Don't know whether to laugh or cry?
There's a new drug for a syndrome that isn't actually new, but that's gotten a new name. The drug is Neurodex, and the syndrome is now known as pseudobulbar effect, or PDA.
The unsettling and positively creepy-sounding symptoms are as follows (as reported in the NY Times):
uncontrollable laughing or crying that can be caused by various neurological diseases or injuries....Pathologic laughter is devoid of any inner sense of joy and pathologic weeping of any feeling of inner sorrow....The cause of the condition is not clear. Scientists suspect it occurs when the brain stem, which generates laughter and crying, loses communication with parts of the brain that control emotional expression.
The article goes on to discuss whether this syndrome should actually be treated. Critics of the development of this drug say no, because those who suffer from the syndrome tend to have a whole host of other serious neurological problems, of which this one is felt to be relatively minor.
Talk about paternalism! I say, let the patients be the judge of that. It sounds like a terribly frightening experience, the divorcing of the expression of emotional affect from the actual feelings. Like something out of a horror movie, the sufferer must feel like a puppet, controlled by some alien force. Or like someone under a spell.
We like to think we are in control of things--particularly, of ourselves. Even when we do lose control--for example, bursting into tears when we'd rather keep a stiff upper lip--ordinarily it's because we are in the grip of powerful emotions that we can actually feel. Brain injuries and brain disease can shatter that illusion of control, because the self and the will can now be at the mercy of random firings of the brain.
Why would anyone object to a medication that could help to restore some small measure of emotional control to the sufferer from such a grotesque and ego-shattering condition? My guess is that this represents a failure of imagination on the part of the critics; it simply doesn't sound as though much suffering is involved. It's a little bit like tickling, which might seem like nothing much if you were to describe it to someone who'd never experienced it. But, taken to extremes, it can be felt as incredibly noxious and almost unbearable.
In fact, now that I think of it, there's some kindship between this syndrome and uncontrollable tickling. The person being tickled looks to all the world as though he/she is having fun--after all, the person is laughing uproariously, right? But the experience is often not only devoid of humor for that person, it can involve actual suffering--suffering, and lack of control, because the ticklee is being manipulated into exhibiting this fake emotion (joy, laughter) by the tickler.
You may have guessed by now that I'm a younger sister. And I'm beginning to have a theory about some of these critics of Neurodex. Could it be that they're older brothers?