An interesting symptom of Parkinson’s Disease, which has developed over the past year or so, is that I’m breaking into tears at the slightest emotional provocation. I’ve always felt emotions deeply and cried relatively easily, but the present situation is something altogether different. The situation only comes up when the topic has some sort of emotional charge, although not always an obvious one. Telling a sad story to a friend is often difficult; reading a poem aloud is nearly impossible. But it’s not always that obvious: sometimes I will be telling a routine-seeming story from my past, or for that matter from the present, and find myself choking up at parts that I would never have predicted. I can usually feel the tears coming on slightly in advance, and sometimes I can change the subject. Sometimes I can’t though, and either way this is often intensely frustrating: when I’m telling a story or reading a poem aloud, I want the focus to be on the story or the poem rather than on me or on my emotional reactions.
This symptom is pretty well documented. The paper Often overlooked neuropsychiatric syndromes in Parkinson’s Disease (British Journal of Medical Practitioners, 2013) describes this syndrome, and refers to it as Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder, or IEED. The paper and states that it occurs in around 15% of PD patients, and the emotions expressed can range from tears to anger. Who knew? I have mixed feelings about the term “disorder” though. I only cry in response to topics that evoke genuine feelings in me, however hidden these may be at first glance, and this is only a “disorder” in situations where I don’t want to show those feelings. Maybe I’d call it Involuntary Expression of Otherwise Appropriate Emotions Syndrome. The name is too awkward for a respected journal, although it mirrors the awkwardness I usually feel in when it happens.
The "involuntary" part, however, is quite real, and as with tremor I'm pretty much forced to be out about it. It feels more embarrassing than tremor though, and I find myself avoiding topics and situations where I can feel it coming up. On the other hand, since I'm not very successful at controlling this, and since my friends and acquaintances don't seem to be avoiding me because of it (at least as far as I can tell), maybe I should just relax and go with it. What do you think?
Photo by Dale Bennett