129 posts in the category “Epilepsy”

Meet Ginny from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 26th, 2017 by

Say hello to Ginny (Mrslinkgetter), a case manager and family partner with Youth Mobile Crisis Intervention living with depression and epilepsy.  She’s also a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors.

Check out what Ginny had to say about living with depression and epilepsy, the loss of her son, and how being her own advocate and the support of others helps her deal with stigma:

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

My first greatest joy that puts a smile on my face is spending time with my granddaughter! (She is 2 and the cutest girl on the planet by my biased opinion!). My second greatest joy is connecting with people using either my journey with chronic health issues, or my son’s and being able to help them. I often edit my son’s story a bit if I believe the way his life ended might cause more harm to them, especially my clients.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

People have pre-conceived ideas about depression, anxiety, and seizures and even when I try to inform them, they often bounce back to their former thinking. This causes, not just an obstacle, but sometimes a mountain between us. I have had people tell me they are “afraid of me” because of my seizures. They had been told my seizures are focal, not convulsive. I do not fall on the ground and shake, yet, they are afraid, WHY? Ignorance. I have had relatives who have shunned me due to the diagnosis, later in my life. I lost friends over the diagnosis of depression. I believe in speaking out about the conditions because I do believe we need to be the changers of the world. I know that it is an enormous task. One of my son’s epilepsy doctors was also one who had some big prejudice about the disorder. I went to him after my son’s death. He had told me that I had caused my son’s stigma. I had asked him for many years “How? How was it that I had caused kids to punch my son in the head and ask him to spaz out?” The doctor never answered me.

When we talked after Sam died I showed him the picture of Sam and Tony Coelho on a magazine cover. I asked him if he knew who that was. He did, and smiled. I told him that Tony had told Sam each year when we saw him, “Never be ashamed to talk about your epilepsy.” I told this doctor that Sam did become ashamed because the doctor told him to be ashamed. I told the doctor I believe it is up to us to change the world about how they view those of us who have epilepsy. I treated Sam no differently as I treated my father who had diabetes as I grew up. He had a medical condition over which he had no control. This specialist then nodded his head agreeing with me.

I speak to people to let them know these conditions are medical. They need treatment like a heart condition, asthma, diabetes. It is time they are not suppressed, made to be ignored, or thought shameful.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?

My depression can ease up on me like someone adding weight until I cannot carry it any longer by myself. Suddenly I realize I am crying more easily for little reason. I cannot do simple tasks that used to come easily. I thought I was doing well, but have slid back into depression. This is not the same as “sadness.” I want to stay in bed, but no amount of extra sleep is enough. Concentration can become more difficult. I can be grouchier.

When my I miss my seizure medications or have long migraines, I have focal seizures. I can sense a prodrome (aura) when a seizure is coming on. My brain is just not working right during that time. My words are not able to form right or come out correctly. This can happen with both my seizures and when I have a bad migraine coming on so I try to get home to be safe. I have a long warning time, typically. During the seizure my head can feel too heavy for my neck. I am not able to talk but I can sometimes hear what is going on around me. I can have tingling in my face and hands. I will usually sleep after. Even after I wake up I am groggy and my brain is not working at full capacity. Sometimes my vision will “white out” and l have been known to send e-mail during that time that make no sense. Apparently I kept typing even though I was in a seizure. Fortunately it was to a family member who I could explain what happened!

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

Become informed in your condition as much as you are comfortable with from reputable sources. Find a good support network whether it is family, a support group, faith group or whatever you can form. You will do better with support around you.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?

It has been vital to me to find people who understood what I was going through! When my son was first diagnosed, I was not on the internet so it took a while for us to connect with others. When I did it felt like a miracle! Once I connected I have wanted to stay connected. When I was diagnosed a few years later I needed to speak to people about my own connection. These have been my friends for so many years!

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself. 

