Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) causes sudden uncontrollable and exaggerated emotional outbursts, such as laughter or crying. This condition can develop in people who have had a traumatic brain injury or who live with a neurological disease like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis (MS).
Living with PBA can be frustrating and isolating. Many people aren’t aware of what PBA is, or that the emotional outbursts are out of your control. Some days you may want to hide from the world, and that’s OK. But there are ways to manage your PBA. Not only can certain lifestyle changes help you see a decrease in symptoms, but there’s also medication available to keep your PBA symptoms at bay.
If you’ve been recently diagnosed with PBA, or have been living with it for a while and still feel like you’re not able to enjoy a good quality of life, the four stories below might help you find your path to healing. These brave individuals are all living with PBA and have found ways to live their best life despite their illness.
Allison Smith, 40
Living with PBA since 2015
I was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease in 2010 and started noticing symptoms of PBA about five years after that. The most important thing to manage PBA is to be aware of any triggers you may have.
For me, it’s videos of llamas spitting in people’s faces — gets me every time! At first, I’ll laugh. But then I start crying, and it’s difficult to stop. In moments like this, I take deep breaths and try to distract myself by counting in my head or thinking about errands I have to do that day. On really bad days, I’ll do something just for me, like a massage or a long walk. Sometimes you’ll have rough days, and that’s OK.
If you’ve just started experiencing symptoms of PBA, start to educate yourself and your loved ones about the condition. The more they understand the condition, the better they’ll be able to give you the support you need. Also, there are treatments specifically for PBA, so talk to your doctor about options.
Joyce Hoffman, 70
Living with PBA since 2011
I had a stroke in 2009 and started experiencing PBA episodes at least twice a month. Over the last nine years, my PBA has subsided. Now I only experience episodes about twice a year and just in high-stress situations (which I try to avoid).
Being around people helps my PBA. I know that sounds scary because you never know when your PBA will appear. But if you communicate to people that your outbursts are out of your control, they’ll appreciate your courage and honesty.
Social interactions — as frightening as they might be — are key to learning to manage your PBA, because they help to make you stronger and more prepared for your next episode. It’s hard work, but it pays off.
Delanie Stephenson, 39
Living with PBA since 2013
Being able to give a name to what I was experiencing was really helpful. I thought I was going crazy! I was so happy when my neurologist told me about PBA. It all made sense.
If you’re living with PBA, don’t feel guilty when an episode strikes. You’re not laughing or crying on purpose. You literally can’t help it! I try to keep my days simple because frustration is one of my triggers. When everything gets to be too much, I go somewhere quiet to be alone. That usually helps calm me down.
Amy Elder, 37
Living with PBA since 2011
I practice meditation daily as a preventive measure, and that really makes a difference. I’ve tried so many things. I even tried moving across the country to a sunnier place and that wasn’t as helpful. Consistent meditation calms my mind down.
PBA gets better with time. Educate people in your life about the condition. They need to understand that when you’re saying weird, mean things, it’s uncontrollable.