Just Stop It! Short Fuses and MS
“Sorry, I’m not really angry with you, but please just stop whatever it is that you’re doing that is driving me CRAZY,” says the MS patient who has lost all his/her patience.
Do you ever feel like that? I do, too often (said with a sheepish downward glance).
I never used to be short on patience for myself or for others, but in recent years, I notice that my fuse has gotten terribly short. I can become ill-tempered at the swift turn of a moment.
Anecdotally, a small number of fellow MS patients have expressed experiencing something similar. At times it seems like anger arises very quickly, or that there are fewer filters through which anger is dispersed.
I was curious to see if there were official connections between MS, short tempers, anger, and extreme mood swings documented in the literature. Various MS societies worldwide offer pages of information related to MS and mood disorders including depression, anxiety, emotional lability, and pseudobulbar affect. But these explanations do not seem to fit what I feel every once in a while.
Part of the time, I feel overwhelmed which contributes to my internal flame. For example, I went shopping recently with my mother for new pants. The saleswoman was very attentive, almost TOO attentive, and wanted to make sure that we had what we needed.
Although I imagine that none of us like to feel like we’ve been abandoned in a dressing room, I now wonder if it’s possible to get too much attention.
Tap, tap, tap…..”how’s the ‘jean no.2’ working out for you?” I hadn’t even taken off jeans no.1 yet and was helping my mother with her own selections. “Do you want me to bring you anything else?” I was also fielding questions from my mother asking what I thought of different options and I was quickly beginning to feel overwhelmed.
Eventually I took a big, deep breath and ask my mom to SLOW it DOWN with the questions. Next thing I know she’s moved into recreating a scene from the old TV show “TAXI” where during the written portion of a driving exam, Jim asks, “what does a yellow light mean?” and his co-worker Bobby whispers, “slow down.” Jim’s response is to ask again, “what….does…a….yellow…light….mean?” in an exchange that repeats itself a few times growing ever more ridiculous.
Aargh, funny enough, but not helpful when I’m trying really hard not to snap at persons who don’t deserve it and are just trying to help me the best way they know how.
Besides the general information about mood swings found on the MS societies’ websites, I did find a study which examined anger in 195 MS patients through which researchers found that people with MS feel double the amount of withheld anger compared to the general population, but that they outwardly express similar levels of anger. It was determined that the elevated withheld (or unexpressed) anger was not related to disease severity or an emotional reaction to the stress of the disease, but may be related directly to nervous system damage.
“We believe that the higher levels of withheld anger shown by the study subjects is due to demyelination, loss of the substance in the white matter that insulates the nerve endings and helps people receive and interpret messages from the brain” explained lead researcher Dr Ugo Nocentini from the IRCCS S Lucia Foundation in Rome.
“The way we process anger is controlled by complex interconnections between the subcortical and cortical systems, notably the amygdale and basal ganglia and the medial prefrontal cortex. We believe that the demyelination process that causes the root symptoms of MS also disrupts the pathways that control how we deal with withheld anger.”1
I find this fascinating although it leaves me confused because I still have yet to demonstrate MS-related demyelination or brain tissue atrophy on my own brain MRIs. There must be more to it.
What’s your experience? Do you find that your “fuse” is shorter than it used to be pre-MS?
Whenever I feel overwhelmed and ready to snap someone’s head off, I try to take a moment to breathe deeply and remind myself that what I’m feeling is really more about raw internal feelings than the circumstances around me. It helps me to focus on meditative and forgiving thoughts – remembering to forgive myself most of all.
- High unexpressed anger in multiple sclerosis patients linked to nervous system damage, not disease severity. Wiley Blackwell. Published November 24, 2009.