I have found a medication that would be better for me as I went into menopause. I had been at the American Epilepsy Society Meetings and learned about this new medication. I called my epilepsy doctor when I returned. She was pleased to hear about the medication and was more than willing to try this for me. It gave me a return to better seizure control. My doctor is very open to what information I have for her. I have had to fight insurance companies many times for my care and for my son’s care.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

I want to be able to impact others who have chronic health conditions in a positive way. I know that the online community was what got me through years with Sam. Sharing my experiences and passing it along to others my assist them in their journey.

 

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In her own words: Letitia shares about her new brain for Epilepsy Awareness Month

Posted November 16th, 2016 by

Have you met Letitia (Letitia81) from the epilepsy community? Four years ago, her research on PatientsLikeMe led her to the brain surgery that forever changed her life — she’s now seizure-free after three decades.

Things are much different now for Letitia, and she’s written all about her before and after in a recent article for WBUR (Boston’s NPR news). And as it’s National Epilepsy Awareness Month, we’re passing along her firsthand account of her new normal below. Check it out.

After 3 Decades of Seizures, Life with My New Brain

By Letitia Browne-James

I was 31 when I began to think with my new brain.

I’d been diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 11 and struggled with forgetfulness, interruptions in my thoughts and a lack of focus my entire life. I didn’t know that these were classic signs of brain fog, a symptom of epilepsy. I knew that my classmates seemed to grasp math and history more quickly than I did. Sometimes, I felt like I couldn’t understand things completely, no matter how many times I read or listened to my teachers’ explanations. It was a terrible feeling.

I had seizures, too, and they worsened as I grew older, appearing more frequently, always without warning. I had them at church, in class, at work, parties, weddings and while walking around the lake in my neighborhood. I often injured myself during these episodes. About four years ago, my doctor suggested that I would be an excellent candidate for brain surgery to treat my epilepsy. In August 2012, a surgeon removed a piece of my left temporal lobe the size of a sugar cube.

I didn’t know I had brain fog until it disappeared. Then I began to discover what I could do.

I was an infant when I had my first seizure, according to my parents. I had been hospitalized for asthma. After that medical crisis, life was normal until my parents noticed that sometimes I stared into space, didn’t respond verbally, and occasionally drooled. This behavior became more frequent when I was about 10. At 11, I was diagnosed with grand mal seizures and I started taking epilepsy medicine. It did not control the seizures, even when my neurologists increased the dosage and switched me to other anti-epileptic drugs such as Tegretol and phenobarbital — I had allergic reactions to both — and Dilantin.

In college, I still struggled academically and physically because of the seizures. I fell and hurt myself, bit my tongue and other parts of my mouth. I have permanent marks from injuries, including a chipped front tooth from a fall. The aftereffects lasted for days or weeks. I sometimes needed to sleep for a day and a half to recuperate. These side effects, combined with the rigor of college courses, proved challenging. I was also hospitalized several times, missed many days of classes, and was not always fully alert in school. But I have always been a fighter who succeeds in spite of obstacles. My academic performance improved during the last two years of college and my professors introduced me to scholarly research. Earning a doctorate became my long-term goal. I graduated with a bachelor’s of science in psychology with a B average.

Two years after college, I took the Graduate Record Examination because I planned to complete a master’s degree in counseling. I struggled mentally and physically while preparing for — and taking — the test, and earned low GRE scores. Still, I received contingency acceptance into a top graduate program. I had to pass my first-semester classes to end my contingency status. I not only passed, but had a 4.0 GPA by the end of that semester. I was ecstatic. But the challenges of living with epilepsy continued throughout graduate school. The seizures were becoming more violent and frequent, even though I took my medication regularly. I was desperate to control them.

Throughout my childhood, my MRI and electroencephalogram, or EEG, exams indicated that the seizures occurred in the left temporal lobe of my brain. But in my early 20s, they stopped appearing on those tests. I later learned that I had developed refractory epilepsy, a type of epilepsy that is particularly hard to diagnose and treat. Unless the patient has a seizure during an exam, test results and brain anatomy appear normal. In my professional training, I learned a lot about somatoform disorders: physical symptoms that mimic illnesses such as seizures, heart attacks, strokes but do not have physical explanations. I wondered if my seizures were psychosomatic.

