…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

emotional incontinence

I heard this term "emotional incontinence" on last week's "ER" and was compelled to find out more. Googling the words, with quotes, returned 10,500 hits—reliable evidence that the condition hadn't been made up by some smirking television writer. Approximately 1 million Americans afflicted with neurological diseases (notably ALS, MS, and Parkinson's) and brain injuries (stroke, trauma) experience E.I. as uncontrolled crying or laughter that is divorced from actual feelings of sadness or joy. Its medical terminology is "pseudobulbar affect," but E.I. is so much more expressive, don't you think?

A pharmacological fix called Neurodex is in the pipeline and appears destined for FDA approval in the coming year, and before anyone starts to think, "Oh, good lord, they'll make meds for anything these days," I should say that I am totally down with the issues faced by the emotionally incontinent.

I can state from experience that exhibiting emotion out of proportion to cause is: personally embarrassing, disturbing to those around us, and in some quarters likely to brand a person as downright un-American, unless the impetus for the uncontrolled crying is in fact listening to Lee Greenwood's magnum opus, "God Bless the USA."

I've always been an easy crier, an inconvenient trait to harbor around my brother, a domestic terrorist whose sadistic impulses to hurt and humiliate fuel on raw emotion like it's high-test gasoline. For instance, say my brother builds a coffin, your standard pine box in the classic shape, and he invites my neighborhood friends, in turn, to get in. They do, and he closes the lid but opens it a brief while later, and everyone is entertained. Then he asks me to get in, and everything in my body screams no as my eyes zero in on the hinge closure that enables locking from the outside. But the neighborhood boys are watching, waiting to see if I'll wimp out, and my brother is taunting, "C'mon, I'm not gonna do anything. Don't be chicken." And who wants to be chicken? Especially in front of friends, friends who are boys to whom I have to prove everyday that I'm not such a girl. So I get in, and the lid closes, and I hear my friends giggle conspiratorially as my brother clicks the padlock. And I don't know how long I'm in there, but I know that the louder I cry the longer my captivity lasts. Still, I can't help myself. I cry until I'm exhausted and broken, at which time the key turns at last and the lid is flung open, and my friends can only laugh at my red face and tear-soaked hair because, when given the choice, it's always better to be on my brother's side.

If my brother couldn't break me of crying, no one could. I cry on cue at movies, during obviously manipulative heartstring-pulling moments, happy or sad. I cry during "great moments in sport," however hackneyed, even though I take little interest in sports as a rule. I cry for damn near 50 minutes every Wednesday morning during therapy. But those aren't inconvenient times to cry. The worst times are when I want or need to be heard but can't bring myself to state my case, because once I acknowledge a passionate feeling I've cracked that suitcase of vulnerability wide open.

And so I've lived all my life avoiding conflict, knowing that the slightest provocation produces this outsize reaction that can't help but change the dynamics of any situation. How can I approach my boss for a raise knowing that I'll tear up the moment any criticism is leveled at me? How can I join a writing group if I'll start to cry when the insufferably arrogant guy who just sold a screenplay tells me that he finds my protagonist tedious? How do I ever ask for anything I really, truly want, being unable to face the specter of rejection?

When I met my current therapist she asked what my therapy goals were. One of my primary stated goals was to get my emotional response under control so that I could live more freely. "Oh," she said breezily. "The meds will take care of that." But they didn't. A few sessions ago I asked her why, two years later, I was still crying at the proverbial drop of a hat. This time she said that there are just people who wear their emotions on the outside, and that I'm one of those people. There was no more talk of meds performing a miracle. I was an emotionally incontinent lifer.

Is it wrong to wonder, when Neurodex is approved, whether it could help me, whether I should go down Mexico way and explore the self-medication racket? Is Neurodex even something Tijuana pharmacists would stock, what with the teeming markets for Rohypnol and Vicodin? If not, could Neurodex eventually gain FDA approval for mainstream use? After all, a patient base of 1 million is miniscule in the pharmaceutical world…


Blogger sporksforall said...

