A year after her MS diagnosis, Willeke van Eeckhoutte was struggling with anger coming out of nowhere. Here’s why it can happen.
There's one topic many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are hesitant to discuss - anger. Anger can play all sorts of games with our emotional and mental states, even when we're not particularly assertive or aggressive as people.
I'm neither of those beings. I love peace and quiet, but today I've decided to open the door to a conversation about anger and MS. I do get angry - and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
The anger comes from nowhere
With MS, we must look after our bodies even more than healthy people do. I try to treat my body as a temple. I keep everything as "clean" as possible, only fill it with good things, and try and maintain a sense of Zen. But sometimes, I can feel my temple's foundations and walls shaking with rage.
Just as depression can come from seemingly nowhere, so can anger. I'm calm, I'm serene, and then fury comes in like a whirlwind and knocks me for a six. Why? It's not like I'm mad at the world around me. I've made my peace with all I can... haven't I?
Perhaps so, but some studies suggest MS itself can cause anger, not just the consequences of having the condition. And bottling up those negative feelings can lead to an EMOTIONAL EXPLOSION.
Experiencing anger in public
I found this out the hard way. I was diagnosed with MS, and I'd accepted it. Yes, things were hard, but I was tickety-boo, etc. But a year post-diagnosis, I felt a storm whizzing around inside me, battering my senses.
Trust me, I was confused as everyone else around me. One moment, I was the lady who knew how to give the best hugs. The next, I was a raging dervish, shouting my head off about something not very important.
Um... what? I am an avid subscriber of whatever hippy life philosophy is trending at the moment. They're all the same, anyway - care for the happiness and wellbeing of others, but make sure you have yours in hand first. I was okay, so why was I acting like a woman possessed?
How MS-related anger feels (to me)
As an illness, MS is a blind and emotionless being, but it's constantly in flux.
Imagine trying to solve a Rubik's Cube. You've managed to match up all of one colour, just to turn to the next side and find your efforts have been wasted.
Grinning ruefully, you try to fix the issue. And you're at it for HOURS. No matter what you do or how you twist the thing, the colours will... not... line... up.
So, do you put the Rubik's Cube away to figure out later while you hope for an epiphany? Of course not! In a mind-melting rage, you peel all the stickers off the Cube and forcefully ram them into their "proper" places. And it makes you feel better for approximately six seconds... until you question why the heck you are stuck with Rubik's Cube in the first place.
Was it depression? Anxiety? Or something else?
Studies suggest that people with MS experience anger more often than those without. However, some forms of MS-related anger are borne from brain lesions rather than mental health issues. These brain lesions can cause your vision to become blurry or make you lose your sense of coordination.
Whatever number they play on a person, the lesions appear because your immune system has chosen to attack your brain. Your unruly immune system has effectively turned on the parts of the brain that control your behaviour, emotions, and personality.
Researchers tried to determine if these higher anger levels were due to underlying depression and anxiety but concluded that some behavioural changes were not due to present mental health problems. The anger wasn't lurking 24/7 and ready to be triggered. It honestly came from nowhere and went back to the same place.
Thankfully, I rediscovered my old self
As I mentioned earlier, I sadly went through a phase of anger that had little basis in my emotional or mental health. Thankfully, I recognised a pattern emerging (read: explosions) and was prescribed appropriate treatment by my doctor with a recommendation to practice some mindfulness. Over time, I became my old self again, and I "treat" myself to a mindfulness body scan as often as possible.
So, to anyone struggling with anger, whether it's the result of your MS or not, do not hesitate to contact your MS team or available mental health services. You deserve to go through life with a smile, not the weight of anger welling up inside you.
NPS-IE-NP-00480 August 2022