 

“Since my surgery, I’ve started experiencing mental, spiritual, emotional and physical clarity unlike any I’d ever known.”

 

I found a compassionate psychiatrist; she was very personable, patient-centered and a Christian like me. After a few visits, she said, “I cannot explain what is happening neurologically, but I can tell you that those seizures are not psychosomatic.” She noticed that my seizures were causing me great anxiety and prescribed Xanax. She was right. I constantly feared having a seizure. Everyone around me was supportive, but I felt embarrassed, upset and anxious. The Xanax lessened my anxiety, and I am grateful to my former psychiatrist for her help.

I encouraged my counseling clients to become informed patients and play an active role in health care for themselves and their loved ones. I did the same. I researched my condition and found a website called PatientsLikeMe. I read the stories of other people with epilepsy. I learned about other tests and treatments — including brain surgery — that helped patients with epilepsy find relief or cure from seizures. I learned about “patient-centeredness” — working with health care professionals who truly value their patients’ input about their care and help them choose the treatment options that are right for them.

On PatientsLikeMe, I learned about both the 72-hour EEG and epileptologists, neurologists who specialize in epilepsy that is hard to diagnose and treat. None of my neurologists had mentioned this specialized doctor. I made an appointment immediately to see an epileptologist, and that was when my life started to change.

My new doctor ordered a five-day inpatient EEG on the epilepsy monitoring unit in a local hospital, where he and his team induced seizures while a machine recorded the activity in my brain to see precisely where the seizures originated. The epileptologist and his team determined that I could benefit from brain surgery. At the hospital where I would have the operation, I underwent a series of pre-surgical tests and passed them all. I began to count down to my surgery date. I was so excited by the prospect of ending my seizures that my pastor later said, “Letitia was acting like she was going to Disney World or something.”

Research has shown that epilepsy surgery is relatively safe. Most patients no longer have seizures afterwards. Pre-op testing can predict how patients will fare. Temporal resections — where the piece of the brain’s temporal lobe that is causing the seizures is removed — are the most common type of epilepsy surgeries.

I had a left temporal lobectomy on Aug. 16, 2012. My surgeon removed the small part of my brain through a tiny incision. My operation was very successful. I haven’t had a seizure since, and my doctors don’t expect me to have another seizure ever again. After my surgery, I had a severe headache for about a month as my brain and head healed. I felt like I had been hit in the head with a hammer. I had to spend most of that time in bed because of the pain and sleepiness from the pain meds.

I am still getting to know myself post-epilepsy. Not only is my brain free from the misfiring electricity that caused seizures, but my mind and body are free from the long-term effects of anti-epileptic medications.

Since my surgery, I’ve started experiencing mental, spiritual, emotional and physical clarity unlike any I’d ever known. That feeling became more apparent when I went back to school two years ago to pursue my doctorate in counselor education and supervision. For the first time in my academic life, I can learn and study without the fuzziness of brain fog and the challenges of epilepsy and medications. I can read and understand material much faster and with greater depth than before. I am maintaining a 3.9 GPA in my doctoral program and expect to finish in 2018.

I share my story openly and frequently, not just with epilepsy patients and their loved ones, but with all patients. I have learned that some of the physical, emotional and mental agony that I faced with seizures occurs across diseases. In particular, many patients suffer from brain fog and the adverse effects of medicine. Unfortunately, some, like me, may not know if what they are experiencing is specific to the disease — or what their lives could be like without illness or medication.

I told my story to the family of a young girl who also suffered from epilepsy. She and her family eventually decided to seek brain surgery. (She required three operations.) She’s now a seizure-free teenager. Mostly importantly, she is living without seizures at a much younger age than I did.

When I was a child, my parents didn’t let me ride my bike for a few weeks after I had a seizure. As an adult, I didn’t ride much. I had to give up driving when my seizures became more frequent. Now I drive again and I bike regularly for fun and exercise. I’m very grateful for my new brain.

 

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