Either way it’s called lability, a term I had heard before, but didn’t know where. Finally, I remembered. It was from chemistry lesson, long time ago. Yes, elements can be stable, indifferent, or labile. Labile basically means susceptible to change. Suddenly, without warning, explosive. For humans it simply means not being in control of one’s emotions, which is also called Pseudobulbar Affect. It follows a neurological condition like stroke or brain injury.
I didn’t even know I had it. The first time I was made aware of it I was watching something on TV. It was really funny. At least that’s what I thought. After a while I noticed my wife giving me a rather quizzical look. She said: ” It’s is not really this funny, you know? I didn’t know. it was, however, a stark reminder of the fact that for a stroke survivor things are not always what they seem to be. In other words, reality can be quite different from a stroke survivor’s perception.
What I didn’t know was whether the source of my laughter was on TV, my skewed perception of it, or an even funnier thought that was triggered by whatever was on television. Matching what was said to me by survivors who experienced crying. They often described this overwhelming feeling of sadness, but were not able to pinpoint the source of it. Possibly it was set off by a thought, but many were not sure of it.
It confirmed the old truth: Every stroke is different, and so are its effects. I really do not understand why people still talk about it as “one-fits-all”. Talk to a few survivors, and you will get as many different stories as there are people. I would have loved to come up with an answer. Of course there are similarities, but no consistencies. One person couldn’t cry while in hospital, but the tears flowed freely once she was at home. Another laughed at his own misfortune, while someone else had a cathartic experience every time a close friend entered the hospital room.
No matter whether it is crying or laughing, it can be equally inappropriate. Survivors have been known to laugh at funerals. Family members close to the deceased didn’t find this funny at all. The “crying-at-the-drop-of-a-hat” seems to be better known.
Bystanders are often embarrassed. They want to help, but don’t know how. What do you do? Encouraging words? A sympathetic hand on the shoulder? It’s hard to say. Best is probably to talk to the person beforehand, and ask them what they want you to do. Some simply want to be left alone. Even though they know it are just emotions bubbling to the surface, they still remember sayings like the “stiff upper lip”, or that “boys don’t cry”. Similarly laughter is expected to be suppressed. A person sitting on his/her own in a café, sipping a coffee and uncontrollably laughing just does not look too good.
Even though it has been explained to survivors, they still know that other people feel uncomfortable and often do not know how to react.
In a way I’m glad that I’m laughing and not crying. Of course, it can be embarrassing, but, hey, who complains about a free load of endorphins.
What the brain damaged need is understanding, not judgment and expectations.