doesn’t have time to get to the camera, so actually documenting the rage may prove difficult. (iPhones make this so much easier, if you have one.)

I remember when I was driving again after my wreck, I was on a date and got rear-ended at a stoplight. I jumped out of the car and started yelling at the other driver. “What the hell are you doing?” as loud as was humanly possible. The driver, a woman, sat terrified in her car looking straight forward. She didn’t dare make eye contact, since there was a madman standing just inches from her window screaming at the top of his lungs at her. My date did something similar to the other driver. She just remained silent in the car, not daring to move. Granted, this was my first wreck since the one which gave me the TBI, so I’m sure I had some incredibly poignant emotions, and I was probably scared half-to-death. But this does not excuse my behavior, and I’m lucky I didn’t get pepper sprayed or arrested for verbal assault.I was rear-ended a couple of weeks ago, and I just got out, asked the other driver if she was okay, and said, “Are you okay? Let’s see how much damage was done.”  I was otally calm, and I am quite proud of that.

One thing that survivors need is to be allowed an escape. Whether physically or mentally. I had a behavioral therapist that suggested when I go into a rage, that my wife and son leave the house. Not really liking that idea, we decided jointly that it would be better for me to go for a walk. A walk, not a drive. Driving provides too much risk for myself and those around me, not to mention the property that could be damaged if I drive off the road. So I can go out and talk to myself as I make my way at a rapid rate down the streets in my neighborhood.

Essentially, whether you are a survivor, a caregiver, or a significant other, rage can prove destructive, frightening, and when it’s said and done, embarrassing. Remember, the BI survivor needs to be provided a means of escape, and often exercise can provide a means to blow off steam while releasing endorphins, which make you feel better.

Remember, keep getting better, and I’ll talk to you soon. (Below, I have included a video of hockey fights for your entertainment.)



Leave a Comment
  1. Jennifer Stokley / May 11 2013 8:22 pm

    Very good, and so very true! Great job explaining for folks to read, learn, understand, and show respect when we have these moments! As a Brain Injury Survivor, I think this is wonderful!!!

    • onthemarkwriting / May 11 2013 8:27 pm

      Thank you, Jennifer! I’m glad you were able to connect with what I said. I really do appreciate your comment, and look forward to hearing from you further!

  2. Dorrin B. Rosenfeld / May 11 2013 8:30 pm

    Mark, B vitamins are very good for helping to normalize emotions.

    • onthemarkwriting / May 11 2013 8:35 pm

      Thank you, I say though clenched teeth. I have always had trouble with reflexives!

  3. Cesar Pedroza / May 11 2013 8:30 pm

    I commend you for recognizing and accepting it, I too live with TBI due to a car accident.

    Reading is my escape and exercise, wish you my best.

    • onthemarkwriting / May 11 2013 10:09 pm

      Thank you, Cesar, for your comment. I also enjoy reading, and a good book is a wonderful means of escape.

  4. Jim / Nov 17 2013 5:29 pm

    My technique for managing anger has really helped me. As soon as I feel the emotional train speeding out of control I make an effort to prioritize based on a one to ten scale. One being a minor annoyance and ten being life threatening. The result of this exercise is I realize EVERYTHING seems like a ten in my brain. Understanding that the incident is usually only a two or three on the scale allows me have a good laugh at my brain often thinking of it as a separate entity that just doesn’t get it emotionally.

  5. breakingcrazygirl / Apr 28 2014 6:07 pm

    I do that too! but my most difficult times are those issues that I build up in my mind to intepret as huge problems although they may only be smal, laughable issues. Then I get down on myself for making myself insane. I feel like I will never be normal. It has been 20 years for me too 😦


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