Epilepsy – A Monster In The Shadows

Epilepsy – A Monster In The Shadows

National Epilepsy Week; a week to raise awareness of epilepsy, steps to take when someone has a seizure and the potential ramifications of regularly occurring seizures and the way that lives can be altered, changed and devastated by the effects of epilepsy as a condition.

I have agonized over this for the last few days, thinking how best to write a piece that would bring attention and raise awareness regarding epilepsy. Equally important, I have wondered how any words that I write down here can have an impact that may contribute to positive change that make day-to-day living with the condition of epilepsy any easier.

I have struggled with the idea of writing a rallying call, a way that if we all contribute we can improve the facilities, work environments and conditions as well as eliminate stigma and the negative connotations that are still attached to epilepsy. However, I came to a decision before I started writing today, that for me to attempt to write something as epic and revolutionary as that between one thousand and one thousand five hundred word in length would be a futile enterprise.

I intend merely to examine the effect of epilepsy on the lives of people and the issues that epilepsy has as a condition that prevent it from being both accommodated for in current society and for people who suffer from the condition to be assisted in their day-to-day lives while out and about.

How It’s Different

Difference

The main issue I see with epilepsy is also a key one in identifying how it differs from other disabilities, neurological ones or otherwise. Specifically what I mean here is that the most prominent effect of the condition, when a person suffers a seizure, is not static. It is different from other disabilities in that sense. For example, with sensory disabilities lets use blindness as an example, it is a static condition; the effects are consistent. The condition very rarely worsens or improves but remains static. I suppose, in that same way disabilities such as paralysis are static and the lives that wheelchair users have to live are similar in the sense that they rarely improve or worsen.

The point I am trying to make by using those two examples is not to try and get into a “who has it worse?” style, slanging match but merely to emphasise where I believe the differences in these disabilities and epilepsy are and I believe it to be very significant.

In the static nature of disabilities such as the examples I gave, blindness and paralysis, there comes with that a consistency. There is a knowledge to both the victim of the disability and just as importantly to the outside world what action can be taken, and should be taken, to aid people who suffer from these disabilities to live as full a life as possible while managing their disability as best they can with the help of family, friends and carers. Many positive actions have been implemented to aid people in wheelchairs such as wheelchair accessible ramps and lifts to aid with staircases, adaptations to public transports such as accessibility ramps that can be lowered as well as sections of buses & trains they can sit in that allow room for their wheelchair with instructions on how and where to sit to keep them as safe as possible. Similarly there are the use of things such as tactile paving, sound based aids at road crossings and improved increased advertising regarding guide dogs to lead the blind.

What I am saying I suppose, is that when a society knows what to do, how to react, how to aid a certain disability and what to expect, it can take steps to ensure the aid and protection of people suffering with those disabilities. When it comes to epilepsy though, to take a quote from the Epilepsy Society’s letter regarding applications for work and welfare, which I will be referring to throughout the remainder of this post:

“Epilepsy is a condition that poses unique challenges to those living with it and should be considered a ‘special case’.”

Epilepsy Society UK

A Special Case

First Aid

 There are many aspects of epilepsy that make it a special case and make it a very challenging issue to deal with in terms of awareness and aids being provided in every day life. Firstly, we as patients have to accept the fact that more often than not, the condition cannot really be explained; why we have it, what caused it and very often what the triggers for a seizure are. This is where that issue of a condition being static comes back into play. When a seizure occurs in a patient it often happens at the most inappropriate time (then again I would say that there isn’t really an appropriate time for one to occur) and that for me, they come very often, out of the blue and with no warning with my seizures lasting a proximately two minutes and normally taking me forty eight hours to recover from (I suffer from full on tonic-clonic seizures).

Though some people do get warnings and know what triggers their seizures, giving them time to either get to a safe position or to avoid certain situations or places that would be likely to induce one. For some, seizures last for only thirty seconds say. Then there are what I have come to call absences (formerly “blips”, something I also suffered from), which are tiny seizures that last for a matter of second, maybe less, so that they are barely noticeable. Sometimes it even takes the patient a long time to realise that these absences of awareness and concentration are in fact mini-epileptic seizures (as was the case with me. It wasn’t until my early/mid-teens that the presence of these absences was realized and diagnosed). The complexity and wide variety of seizure types, triggers and the effects they have on different people are the main obstacles in epilepsy being tackled or brought up within the current disability discourse, as the quote from the Epilepsy Society’s letter below suggests.

