20. 13th November 2016 – And Now I am 40

And now I am 40

Today is my 40th birthday.  I was going to keep it a secret, but what with Facebook and my newly found desire to tell everybody what is going on in my mind, it doesn’t seem possible.

I really wasn’t looking forward to my birthday.  Forty seems like such a milestone and here is a great amount of pressure attached to it.  If I lived in Perfect Land, when I turned 40 and evaluated my life to date, I would feel proud and humbled at my achievements and with renewed vigour I would see ahead of me green pastures and a pleasant land.  I don’t want to live in Perfect Land – it seems a bit dull.  But in Reality as I turn forty I see behind me a life lost and in front an unknown future.  But at least I know that I am not alone in dreading a milestone birthdays – plenty of people do (look at Rachel’s 30th birthday in Friends!) and there is still time in my unknown future to find a path towards a greenish and pleasant land with some dead flowers – I don’t want Perfect Land , after all.

There are two ideas I know about being 40 – firstly – ‘life begins at 40’ and secondly at 40 you are allowed to start learning the Jewish mystical philosophy of kabbalah. In fact both ideas point to the same thing – at 40 you can consolidate your knowledge of life and begin to see the world differently.

As I turn 40 I do see the world differently. I used to judge people – because their child was rude, because they were a hypochondriac or because they very easily got into arguments with others. But now I see that it is not useful or helpful and that everyone has their own problems and I don’t know why they act as they do.  I only know how I act as I do. So if I haven’t achieved everything I had wanted to at this milestone age, never mind, there is always another day, but at least I know that at this inconsequential age in my life I have turned a small corner in seeing the world a little bit differently.

In other news

I have now got much more clarity about my diagnosis.  I have been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder and my symptoms are mainly brain fog.  However, it might be that the brain fog is caused by absence seizures in which case my disorder is Non-Epileptic Attack disorder (NEAD) (a horrible name). Unlike clonic-tonic or partial complex seizures absence seizures are so short that sometimes not even the person who is having them is aware of them.  Both dissociative disorder and NEAD sit under the general umbrella category of a Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) – ‘a disorder where symptoms are of apparent neurological origin but which current models struggle to explain psychologically or organically’ (www.fndhope.org).  For some people the disorder is a reaction to stress or a traumatic event (eg being raped, seeing terror).  However, only 13% of patients successfully respond to therapy as a treatment – and I think I would be one of the 87% who don’t because I do not feel anxious and haven’t had major trauma in my life.

Unfortunately to date so called non-epileptic seizures have received a bad reputation.  Some doctors think that they are a sign of patients ‘putting it on’.  However, I can safely assure you that nobody would choose to lose awareness as well as control of their body and suffer immense brain fog and tiredness after the event ie have a seizure.  Especially if these seizures were happening several times a day and doctors could not find a medication or surgery that would help and the patient  didn’t know what was triggering them.

My case is slightly complicated by the fact that I have epilepsy.   EEG’s show that I have epileptiform activity (susceptibility to seizures) but I am not having seizures.  And therefore it might be that the activity alone is causing me cognitive difficulties. So therefore I am going to start next week a new anti-epileptic drug next week to see if that helps. If that doesn’t work I will try a ketogenic diet which is proven to help some people with epilepsy. Although, with my brain fog, I know that this will be difficult for me, there is more evidence that this works to control epilepsy than a neuro-gym or a dementia drug – which I don’t think I will be prescribed anyway.

As I said last week, I am going to take a break from blog writing for the moment.  I have seen enough doctors for a life time and now all I can do is wait and see if this drug makes a difference.  But I will keep you updated every now and then on my journey.

 

18. 30th October 2016 Happiness vs Joy and a summary of the events so far

Last week the Jewish people celebrated Simchat Torah – the joy of the Torah.  However, I would argue that this is not a joyous festival, rather a festival which, in a very contrived way, tries to make the Jewish people happy.

The idea of the festival is a good one – Jews have had enough of synagogue at this time of year so why not end the holiday season with a party to celebrate how the Torah, the bible, enriches our life.  However, the execution of the festival is poor – the men walk around in a circle for at least an hour; the women look at them from afar and pretend to dance and the children get excited by eating sweets.  Obviously I am referring to an orthodox setting here, but, I don’t think that the customs of Simchat Torah aim to provoke a real sense of joy in any Jewish denomination.  The festival might make certain people happy but I don’t think it makes them joyful.

