Epilepsy and Consciousness

Ed Hudgins

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Epilepsy and Consciousness
By Talia G. Hudgins

When I was 21 years old I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Though the news was upsetting, I was relieved it wasn’t a brain tumor. But as I realized the seriousness of the diagnosis, I also came to appreciate how wonderful consciousness and the ability to think rationally really are.

Strange sounds

It began with a series of strange feelings, or “auras,” themselves mild seizures. I could no longer hear a woman who was speaking to me. I realized with a thud in my stomach that I was “feeling” her voice. Standing on a subway platform, a fear enveloped me that my hearing was disappearing with the train in the tunnel, and a fear that my consciousness might be slipping away as well. I frequently had vague, heart-pounding feelings of dread—always that I would faint, or worse.

But as unpleasant as these experiences were, I thought I could explain them: The wind or sound in the tunnel knocked out my hearing. I was tired, hungry, or anxious. The temperature was too hot or cold.

But one morning I woke with every muscle screaming, and nausea so intense that merely lifting my head was agony. Worst of all, I had bitten the sides of my tongue to a pulp.


Diagnosis and control

Then came the MRI scans and EEG tests. It was epilepsy, a default diagnosis when neurologists cannot explain seizures by a brain tumor or injury.

Afterward came years of trying different medications. One wasn’t quite strong enough. One stole my appetite (a welcome side effect) but also what felt like my sanity. All made me dizzy and tired. But finally an excellent physician figured out the right treatment. The medicine eased my dread of waking up with a chomped-up tongue. I had to give up alcohol, an easy sacrifice, though giving up espresso was not. Except for some few and far between “episodes” caused by dehydration and childbearing complications, grand-mal seizures became a thing of the past. I’ve had none for many years now.


Conscious of altered consciousness

However, I still occasionally get the auras. The symptoms... (Continue reading here.)

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Thank you, Talia, for sharing this personal history and experience. When I was a child in the '50's I had grand mal seizures. There was a certain feeling preceding them I came to recognize, and I could start to tell a family member it was about to happen. I "outgrew" those. In about 1996, I began having complex partial seizures. In those I don't know proper names, no thought is complete, all is unconstrained association, I get lost in colors, and although I come out of it, I won't be able to do intellectual work until the next day. My husband would help me through those episodes, particularly the fear aspect (for I knew I was not right) by sitting me down with my Vermeer book and talking me through the elementary things in the pictures, as with a young child. These seizures came into pretty good control with the modern medicine Neurontin.

There was something else happened to me for a couple of days, of which your summation reminded me. We didn't know what was happening to me at the time. Back in 2005, I was beginning to lose ability to remain standing, walking, or sitting upright. I would lie on my library floor and try to do my writing, but my mind was fading. It turned out I had a bladder blockage, and although they got that fixed easily enough at the hospital, I then went into a couple days of what my neurologist calls metabolic encephalopathy. I lost my mind. I could not remember my extended personal identity, did not know how old I was, even though it was printed on my bracelet, and had hallucinations and paranoid delusions. At the end of the second day, my husband's elder son visited and talked to me about a book he was reading, and I began to be able to have a short coherent conversation. The next morning I was well. From my window, I could see up to a balcony of a condo on which a father was holding his little girl in his arm as they watched the sun rising out of the lake. I reached over for a book of poetry a friend had left beside my bed and began to read. I know what you mean how wonderful it is to have full rational consciousness, how personally wonderful.

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And I thought I had problems!!!!   After reading your experiences,  I cherish my defects.  To my knowledge my brain never malfunctioned by way of seizures or paralysis.   My defect is in integration.   I cannot fully engage my emotions nor can I fully empathize with other people.  I am unable to introspect. I have to rely on empirical tricks to make my behavior conform with "normal"  folks.  Such is the life of a high functioning autistic, in my case Aspberger's Syndrome.   I simply cannot read minds like you Normal Folks can.  I am Mind Blind.  My perception and logic remain unimpaired but I miss out on many of the subtle joys of the human condition. 

Well I guess we can't have it all.

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