Being diagnosed with epilepsy can seem like a life sentence to some people. One day, your life is just as normal as anyone else’s and the next it’s taken over by this medical term that brings to mind images of seizures and paralysis. While these symptoms do occur, they can be prevented and well-managed with medication. Often, it is the fear of these side effects of epilepsy that many people live with which takes them over. They walk through each day under a cloud of anxiety and depression that won’t lift because as long as they are living with epilepsy, they see every day as a threat.
Lifting the Cloud
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are interventions that can be employed to help bring a little more sunlight into the lives of people with epilepsy. Part of that involves taking the focus away from the disorder. Sufferers of this disorder will often shy away from their social lives. They’ll bail on family get-togethers and routinely cancel plans with friends because they’re too worried about their epileptic symptoms getting out of hand. The embarrassment of this happening just one time is enough to scare anyone into becoming a recluse. Among people who have a history of intractable complex partial seizures, 32 percent suffer from agoraphobia — a fear of public places that usually keeps them housebound.
Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, we must shift the mindset to what could go right. When epilepsy is well-managed, there is a far greater chance that a family reunion or lunch with friends will be uneventful than it is that something will go wrong. Sometimes, it’s not about seizures and muscle spasms, though. It’s about memory loss and staring spells that make it hard to connect with others and maintain relationships. It’s the pins and needles sensations that can cause someone to drop their drink all over themselves in the middle of a restaurant. These symptoms can also be well-managed with the right medications. Still, how do we deal with the fear?
Comorbid mental health disorders affect many people with epilepsy. Depression is the most common and impacts 22 percent of people with epilepsy, compared to just 9 percent of the general population. Depressive symptoms can be so severe that people with epilepsy may resort to suicide as an escape. In fact, the rate of such is much higher among them at 11.5 percent than the general population at 1.2 percent. That’s a big leap.
Sufferers with epilepsy will often need prescription psychiatric medications to manage comorbid conditions. Antidepressants have been shown to be highly effective in treating the symptoms of depression that are caused by living life with a chronic disorder. There is some difficulty involved in treating comorbid psychiatric conditions when epilepsy is present, because antiepileptic drugs can impact psychotropic drugs and vice versa. When entering into such, the prescribing doctor should be familiar with both illnesses and informed of them in the patient.