Jewish scholars and self-help books alike say that happiness is something temporary.  Many people are happy at their birthday party, watching a film and some strange odd balls even are happy at Simchat Torah. However, the same scholars and help-self books argue, that the real joys of life can only be found be in connecting to your partner, to yourself and for Jews at least, to the Torah. And that joy isn’t temporary and certainly doesn’t come because you are at a party – it is, I am told, much more real and long-lasting, and indeed how most people want to live their life.  Thus although I said in my last blog that some people call a succah, the temporary structure that we sit in for the festival of succot, a ‘happiness box’, perhaps that is the wrong phrase – perhaps ‘A joyous box’, is more apt – a succah can, I think, bring a real profound sense of joy, in the knowledge that you can get by quite happily with not that much.  I pray that I, and the millions of others who are in pain for whatever reason, will find that real sense of joy, very soon.

 

In other news

Just to recap the story so far in case you have lost the plot or have missed an episode or two.

The background to the story was that I have suffered quite severely from depression for over twenty years including three voluntary admissions into a psychiatric hospital.  Through an extremely convoluted process I became self-aware of cognitive symptoms which were severely impacting on my quality of life and were probably the cause of my depression.  My cognitive deficit included problems with memory, processing, problem solving, attention and decision-making and other capabilities that most people take for granted. And although I haven’t mentioned it previously in this blog – because it hasn’t seemed as important as my cognitive symptoms – I was also drowsy a lot and, since coming off my antidepressants medications,  had a huge range on involuntary movements (eg involuntary walking, making claw shapes with my hand, involuntary bowing etc).  At first I thought that my cognitive symptoms could be due to absences – 1-2 second seizures that are easy to miss – even by the person who has them. But later I came to realise that they were due to epileptiform activity – the background epileptic discharges which were happening in my brain.

I told my neurologist about my symptoms and she prescribed me to a week in an epilepsy hospital for a videotelemetry assessment.  This involved being in a room 24×7 where I was videoed and a recording was taken of my brain activity (an EEG).  Being a little bit bored in this environment I started this blog ‘Epilepsy and me’.  In my simplistic little mind I believed that by the end of the week a solution to my problems would be found.  But I was severely mistaken.  At this point I didn’t understand that my condition was rare and that epilepsy can be an extremely difficult illness to treat.

At the end of the week the neurologist said to me that there was nothing she could do for me as there were no recorded episodes of seizures on my EEG – even though I had epileptiform activity.  She told me to go home and see my GP.  Hope faded.

However, I knew that I couldn’t live like this, and for the sake of my children, I must be a more together and less depressed person and a solution to my problems must be found.  So I tried the alternative route and sent a clump of my hair off to Germany to be analysed for lack of minerals.  I took all the potions that my naturopath suggested but the brain fog continued.  And so the saga went on.

Then a doctor, who I highly respected, recommended me to Super-Busy-Very-Important-Doctor.  The NHS waiting list to see him was six months long but, not to be put off, I wrote to my MP and explained my situation and sure enough all of a sudden Super-Busy-Very-Important-Doctor could see me a lot sooner than he initially said.  At my appointment a trainee doctor listened very carefully to my story and then relayed it to Super-Busy-Very-Important –Doctor who said something like, ‘Sharon, you are not having seizures – you have having pseudo -seizures/ non-epileptic seizures.  You have a dissociative disorder.   You see Sharon – there are two parts to the brain – the neurological part and the psychological part. You have epilepsy – that is neurological.  But you also have non-epilepsy (indeed 10% of people with non-epilepsy have epilepsy as well).  Non-epilepsy is psychological. Go home and think about what the psychological cause of your disorder could be eg Were you abused as a child?, Have you witnessed mass murder? etc , Take some anti-depressants and come back when you have discovered the work you must do in therapy – the therapy will start in 6-9 months’ time.

Although, the term dissociative disorder resonated with me because I did feel separate from the world, I wasn’t so sure about his plan so I sought out another doctor for a second opinion.  In the meantime the Department of Work and Pensions, after carrying their extensive but very peculiar assessment  of me,  got back and said – we agree with you Sharon – you are too ill to work and, in addition, your disability is so chronic that we believe that the government should give you additional income so that you can manage your lifestyle.  I was pleased for the income but depressed that my life had got into such a hopeless state.

And then this week I went to see Doctor Eventually for a second (or was it third or fourth?) opinion.  He said something like ‘I agree with Super-Busy-Very-Important-Doctor – you have a dissociative disorder. However you are still having epileptic discharges. So try taking these tablets (sodium valproate –an anti -epileptic) – I can’t promise, but they might help.  It’s worth a go.’

So in conclusion no doctor really knows what is going on in my head but perhaps sodium valproate will give me a sense of the inner joy that I crave.