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Turning Anger into Advocacy

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Mon, Aug 6th 2012

Have you ever been angry about an illness? I don't simply mean those times when you're annoyed that you have a cold because it makes being at work even more miserable than usual. I'm talking about raging anger about a diagnosis that changes your life or the life of someone very close to you.

hiker's feetFor me, the illness that stoked my anger was Alzheimer's disease. First, I watched my grandma descend into the depths of this wretched illness while our family struggled to understand what was happening and provide her with the proper care. Then I worked with hundreds of families who were battling the same demons our family endured.

I rarely get angry, but after a couple of years being surrounded by all-things-Alzheimer's, I began to feel an unfamiliar burn in my stomach and pressure at my temples. I realized that I was, well, pretty pissed about this disease. I didn't like it, I didn't want it around, and I wanted to tell it to go away forever.

What do you do with a feeling like that? Unfortunately, I let it fester for a little too long. When I started having difficulty focusing on my work and began to feel fatigued and ineffective, I knew I was on the road to burnout. That's when I discovered the Alzheimer's Association's Memory Walk (Note: Memory Walk is now known as the Walk to End Alzheimer's).

The Memory Walk was a true blessing for me because it provided a place for me to channel my anger about Alzheimer's disease in a productive way. I raised money to fund research focusing on the causes and potential treatments for Alzheimer's. I spoke to my family and friends about my new mission and raised awareness of the cause. I found others who were also angry - an important part of dealing with illness-related anger.

And I walked. Though Memory Walk was not a race or a long-distance endurance event, it still focused on exercise as a symbol for taking steps to end Alzheimer's as well as an important strategy to enhance brain health. And perhaps most importantly, walking gave me an opportunity to reflect on why I was participating and what I was going to do when the walk was over.

That part was easy. I kept walking. I've now participated in 12 walk events to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's disease, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. Not only do I feel good about participating; I also found a creative way to turn my anger into advocacy.

If you have a serious illness, or if someone you love is facing a chronic or life-threatening disease, you have a right to be angry. But if that anger is taking its toll on you and you need somewhere to channel it, I encourage you to do what I did - find a cause to champion.

Start by searching the websites of disease-specific associations. They all have walks, runs, or similar events that allow you to channel your anger into meaningful results. If physical events aren't feasible, all causes also need advocates to write letters to state representatives and government officials about specific research and service needs.

If you've turned your anger into advocacy like I did, please share your story with me here. You just might inspire someone else to do the same.


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

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