June 26, 2008

Who's Got What and Why?

I have noticed recently that the attributions of diseases and disorders for many famous people are shifting. Vincent Van Gogh, for example, has long been considered epileptic, but recently, has been decreed bi-polar instead. The symptoms are the same, but the designation has been changed.

Did I miss something? Is there some ridiculous shortage of past disabled  heroes that means they must be periodically shifted from one disordered universe to another so that we may all share them? 

I think not.

I do think, though, that in order to continue to make a kind of academic news, researchers like to go back in time periodically and re-diagnose those who have already been diagnosed and then declare that they actually suffered from something entirely different! 

D. Blumer, writing for the American Journal of Psychiatry, "The illness of Vincent van Gogh" splits the difference between diagnoses: he tells us that Vincent had temporal lobe E. that was aggravated by drinking absinthe, but that in his early years, his symptoms included depression, manic behavior and such, and that this suggests he was troubled with bipolar pathology.

With much respect, I would suggest that if the writer were familiar with the intricacies of TLE, he might dismiss any suggestion of bi polarism and instead declare that symptoms of TLE are known to mimic both bipolar and schizophrenic pathologies. 

Mistakes in diagnosis have been common over the history of TLE.

There are even those working on a reappraisal of Dostoevski's epilepsy.

This kind of transformative research does nothing for either the dead or the living. If we are to progress as a community, then we must insist that our social history be kept intact. Because there is prejudice against the condition, this cannot mean that the lives of historical figures should be altered to reflect a more acceptable diagnosis, particularly when the individuals themselves are self-declared persons with E. 

June 9, 2008

FEAR, Anxiety and Epilepsy

Persons with E. are hampered by Fear. But for many epileptics, Fear isn't just Fear, it is a paralyzing state of Anxiety that is difficult to analyze and articulate for most of us. The co joined states of Fear and High Anxiety can create just the right conditions to bring about seizures, and at just the times none of us want them to occur! 

This is because the bio mechanics of Fear act on the brain, experts say.  The same is true for Fear's twin, Anxiety. And, for some of us, this action is just destabilizing enough to trigger a generalized or partial event. The very thing most of us work so diligently to avoid...

Getting control of one's Fear can be daunting. Most of us try to establish for ourselves some kind of rationale that will tell us what we are afraid of at that moment. Attempting to identify the source of one's Anxiety can be equally unfruitful. This never worked for me, because it seemed only to heighten my Fear and make me more vulnerable---sometimes to the point of feeling the urge to flee.

Okay, so what does one do about one's Anxiety & Fear???

Some people offer motivational advice. 
Motivational advice can be useful, sometimes. For me, the inspiration it brings seems to vanish in the throes of both Anxiety & Fear, so it feels useless, something I am unable to hold onto in a crisis.

But, someone once gave me something I can use even in the crisis moments: Zen breathing techniques! For me, this has worked pretty well.

I am no master of this at all, but I learned enough to know that when I become afraid, I want to hold my breath, and this natural urge compounds my troubles. Now, I have learned to breathe from my diaphragm. This is sometimes called "belly breathing". The effect is a good one, because when you can control your breath, you can act against both your Fear and Anxiety as well as  the physical responses they tend to create.

Belly breathing is a method you learn that requires you to breathe much more deeply---instead of drawing breath from your chest alone. For me, the technique begins with an exhale: I place a hand on my belly above my waist to feel the muscles contract. When I can exhale no further, I draw in a breath, slowly and deliberately, feeling the muscles in my belly act to draw in my breath. This makes me want to relax, and so I allow myself to feel the relaxation. Then, I do it again. For me, it can take five or six breaths to calm me down, or several more than that. I keep my posture straight when I do this, as it assists the action. I can do this sitting, lying down or standing (although I don't usually like to do it standing because I don't always trust that I won't fall over...).

Some offer the advice that belly breathing is like filling a glass---you pour the liquid into the glass, filling the bottom of the glass first, to the top and not the other way around. In belly breathing, you fill your belly first and then your chest... 

If you click on the title of this post, the link should take you to a video file that will instruct you how to get started with the belly breathing technique. 

Of all the advice I have ever received about learning to control my seizures, the breathing has been the most successful, the most consistent. This is not to say that a seizure will not happen on its own anyway, but I have found I have the best luck when I remember to use the breathing technique. 

See what you think!!!