Some thoughts on epilepsy


Some time ago I was persuaded by James to tell the tale of how I fell down one morning, breaking one of the cupboard doors in the process.

At first the GP thought it might be related to my blood pressure and subsequently I saw a cardiologist at one of the local hospitals.

After a brain scan, an EEG (twice), an ECG and an Echocardiogram and after much consultation it seems that I have some form of epilepsy.

Now I am trying to understand what is happening and how best to deal with it so what follows are a few of my thoughts on this malaise and an attempt to describe what it feels like during what the doctor calls an ‘episode’. Over the past year I have read a lot of material on neuroscience and related subjects so I almost know what I am talking about.

Currently I am under the care (if that is the right word) of a consultant neurologist and fortunately for me she turns out to be one of the leading specialists in epilepsy. That doesn’t stop me ‘discussing’ my condition with her.  “You don’t normally do what you are told” she said last week but I do, I do…eventually.

The difference is that I am looking at this from the inside, as it were, and unless she has experienced a similar ‘episode’ then she must rely entirely on testimony from her patients to which she then applies her considerable experience and knowledge.

Following the first falling down, there have been other episodes over the past eighteen months or so.  There is no regular pattern to them and they do not always result in the classic seizure prompting loss of consciousness. The doctor explained that they tend to come in clusters and that seems to be what is happening.

One of the indications prior to a seizure is a moment of ‘hyperreality’ which is how I would describe it rather than ‘déjà vu’ which is the usual expression but, to me, that is something entirely different.

It is more like a clarity of perception or as Wordsworth wrote-

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem.
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Awaking from the subsequent loss of consciousness, there might be a brief period of confusion but not always. Sometimes this can be minimal and at other times it can be profound. Normally it would be a case of ‘where am I?’ and on one occasion it was ‘who am I?’ and where others might have had a fear of loss of identity it just aroused in me a bemused curiosity.

A typical episode would include a bout of ‘intensive’ thinking followed by a surge of energy through the body and breaking out into a sweat and then it subsides.

There is no regular pattern in all this; symptoms can occur singly or in combination and I have come to believe that it is triggered in some way by my thinking. I can be aware of the ‘overcharged’ intense thinking whilst following my thought process but at the same time I am also aware of observing this state as if I had two centres of consciousness.

Two examples:

1) Watching the BBC4 programme about Electricity I had quite a big surge/shiver of energy and sweating while I was following the narrative.

It occurred to me that my feelings were not unlike what happens when a cable/wire/circuit is overloaded; so maybe, as an analogy, my neural networks are being overloaded in some way, generating heat and the surge feeling is a resonance throughout my system?
It happened again at the end of the programme while Jim Al Khalili was demonstrating how a Faraday Suit will allow high voltages to pass over the body and that mirrored what was happening within my body.

2) I was thinking about ringing my cousin to ask about her mother, my father’s sister, who had similar symptoms in the years before she died. And just thinking of what I might ask her, the ‘energy surge and sweating’ started and I was able to curtail it by thinking of something else and waiting until it subsided.

At other times I have been thinking about and trying to understand these episodes and this appears to induce one. I have noted this to the doctor and asked her if it were possible to induce a seizure just by thinking about it but, so far, she reserves judgment on that idea.

And then, for the first time, I fell down outside.

This was in November last as I was on my way to buy the morning papers. Fortunately my neighbour saw what happened and picked me up. One minute I was walking along and then the next thing I remember was regaining consciousness and seeing a slightly out of focus face and feeling his hands supporting me by the shoulders.

I have no recollection of falling nor of getting up again. I am told that we had a coherent conversataion while I was lying on the ground and how that can be explained is a mystery. How can I be unconscious (as in unaware of my surroundings) and yet conscious (as in being able to have a conversation but without the automatic process of memory formation of that conversation) at the same time?

Then last month I fell down outside the house again but prior to falling I had that ‘clarity of perception’ mentioned above.
As before, I can’t remember falling down or getting up again and there were no witnesses this time. I find it interesting that I got to my feet again without being consciously aware of the action of standing up or of replacing my cap and my glasses.
My ‘inner zombie’ was in control; on autopilot.

There was a moment of slight confusion afterwards so I went back into the house to staunch the wound on my forehead and to change my glasses, having broken the ones I was wearing.

Then I went to see the local GP and she put two stitches in my left eyebrow.  (Why am I blessed with such nice lady doctors?)

Some further thoughts on the feeling of ‘déjà vu’ or ‘hyperreality’ are expressed in these words and they are a reasonably accurate description of what I have experienced-

Everything…..is Brilliantly illuminated and seems to shine from within. All colours are intensified to a pitch far beyond anything seen in the normal state, and….the mind’s capacity for recognizing fine distinctions of tone and hue is notably heightened.
Somewhat alarmingly that was what Aldous Huxley felt and saw after taking mescalin!

So my brain is spontaneously and for a few brief seconds generating a chemical process which mimics the effects of psychedelic drugs.
Or is it?

Because I had exactly the same hyperreal effect when I was drawing this picture at left. My subconscious took over completely to the point where the class tutor said she was going to demonstrate some technique and I wanted to get up and watch but I couldn’t move, so ‘locked-in’ was I in the process of looking at and drawing the subject before me. That was a very weird experience and it has me searching for some way of explaining it.

These three books, among others, have helped but beware because they may bend your mind also!
One Cosmos Under God by Dr. Robert Godwin

Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohm

Irreducible Mind by Professor Edward Kelly and others.

4 Responses to “Some thoughts on epilepsy”

  1. dearieme March 23, 2012 at 12:23 Permalink

    A bunch of us, when we were freshers, were walking across the grounds in hall when a bloke walking the other way fell down and started flailing. We somehow knew that it was an epileptic fit (perhaps because we had learnt about Caesar’s epilepsy?). Anyway we dived down and held his head off the ground and then waited until he came round. It wasn’t his first seizure so it seemed that we were more upset than he was.

  2. P T Barnum March 23, 2012 at 17:07 Permalink

    As someone who has had epilepsy thrust upon me, by a head injury, I find this account both compelling and resonant. My seizures are more classical than those described here (the whole jerky fitting thing) but the moments before bear comparison – a sense of acutely enhanced perception, of seeing, hearing and smelling everything with tremendous acuity and a sense of wonder bordering on euphoria, before everything goes wild and weird and incoherent and gets lost in the darkness. I used to take it as a warning. These days I take it as a form of compensation for the public loss of control and vulnerability. It is tempting to dismiss it as delusional, this sense of being able to see almost to the very heart of something or everything, but I was fascinated to read this, so thank you.

  3. James Higham March 23, 2012 at 18:58 Permalink

    Never read it described like that before, JD. Must have cost you to write it. Thanks – we’re the wiser.

  4. CherryPie March 23, 2012 at 20:34 Permalink

    After working for a number of years with someone who had similar ‘episodes’ it is very interesting to hear about what they are like from the ‘inside’.

    I have mentioned before that I have had strange experiences over the years. These experiences led me to believe that we are tuned into and connected to nature. So following on from those conclusions your mention of hyper-reality and energy surges makes perfect sense to me.

    Your comment on thinking about it brings on another ‘episode’ I also find very interesting in context of some of one of one of my experiences.

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