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Just Stop It! Short Fuses and MS

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.

Lisa Emrich | Follow me on Facebook | Follow me on Twitter | Follow me on Pinterest

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Terry923
    7 months ago

    I can totally relate to this. Out of all my sisters I have always been the kindest, most patient and sensitive to others until now. I know I have become more angrier at the smallest of things. Just loud sounds, talking or the television, make me confused and snippy. I know its part of this horrible disease robbing me of yet another part of “me”. I try to explain this to my Family but they don’t understand. They think its an excuse and get angry at me. Just another symptom to isolate me from from former self.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi Terry923,
    Thank you for your comment. It can feel disorienting when you’ve always been the kind one, patient one, or sensitive one in the family who also supported other persons’s needs. Now, you need that same level of understand and kindness from others. I hope that perhaps you can share that this is a common change that people with MS may struggle with and that you need their support.
    Best wishes,
    Lisa

  • lhalvor
    1 year ago

    I’m really struggling with anger lately. Doesn’t matter to me the brain roadmap that causes it. I’ve meditated for years which has brought it to a maneagable level but still find a hairtrigger response. Sadly usually to people (husband) who are trying to be helpful.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi lhalvor,
    I know that it’s been awhile since you commented here, but I hope that you have been doing well. I understand that hair-trigger response you mention and unfortunately, it’s usually our loved ones who become the unintended targets. Try not to be hard on yourself. It sounds like meditation has been an excellent way to keep this minimized. Best wishes to you and your husband.
    Lisa

  • JenO13
    1 year ago

    I find myself getting angrier and angrier over vey small stuff. What makes it even worse is I know it’s ridiculous to be upset. Like my family leaves kitchen cupboards open after getting things out. Nothing that should make my blood boil but it does.
    Even on big stuff now I stuff it down. I’m so afraid if I let myself express my feelings it won’t stop. No one seems to understand the knot I carry around in my stomach 24/7. They don’t notice my clenched jaw or the tears bubbling trying to be shed but never will. They all have their own daily problems, mine just seem so mundane in the grand scheme of things.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi JenO13,
    Oh, I hear you. I find myself being ‘annoyed’ at little things at home sometimes. Even my husband walking in and out of rooms while he’s getting stuff done can rub me the wrong way. But he’s doing exactly what I want in helping to keep the house in order. I shouldn’t get upset. Please know that you are not alone.
    Best wishes,
    Lisa

  • TheBillLarson
    1 year ago

    As you were describing the issues you face when receiving input from the sales rep as well as your mother sounded far too familiar to me. If I have too many sources of input at once I quickly get sent over the edge, particularly if at least two of them are directed at me. Environmental factors can sometimes wind up as one of the inputs. Recently I was sitting by a fan and both my wife and my son were talking to me at the same time. With both talking and the noise from the fan I couldn’t concentrate on either person speaking. Fan off, one at a time speaking, and I am okay. Too much chaos, which in reality doesn’t have to be much, it is a short ride for me to go over the edge.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi TheBillLarson,
    We are very similar in that regard. Too much input and it all just escalates. I’m sure that it is hard for our family members who don’t see what the matter might be when we begin to get agitated. Thank you for sharing.
    Best,
    Lisa

  • Taughtthrutheheart
    3 years ago

    I can relate. Mine comes in waves, usually when I’m forced to process a lot of information at once, like when you were shopping. For me it’s this whole body rage that comes out of nowhere and I get so angry I can’t even look at or think about the people I’m in the room with It’s so irrational. I used to be so laid back and calm and could multi-task like a champ so it still catches me off guard, and my poor family doesn’t know what to think. I wish there was more information regarding this “short fuse”. I have a lot of sensory processing issues, noise sensitivities, and frontal lobe lesions.

  • kicknMSback
    4 years ago

    I think I may have just put two and two together so too speak. I left teaching preschool, to take on EMS full-time in hopes that the schedule would let me go back to get my education degree. (They didn’t give out degrees in pre-school education the first time around.)Through circumstance that didn’t happen, but I noticed that I had less and less patience for substituting. And when I could safely say that being an EMT was less stressful then working in Headstart, I began to think that something else was wrong. Several symptoms later, I was diagnosed with MS years after my optic neuritis. My patience, which I could consider myself very laid back and not fly off the handle without extensive provocation, was always constance, now you better watch out. I have to work at keeping the irratibilit.to be quelled at times by either a “time-out” and/or may need medicinal assistance not to be upset by my loved ones and furries. Big crowds, concerts and specific noises can send me into a grouchy attitude. Not apart of MS, I doubt it. In a disease, that is as much of a mystery as MS is how can they defintively discount it.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi kicknMSback,

    Sounds like you were able to step back and see what might have been going on with you. Sometimes that is so hard to do when you are the one in the middle of the mess.

    Regarding big crowds, noises, etc, I’m like you. The volume and overstimulation is so difficult to tolerate. Actually, I recently learned a new word that explains describes that reaction – hyperacusis – which is an abnormal sensitivity or intolerance to everyday sound levels or noise. One cause of hyperacusis can be damage to neural pathways.

