The Grouch and T.O.O.T.S.: Dealing with Irritability
Years ago when I was first diagnosed, my partner asked the neurologist, “Is there something we can do about his irritability?” The doctor responded, “I wish I had a dollar for every time a partner made this request.”
It seems this is a prevalent issue. In past columns I have addressed scenario looping breakdowns, exaggerated emotions, deep fatigue, bad days, and ugly days. All of these contribute to the occurrence of irritability. Add to this “off-periods,” which also increase irritability.
The grouch rears its growling snout, and to keep the relationship protected, T.O.O.T.S. is the necessary muzzle. T.O.O.T.S. stands for Time Out On The Spot. It means that you “time yourself out” — zip the lip and take a trip. Walk away and return when calmer moods prevail.
As a therapist and professor, I have lots of practice monitoring my internal emotive state and taking actions to prevent it from affecting my ability to help others. But with Parkinson’s, it became more difficult. The first time the grouch barked back to a student in class and “put her in her place,” it happened on one of those bad days that overlapped with high irritability. But it was a shock to me that it happened, and I went to the department chair to explain it. He shrugged it off.
I told my neurologist that it was as if the normal filters I use to screen my emotions were not working properly. The emotions just spilled out and this grouch took over. Now further along with the disease, not a day goes by when I don’t have to muzzle the grouch.
PD irritability can bring other exaggerated emotions. Every little thing becomes blown out of proportion. Example: I’ve asked my partner not to smoke in the house and even hung a no-smoking sign. (Yes, inside the house!) Yet, a cigarette still gets lit indoors prior to my partner walking outside. The smoke makes me nauseous and triggers the grouch.
How many little things occur in a relationship that are annoying? With the grouch, it is not like a-fly-in-the-room annoying, but more like someone stole-your-lunch-money annoying. Smelling smoke in the house after numerous reminders is sickening and close to infuriating. I put T.O.O.T.S. into action, calmed down, and later planted a gentle reminder — again. Doing it this way prevents an argument or fight and saves the quality of the relationship. Zip the lip — save the relationship.
Dealing with the irritable grouch not only requires T.O.O.T.S., but also the following
– The 1-to-10 rating system of how bad the day is, which can be a grouch warning.
– Exercise, which can decrease grouch problems.
– Realizing that deep fatigue, if not attended to, will increase grouch problems.
– Understanding that ruminating on something annoying makes it worse; the key is to find a way to move past it.
– Telling people what you want from them. If you wait for them to read your mind, you will be disappointed — and annoyed.
Stress, lack of sleep, not eating or hydrating properly, and disruptions in the daily routine all can act as triggers for the grouch. Self-monitoring all of this as a way of keeping the grouch muzzled is not something that happens with perfection. The grouch still barks at family and partner, but the rehab plan decreases the frequency.
Even more than that, the plan gives reassurance to those who love you that you are doing all you can. Zip the lip — save the relationship.
Does the grouch arrive at your home?
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.