“Some people know their seizure triggers, making them easier to avoid. Some get a warning a few seconds or minutes beforehand, allowing them to get to safety before it develops. For most, seizures are unpredictable, a constant fear of what might happen and when.”

Epilepsy Society UK

The point is that epilepsy, as a condition is actually not fully understood, even by professionals. Obviously they know much and can help you to try and manage the condition. But the scale of epilepsy, its seizure types, manifestations and outcomes is so large, ever changing and unpredictable that to be able to aid the people who suffer from it who are walking down the street becomes almost an impossible task. As an example of the way that epilepsy evolves, I have started to have seizures during the night, while I sleep, a particularly dangerous type of epilepsy.

Even the same types of seizure affect different people in different ways and produce hugely different experiences. Another extract from the Epilepsy Society’s letter reiterates and concludes all that I have touched upon in this segment.

“Epilepsy types and seizures vary in different people and can also change over time in an individual. There are over forty different types of seizure and even people with the same seizure type have very different experiences. It is not possible to generalize about the impact of epilepsy.”

Epilepsy Society

How De We Deal With This?

Ideas:Questions

I have to say that I am not as close to any close answer or solution to tackle the issues that epilepsy presents. The thing that I would say is that if you or someone close to you suffers from epilepsy and seizures continue to occur regularly firstly seek help from a professional. It could be that something as simple as a medication change could solve the issue (as was the case with me. Recently started a regime to change my medication from Sodium Valproate to Levetiracetam and I have not had a seizure for over three months, hooray!). But it could be that the seizures are brought on by the very nature of epilepsy and the things I have discussed above.

The unpredictability of this strange and terrible disability can have huge effects on a person’s confidence and state of mind. Sometimes epilepsy can feel like a monster that is stalking you, ever present in the background, sharpening its claws and waiting to pounce at the most inopportune moment. This feeling can be overwhelming seizures are uncontrolled. The key that I have found, even during those periods where the condition was uncontrolled, is to not let the condition rule me and dictate my life through fear and anxiety. Because epilepsy does produce emotional and psychological effects that cannot be ignored or even acknowledged I would say. I realize that that is all well and good for me to say, but if we allow those feelings of fear and distress to overwhelm us it will only worsen the condition, turning the epilepsy into a cyclical condition. As a final extract from the Epilepsy Society’s letter it explains how that works: “Seizures can be debilitating for the duration and for some time afterwards. Not knowing when a seizure will happen is disabling and can lead to fear, anxiety and isolation.” It then goes on to say that: “People with epilepsy can experience emotional and psychological effects on health. Memory loss, concentration problems, depression and anxiety all impact on seizure control, creating a vicious cycle.”

So, by ensuring that we are taking the correct medication in the correct dosages, with the help and support of family and friends to enable us to live a life where we can socialise, exercise, be creative and boost our confidence, we can contribute to managing epilepsy ourselves. In my opinion, this will be a key aspect to living with epilepsy. All the evidence and everything I have listened to in the discourse surrounding disability in the UK suggests that it will be an impossible thing for society to accommodate for in terms of facilities. We need to make sure that this point is continually raised to ensure that epilepsy is included in discussion surrounding disability and treated as seriously as it deserves to be so that in the future as more is learned about the condition, facilities, services and accommodations can be made and put in place in society.

Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you have found the post to be useful and informative. If you want to read more of my work on ABI, TBI and brain injury awareness follow my blog. Just so people know, another copy of this post can be found on

Headway Worcestershire‘s website as well as plenty of other useful information and inspiring stories regarding brain injury. If you are looking for more information regarding epilepsy, I would start with Epilepsy Action UK and The Epilepsy Society for lots of helpful information on living with and caring for people with epilepsy from two outstanding charities who work tirelessly to help people like you and I. If you want to read more of my work, follow me on Twitter, my handle is @ABIblogger and on my Instagram page where I have now changed my user name to abi_blogger

 

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Brain Injury Recovery – Independent Living

In my post the week before last, I moved on from asking Where Am I Now? am now regarding my brain injury https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/where-am-i-now/; asking questions like, what are the permanent physical consequences of my injury & how does my injury affect me both socially and domestically? What are my strengths & weaknesses? After I felt I had answered those questions in a sufficient manner, the next step was to highlight the goals that were most important to me. The intention to assess them and look at the potential difficulties I would likely encounter. https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/brain-injury-recovery-where-do-i-want-to-be/ Then I could think about how I would go about achieving them, the steps that needed to be taken, taking into account the answers to the first question I asked. Following on from last week and the goals I picked out as being most important to me, here is my view on my own situation regarding moving out and living independently.

