a body with two female heads glaring at each other

Irritability Can Be So...Irritating

My irritability is such a strong, complete trait that it rates its own separate identity. Something akin to the scowling face on one head of a two-headed creature. For a long time I wanted to know what (or who) to blame for this. But I hesitate to blame MS. Here’s why.

I was born with a chip on my shoulder. What or who is responsible for this personality quirk goes into a black bag along with the mystery of adult-onset irritability. I hesitate to blame genetics.

My childhood

I spent my childhood feeling a lot of things but not verbally reacting. Shyness and fear are perfectly understandable reactions to the dominance of adults and aggressiveness of other kids. I was never much of a pack rat, but the anger, pain, and frustration of feeling powerless that accumulated inside my brain must have filled every free space until I had no choice but to hire a dumpster and start sifting through the garbage.

Finding my voice

For me, becoming socialized has always been the hardest thing in the world. Confusing, frustrating, heartbreaking. At ten I could withdraw to my bedroom or hide behind my parents. But growing up was like doing a high wire act without a net. I slowly found my voice. But what came out of me was too honest, too unpredictable, and not shallow enough. I could hear the defensiveness in my tone. People were not kind to me about all of that. I suffered.

But I got better at it. A little later than most, but it became necessary to my livelihood and self-confidence to conform better and hide the stuff most other people hid so easily. By age 41 I was beginning to get the hang of it. Then something really big happened.

My first MS attack

My first MS attack came on the heels of an ordinary virus. Never one to run to doctors, I had no choice but to investigate the cause of what had taken me out of the workplace and kept me from returning. Entering the medical industrial complex proved to be a huge setback in my journey towards assimilation. I was shocked at the dismissiveness of ER staff, specialists and PCPs. I was blamed for my symptoms. I couldn’t believe my ears. Defensiveness blasted out of my mouth at the ludicrous, irrelevant questions I was asked. I tried to verbalize how incredibly stupid they were not to see the forest for the desert, but it backfired time and again. I felt like my childhood self all over again, overtaken and silenced by domineering authority figures and aggressive, insensitive peers. But this time I wasn’t just raising my shield against the onslaught. I was sick and weak, too.

The work world

When I finally was able to go back to work, I discovered that the work world wasn’t going to go any easier on me than before MS and modern medicine took me to the mat.

That was twenty years ago and I’ve been on quite a journey since. The flood gates of irritability opened one hundred fold after I retired from the mainstream working world. I didn’t have to shove it down any longer. Anger and combativeness lurk at the surface like never before.

I've tried to make it go away

I've tried to make it go away. Writing doesn’t quiet it, nor does spoken confession. I take extra energy these days tempering my attitude and words whenever I encounter family, neighbors, doctors, and colleagues. It’s hard work.

I don’t take kindly to helpful advice, either. People mean well when they say you really ought to try meditation, exercise, visualization, therapy, and a good colon cleansing. Folks, been there, done that, bought the tee shirt, smoked it, peed on it, tossed it away and it keeps coming back to my doorstep in different packaging.

I’ll keep my irritable feelings. As long as I control its expression in appropriate ways, I’m good. Really.

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