    Lisa

  • Tess
    4 years ago

    My fuse is shorter because people, including family are in denial about my MS and think I should be the way I used to. I hear “stop blaming everything on your MS”. Gets me angry. I don’t even reply.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Tess,

    That comment – “stop blaming everything on your MS” – has got to be one of the most irritating at times. It makes it hard to know how to respond in a productive way. I’m sorry that your family doesn’t seem to understand what you are going through right now. That’s one reason it is so helpful to reach out to other people with MS who do understand.

    Best wishes,
    Lisa

  • vshell58
    4 years ago

    I know my fuse is a lot shorter. People think I can still work as hard as I did 15 years ago. It seems as though they just push and push me. Don’t get me wrong, I am still strong, but not to that limit. So my fuse is shorter. They don’t seem to realize that I have MS!!!

  • cw
    4 years ago

    This is me. As my MS and other conditions get worse my fuse shortens. I don’t mean to. I’m really and nice person and love to help other people. But there are some people I can only be around a couple of minutes and then I have to leave because I can feel ‘it’ coming on. I’m going to start yelling at this person. I can’t have a normal conversation anymore without things that we don’t agree on escalate to a shouting match. I have been know to go home and start yelling to no one or throw stuff around especially if I can’t get it to work. What I deem as stupidity or a complete lack of common sense really sets me off. One thing that I do have patience with is small children. I think that is the one thing right now that I will never get angry at.

  • vshell58
    4 years ago

    I am the same way!!

  • Marsha
    4 years ago

    When is “pre-ms”? I figure I was born with it, and had much milder or undx’d symptoms all my life, but at the age of 53, after amazingly long remissions, I was not only dx’d, but graduated to secondary progressive. Okay, so about anger; I’ve been ticked off all my life! Lately, I made the anger connection to ms over the last couple weeks when I figured my irrational fueled anger at everything, justified or not was like a burn deep inside. Just like spasticity and numbness and fatigue and hugs and all the other symptoms people just don’t comprehend. Ms sucks

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Marsha,

    I agree with you that this type of anger and it’s connection to MS is probably greatly misunderstood. It’d be great if researchers started looking into the issue and start to make sense of it. Maybe with enough information and understanding, it might be something at can be improved like spasticity or fatigue with treatment or management strategies.

    I’m glad to learn that I’m not alone in this. Thank you.

    Lisa

  • JULIE SAVENE
    4 years ago

    Thank you. I too have noticed a change in my anger threshold in the last year….my husband(my caregiver) will state that it has been a little longer. My MS has progressed in the last year to the point that I am very limited in my stamina(my right leg and arm) ie: cooking dinner; I tend to get angry at him & my mother (we live with her) over things they say or do. I know I am fatigued after working all day and am trying to keep up with the menu planning and cooking.
    I am an upbeat person. I am lucky that I do not suffer from depression. I tend to only break down and cry in front of my husband about my MS. But I have noticed that I get angry faster, I have found that I can only do or hear one thing at a time.
    So if there is an explanation other than frustration with MS, I would love to know!

  • Laura
    4 years ago

    I totally get what you’re saying. I am chronically fatigued and I can’t take any stress at all. I get irritated when there is too much going on or if someone says something that hits me the wrong way. MS has taken everything away from me. No sex drive because I can’t feel anything, I used to multitask and that has been gone for a long time, I can’t stand and cook anymore because it makes my legs and back hurt and I’m too tired to do it. MS takes away your life. How do you rebuild from that? People just don’t understand what MS strips you of. I think a lot of anger comes from the frustration that people don’t get it and you can’t do it anymore. I am only unstressed when I’m alone. I don’t want to go anywhere because it wears me out and I don’t have the energy to get up and go and do. I can’t deal with more than one thing at a time either and I can’t stand for people to expect anything from me. I don’t have it to give. I get very frustrated when I don’t understand something. I take medication for pain because I have fibro and MS. I am on disability for extreme anxiety disorder and MS. But I am not in a wheelchair and I don’t ‘look’ sick so no one get’s it. I know we can’t live a selfish life, but I don’t have any energy or patience to be around people. I pray a lot. That is my lifeline. God is my lifeline. I feel like all I do is sleep my life away. God gave me the gift of life and I’m like a sloth. Can’t cook anymore, can’t clean the house, I force myself to do laundry. I force myself to even get in the shower. I used to take pride in the way I looked. I don’t care most of the time anymore. Putting on make up for what? Yes. MS takes everything away from you and people will never understand that unless they have it. The worst things to hear are force yourself to get up and do things! Force yourself to get out there and you will feel better. All it does is cause greater fatigue and more agitation. No one get’s it and if they bothered to read up on MS and ALL the things it strips you of, family and friends might have a better understanding of WHO you have become. But it doesn’t make them want to be around you whether they know it or not. It’s too much work to come and visit with a sick person. No one wants to deal with it. It’s sad and depressing. MS is a horrible disease that has so many faces and some of us have almost all the symptoms. Very little taste or smell so not much desire to eat. I mean even eating and enjoying a meal isn’t on the menu for some of us! What pleasures do we have left? No. No one get’s it. They just think we are all on a pity party. What we are is trying to learn how to be someone else, trying to figure out how to live with the new MS me. I hope I’m not alone in feeling this way.