While I'm all for better living through pharms, I do think that FDA approval for your needs might be wise before administration. And that crying at therapy is kinda what therapy is for. That, and your brother is a special kind of asshole.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cyclist - Hopskipjump here. Reading all your blogs with pleasure. About the crying (assuming you are not fictionalizing for effect): I used to smoke occasionally in my teens and twenties until one night when I more or less deliberately smoked two packs in a row like a demented steam engine. Hellish sickness ensued, with the result that, not surprizingly, I did not particularly care for another cigarette - for as long as I live. Now to crying. Previously I had two crying postures: one, I was afraid to cry because I was afraid I couln't stop; two, that fear was well-founded - once started, tears would roll indefinately.

Go ahead and have a cry. Not just an ordinary cry, but cry for every hurt, every loss, every future slight. Cry rolling on the floor in a fetal position. Cry all night and all day. Stop to rest and do it again. You are the mother of all criers. Your tears are the stuff of myth and allegory. You are buried in a blizzard of Kleenex. Write poems about crying, play music to accompany your crying, take vacation days just to cry. You may notice a metamorphosis: from fearful crying to inconsolable sobbing to existential weeping, then, gradually, quiet. Feelin' kinda silly really. Then oddly brave and the next time you ask for a raise, you may tear up just a tad, but the tear won't roll. I mean it WON"T roll.

Now, go nail that brother of yours.

10:46 PM  
Blogger scout said...

Thanks, Hop! That's an intriguing idea. I have definitely tried letting loose in therapy on the theory that it was the tense resistance to emoting that was giving me migraines every Wednesday. (The migraines haven't stopped, but I don't much stress about crying during therapy anymore.) So, that's a small step. On to vacation-day crying jags!

10:00 AM  
Blogger bryduck said...

2 thoughts. (Which will amaze and delight you all, I'm sure.) 1) Lee Greenwood? AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHH!
2) From all I've heard, your brother is indeed, a major dickhead. Take it from one whose main purpose in watching sports is to get that few-times-in-a-lifetime transcendant feeling when your team, whether an all-time fave, or simply one where the odds are so stacked against them that you can't help but root for them, wins it all--crying is sometimes the only appropriate response, and who cares if others don't approve? Heartless bastards. They probably root for USC. Or the Dallas Cowboys.

2:14 PM  
Blogger treecup said...

This doesn't have anything to do with your post, in which case it might be commenting incontinence, but everytime I read your blog I am reminded that I had a dress with exactly the same pattern as the background image you're using. I told Joel, "I wish I still had that dress; I could pin a piece of parchment paper to it and go as Scout's blog for Halloween."

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emotional incontinence? You know, somehow I thought therapy and meds would help DECREASE my issues. Instead, they just multiple with each new label. Even so, I keep hoping that one day we're going to alight on the right combo to "fix" me. Hopefully it won't involve Mexico, but I won't rule it out!

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm Emotionally Incontinent. Who knew there was a name for it and others suffered from it. I guess I feel better. ~eb

9:34 AM  
Blogger Henna Muse said...

Oh my gosh! I have this! I didn't know there was a word. I cry at the national anthem, and I'm not patriotic. I have to hold back tears at parent/teacher conferences even when the news is good. When I was pregnant with my son, I cried EVERY DAY at work. It's totally embarrassing. I'm pretty sure it's CAUSE of social anxiety rather than symptom, for me anyway.

My poor son seems to have the same problem. Life is pretty hard on a 10 yr old boy who cries at the drop of a hat.

I'm so relieved to hear that there's a name for this and that meds are in the works... so glad I could cry!

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You describe my life exactly. I have avoided groups where I have to "share". Who can explain sudden tears when there is no reason. Any emotion I feel starts the tears and I can not talk for crying. Others wonder what is wrong and I have to say I have had this issue all my adult life. I will be 60 this year and have almost cut myself off from community because of this problem. I do appreciate your post because I see I am not alone.

5:13 AM  

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