I saw a praying mantis this morning. The long, leaf-like oddity caught me off guard. I was transfixed by the beautiful specimen, its prayerful state contrasting starkly with its violent mating ritual. The female is known to eat the head of the male — a shift in temperament at the speed of lightning.
I can relate.
It is natural to experience depression, anger, and anxiety. We grieve what our lives were like before diagnosis. We long to do things we no longer can. These feelings are generally addressed through cognitive therapy or antidepressants.
I experience pseudobulbar affect because of my multiple sclerosis (MS). I have lesions in my amygdala, the area of the brain that is responsible for controlling emotion. I feel anger, sadness, joy, or frustration without provocation. I am sensitive and overreactive. I cry easily and struggle to stop. This emotional disturbance can be extremely embarrassing, to the point where I prefer to be among small groups of people who are familiar with my idiosyncrasies.
Thankfully, my case is mild. My behaviors changed over the course of a year. In addition to extreme irritability, I began to cry. A lot. I went from crying at dog shelter commercials to crying at car commercials. I cried while chatting on the phone with Sears customer service and cried while asking for lettuce at the grocery store. I thought I was losing my mind.
Just under half of those with MS are affected by pseudobulbar affect. The majority are women with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.
I have relied heavily on my faith, family, and friends. People who know me well love all of me, even my shifts in temperament, which I take responsibility for if the changes are inappropriate. I am quick to apologize. I also try to be mindful. Emotional disturbances may resemble whack-a-mole, but you can bet I knock them down one by one.
I like to believe that I can make a difference. Pseudobulbar affect is not permission to act out. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn. Knowledge is power. Once we know better, we can do better. There will always be emotions I cannot control, but there will also be emotions I can learn to manage.
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