  • Kelly McNamara moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Laura. I’m so sorry to hear everything you’re going through. Thank you so much for sharing your experience so honestly. The community’s always here, if you’re ever looking for a place just to talk. Wishing you all the best. – Kelly, Community Manager

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Julie,

    We have so many things in common. My husband and I also share a home with my mother. Sometimes I get frustrated with either or both of them and it’s hard to find a comfortable way to vent. Whereas I used to be able to multitask quite skillfully, now it’s important to take things one at a time.

    Whenever things get too overwhelming, I try to remind myself to stop (withdraw perhaps), breathe deeply to a slow count of 5 in and 5 out, and relax my jaw. It seems to help.

    Best,
    Lisa

  • Teri
    4 years ago

    I am so glad to read this article. My MS was so bad 2 years ago I had to retire early and sell my house. I moved closer to a family member. It has proven to be a source of more stress. My MS improved. But my family are control freaks. I’m given more “advice ” than anyone needs. I recently blew up like you described when the advice went too far. It’s been a week and we haven’t spoken. I guess I will call my neurologist but my compass says I am not all the problem.

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Teri,

    I’m sure that what you describe is not just you. Family can be wonderful when they are talented at knowing exactly what help you might need or the words you might need to hear. But when family feels intrusive, it can be crazy-making.

    My thoughts are with you. Good luck.
    Lisa

  • Betty
    4 years ago

    There are times when I become anger as a result of my MS, symptoms, and circumstances. But I totally lost it with my sister. I moved to be closer to family almost 14 years ago for what I thought was emotional support. I was sorely wrong. My family of choice provides care and support. I’m loved and cared for on good days and bad days. I’ve had an URI for 4 weeks and an MS flare for a week. As I was concluding a doctor’s appointment on Thursday, my sister calls. I think my older niece had contacted her after we spoke earlier in the week. My sister texts that I need to let her know what wrong as family is a priority. It’s October and I’ve seen my sister 3 times this year although she only works 7 miles away and lives 11 miles away. She is the very last person I call on for help as history has taught me she can not be counted to do a little grocery shopping. She has made no attempt to learn about MS. One Christmas at her house when I had a flare, she suggested I not come around when I’m having a flare and maybe I should go home. Her insensitivity and callousness remarks and behavior are repeated many times each year. Well, I blew my fuse on Thursday (I was also on high doses of prednisone ). I let her know if family is a priority, I was certainly not part of the family and noted at 10 instances as examples. I was just so upset by her feigned interest in my health and her stance that family (which obviously did not include me) is a priority

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Betty,

    I hope that you are recovering from your recent MS flare. Steroids definitely make it hard to keep your cool. I’m sorry that communications are difficult with your sister. I’m not making excuses for her, but I wonder if she just doesn’t know HOW to communicate that she cares and wants what’s best for you. It sounds like participating with family events is very important to you, and it probably hurts to have someone suggest that maybe you should go home if you’re not feeling well.

    With holidays coming up, I hope that you are able to enjoy time with family whether at home or gathered elsewhere. Please be sure to listen to your body and take care of yourself.

    Best,
    Lisa

  • Jessica Petroff
    4 years ago

    Thank you for bringing this topic to light Lisa. I’ve been experiencing some of the same symptoms for the past year. Like you stated, it isn’t related to depression, anxiety, or pseudobulbar effect,even though my neurologist wants to label it as such and push more symptom management drugs.

    I will admit, this past year hasn’t been easy MS wise, lots of relapses and progression, which included dealing with depression for the first time ever in my life and since being diagnosed. I asked for help and support and I am coping, but still deal with what you describe despite being on medication.

    As my two teenagers and husband would tell you, I have no filter any longer and tend to lose my temper quickly, which as in the past, I’ve been slow to anger, excellent at holding my tongue and if I did speak up, it was with a tactful calming tone.

    More research needs to be done. Maybe it should fall into the pseudobulbar effect category since we can’t seem to control it.

    Thanks again,
    Jessica

  • Lisa Emrich moderator author
    4 years ago

    Hi Jessica,

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had such a difficult year MS-wise. Very good for you for seeking help for the depression. It may not directly help the quick temper, but it certainly can work to improve your quality of life. Facing depression is not an easy thing (I know, I continue to do so).

    I do wonder about any potential relationship between what we’re describing and pseudobulbar affect since we seem to lose some level of control over it happening. I do personally think that it is neurologic in some way. Research would be useful.

    I hope that the next year goes more easily for you.

    Best,
    Lisa

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