Getting Out On Our Own

This is something that every adult, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, disabled or fully abled wants as they progress through life; independent living. As you get older and become an adult there are certain things that change in who we are. We develop social lives, a love life, particular interests and hobbies that are our own. We come to the conclusion that we want our own personal space; we do not need to be under the constant watchful eye of a parent. We can look after ourselves, perhaps in a nice, cheap, little one bedroom flat. With some tender love and care and some Ikea furniture, we could definitely make that place our own.

The Considerations & The Struggles

In the paragraph above, I painted a very romantic picture of what living independently is like. What I learned from my own experiences is that there are pretty severe reality checks in store. We hold the kind of romantic vision I described above in our heads. However, what comes with living independently is a series of heavy responsibilities that need to be taken seriously.

There are contracts to be signed, rent to be paid, direct debits to set up, bills to be paid to name just a few and finally, ensuring you are earning/receiving the money to ensure all of the payments can be handled. Also we must consider the fact we have to look after our new abode and we are also depending on ourselves for survival in terms of food, money and all the other necessities involved in life. We also must manage our conditions that have accompanied the ABI. We cannot be under any illusion that we will get to a point where these disabilities will go away completely. However, There may come a time with the right discipline, help and determination that we can get them under control. A position where we control our conditions as opposed to the conditions controlling us. To do that though means being strict in terms of taking the right medication at the right times.

Why I Do Not Live Independently

I have tried on three separate occasions with varying degrees of success to live independently. The main obstacle in this process over the past five years has been the ever-worsening extent of my epilepsy. Here are the ways I have tried to live independently

  • University was, to all extents a success. I achieved a 2:1 (BA) degree despite my ABI with a lot of support from the university and epileptic episodes were kept to a minimum.
  • After university, I went to live in London to pursue my dream of being a writer. Again, epileptic episodes were at a minimum but slightly higher than they were at university, which meant my dad having to come all the way to London once a month to check on how things were going with me.
  • After a year of living in London due to financial reasons as well as health reasons it was necessary to move back to Dorset. Upon my return, I found myself a flat and a job. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worse.

While I was living independently in Dorset, the number of seizures I was having escalated hugely. Being a larger than average young man (around 6,2 and 17.5 stone) I usually end up with a broken bone or a losing some teeth after a fit and living alone put me at huge risk if, for some reason, the fit I was having escalated and my health was put in more jeopardy. With the seizure’s becoming more and more regular and the potential risk to my health while I had one rising, it had become clear that living on my own just wasn’t practical or sensible at the time.

What Did I Learn From My Attempts?

What did I learn? Well, firstly that living alone and having your own space allows you to be who you truly are and it is wonderful to have that kind of freedom and independence. What we should all be aware of though, is what that truly means. Independence means you are doing it for yourself. For people in our type of situation where there could be a crisis or an emergency regarding many things; physical health, mental health, panic or anxiety attacks, it may be a good idea to ensure the place you have chosen to live is not to far away from people you trust who will make every effort to help you.

Secondly, I would say that moving out and taking care of a place of your own is far more complex just in terms of the technicalities and bureaucracy that are involved in making the whole thing official. Sorting out housing contracts, direct debits, council tax and ensuring that the place is right for you depending on your situation are complex issues that can be confusing for anyone, let alone someone who has suffered an ABI. This leads me to number three…

The third thing I learnt follows on directly from number two. I would advise anyone who has suffered an ABI to get someone reliable whom you trust to act as an advocate on your behalf. Or, if it is necessary, take advantage of the help the social services may be able to provide or it may even be a good idea to go and see an attorney who can help guide you through the process and help clear up any misunderstandings so you know exactly what it is you are signing up for. Just to clear up the bureaucracy that is in all those contracts. It is unfortunate, but there will be people out there who may try to take advantage of situations such as ours.

My last Piece Of Advice

Finally, My biggest piece of advice to anyone recovering from an ABI or a disability is to not rush the process. To take your recovery a step at a time and this is one of those steps that should only happen when everything is in place and everything is ready for it to happen. Particularly, only when you are healthy enough for it to happen. That is when you will have the most chance of success.