I have a very complex type of epilepsy – it affects my cognition but I’ve also had seizures. It’s been a long road, but over the past year and a half I have been determined to find an appropriate treatment for my illness. Naturally, I’ve seen many doctors and have had a lot of tests but I have found connecting with other people who have epilepsy on Facebook groups extremely useful. And through ‘meeting’ with these people I have come to one conclusion, which I know many other people with epilepsy share, and that is that epilepsy is not ‘just’ a seizure disorder. In this blog I would like to share with you six reasons why I think it is not.
However, before I begin, I have to admit that epilepsy is a seizure disorder, so I better explain what a seizure is. A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain which can cause convulsions, a range of physical symptoms, thought disturbances, or a combination of symptoms. The most well-known is a tonic-clonic seizure – involving a loss of consciousness, rapid jerking of the arms and legs and falling to the ground. But there are over 39 other types of seizure including an absence seizure (loss of consciousness for a few seconds), a partial complex seizure (staring blankly, repetitive movements) and a myoclonic seizure (spontaneous quick twitching of the arms and legs).
Seizures are not pleasant to those that are having them in the moment, but it is the impact that the seizures have on the rest of their lives that can cause the real problems and here’s why:
1. Your life becomes a little unpredictable (but not in a good way). Some people come to understand what the triggers for their seizures are – it can be anything from excessive heat, loud noises and strobe lighting to drugs, alcohol, stress, interactions with other medications taken for different conditions as well as changing anti-epileptic medications because the current ones aren’t working. However, it can be difficult to manage your life so that you don’t encounter your personal trigger. And other people do not know what their triggers are and reflecting afterwards as to why a seizure happens proves fruitless. Trying to manage triggers or being anxious about the possibility of having a seizure is not a pleasant way to live life.
2. Post-seizure impacts – Post-seizure you might have to deal with an injury that happened during the seizure eg I saw a photo of a person who had serious burn injuries because when she had one she was holding an iron. But also post-seizure you have to deal with the wooziness and fogginess that it leaves you with – I heard of one instance where a lady was raped post-seizure but she was only made aware of it because her ‘boyfriend’ later told her that he had done it – she had no memory of it at all.
3. You can’t drive – If you have epilepsy or have had a seizure the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority may take your driving licence away from you for a period of time. If your job requires you to drive or if you live in a place with poor transport links, this can be dramatically change your life in an instant.
4. Cognitive impacts – Although I’m not having seizures at the moment I do have chronic cognitive difficulties which impact on my planning, processing, concentration, and memory (one neuropsychologist said my cognition was similar to someone with traumatic brain injury). These difficulties can be caused by the epilepsy itself or the anti-epileptic drugs (see point 5 below). My symptoms are quite severe although many people with epilepsy suffer, to some extent, with cognitive dysfunction.
5. Side effects from medication – The anti-epileptic medications have to be very powerful to prevent seizures. But so are the side effects. Not only can they cause cognitive difficulties that I mentioned above, but they can also cause drowsiness, insomnia and bone thinning – to name just a few.
6. Depression – For all of the reasons given above people with epilepsy are prone to feeling depressed. For those suffering from depression, treating the depression can be hard because, in my experience, neurologists do not know that much about depression and therapists and psychiatrists do not know that much about epilepsy.
And so in conclusion this is why, I hope you will agree, epilepsy is not just a seizure disorder. It’s a disabling condition that can have severe impacts on the person living with it at all times.