Posted in Being human, Developmental disability, Epilepsy, fear, medical, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Showing Fear

This is the kind of vulnerability I have trouble doing well. If I give you an explanation of all the details, it’ll mean I won’t have to actually post the post itself. So — a friend told me, and I agree, that a really good post to get me started blogging as myself again, would be this: To think of everything I’m afraid of, and write about that. Even if it’s only two paragraphs. If I manage that — then maybe I’ll explain. But not before, or I’ll never, ever get around to writing about my fears.

Selfie while I was writing this. One of those “cat got too close to the camera” selfies. But does look scared. Because I am.

It’s hard to know where to begin. So many directions. Maybe start small, and easy, and manageable, and keep coming back to this.

Not that there’s anything small, easy, and manageable about fear. Whether the fear is rational or irrational.

Here’s one that seems irrational to me.

I’m afraid of my own medical conditions.

But not all of them. Only some of them. And I don’t always know what makes the difference.

I am not afraid of any of them all of the time, and I am only afraid of some of them, some of the time.

But here’s a couple that keep coming back to haunt me:

  • Congenital myasthenic syndrome1
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy2

I fear these things in many ways and on many levels.

For instance, I fear them both intellectually. Meaning — I’m afraid to do research on them. The fear is intense. So intense that when I was first diagnosed with CMS, I could not read about it no matter how curious I was.

I can give an example from right now.

I was pasting some basic information about these two conditions into my footnotes, to keep them separate from what I was writing.

And I saw a piece of information I’d not encountered before, or that if I encountered it, it wasn’t put in quite this certain way. Here’s what they said:

Some individuals have episodes of breathing problems that may be triggered by fevers or infection. Severely affected individuals may also experience short pauses in breathing (apnea) that can lead to a bluish appearance of the skin or lips (cyanosis).

And it feels like being zapped throughout my body, or splashed with cold water, or something else really unpleasant, every time I read something like this. Every time I read something that is so much like me.

And no this has nothing to do with how long I’ve known. I have only known about CMS for a relatively short time. But temporal lobe epilepsy was the first tentative diagnosis explored by the first neurologist who ever saw me — I was 12 or 13. People were constantly talking about TLE around me my entire childhood after that. It’s not like I missed the fact I have TLE the same way I missed the fact I have CMS (which my type could not even be diagnosed during my chlldhood. I didn’t always receive the correct treatment for TLE but even people who thought I didn’t have it never took the diagnosis off the table because it was so obvious.

But I felt the exact same way.

The exact same way.

When I found out that TLE, especially can result in someone who starts out without an intellectual disability and has one by adulthood… that zap felt like a million volts of electricity going off and then a strong urge to hide under something.

And I don’t mean I’m ashamed of any cognitive or intellectual disability I may or may not have. I just mean that I’ve known for a long time, from just putting two and two together, that it’s only an accident that I’m not officially diagnosed with an intellectual disability. (This is putting aside whether the category even makes sense to me. I can’t both write about this, and use words that reflect my experiences, at the same time. Sorry. So I’m using other people’s words and ideas, they don’t necessarily reflect how I view the world. If that makes no sense to you, deal with it — people sometimes seem to want me to walk them through my brain holding their hands to guide them, and I can’t always do that.)

And I’ve known that it’s quite likely that shifts in my cognitive abilities have made me more, diagnosable for lack of a better word, as I aged towards the various cutoffs. But I didn’t know there were many, many papers on the existence of ID and other cognitive impairments in older children and adults with TLE who didn’t fit such categories as younger children. Because TLE can cause both ongoing processing problems from the seizures themselves (just imagine having your experiences constantly interrupted by everything from lost time to random emotions that don’t seem to fit anything you ought to be feeling to… lots of things), and changes to the brain that stick around even between seizures.

In my case, by the way, my sense of time is heavily affected, my memory is heavily affected, and I suspect TLE being behind a good deal of fluctuations in my abilities.

My second mom says she’s struck, living with me, by the degree of my time problems, memory issues, and visual processing impairments. She knew about them before, but I’ve been here a long time and she’s getting to watch me 24/7 whether she wants to see all this or not. What she sees scares both of us in various ways, I think.

Visual processing issues, by the way, are another disability-related fear that I ought to write a post on sometime. It’s an entirely different fear for entirely different reasons — the fear of the pushback I would get for using the equipment I need to successfully navigate the world the best I possibly can. To the point I won’t get the equipment even though I am nearly positive I would easily qualify, as are other people who know me.

But… yeah.

So there’s this thing about learning about certain disabilities I have that utterly and completely scares the bejeezus out of me sometimes.

As I said — not all disabilities, medical conditions, and whatnot strike me this way. Most don’t.

But when they do.

It really feels like they strike me. Like something is hitting me over the head, or zapping me, or splashing cold water in my face, or doing something else sudden and unpleasant.

And there’s degrees Like, the thing about apnea zinged me a little (I do have apnea, and in particular that little line about turning blue reminded me of a time an LNA walked in on me while I was in bed but awake, stared at my face, looked utterly terrified, jumped a mile when I moved, and then explained to me that my face was blue when she walked in and she thought I might be dead, and there’ve been other times people say I’ve looked blue or grey). but the thing about ID and TLE felt like a full-body jolt that made me want to hide long-term.

And yes — it scares me to tell you this. It scares me to talk about fear in public. But I trust the friend who told me this was a good idea.

And hopefully I’ll write more, because this is only one kind of fear, and I haven’t even covered it as thoroughly as I’d like.

I want to write about another kind of fear related to seizures, something closer to home than this intellectual fear, something about things I keep semi-secret some of the time. Like how much of my life is spent in states where my conscious memory is resetting itself so thoroughly that I can barely look oriented let alone be oriented.

It’s like waking up to a new life — way too frequently — and I want to write about that.

But I’m working up to it. An intellectual fear, no matter how intense and irrational, is still easier to write about than some of the other kinds of fear I have. This is a fear of information. Or at least, information is the trigger.

But there are much more gut-level fears I have about TLE in particular, than just finding out that it has thus-and-such effect on such-and-such other condition in this-and-that ways. It’s the actual experiences of it that scare me, and if I’m looking at disability-related fears that’d be where I went next probably.

There’s also a fear in between the two types… like when I finally find a journal article about someone else with a missense AGRN mutation, only to see a little boy in black and white photos with his eyes blocked out and postures that look like mine or an exaggerated version of mine and… sheer terror and I want to run, and understand I am not afraid of the boy, I am afraid of everything that kind of picture represents about his life and mine, all the stories of public stripping from people my age and older, and… and… and… yeah, that’s its own kind of terror. But it’s also the shock of recognition, the sense of shared experience, and the fear of what he and I have in common resulting in being treated horribly for either him, me, or both, now or in the future or the past or sometime (don’t get me started on time again).

Who knows what I’ll actually get written. But I got this written. And that’s something. No, that’s a lot. I want to write about things that are authentic to my life, not just things held at arm’s length where it’s easy to examine them. And things that are just human being things. People things. Relatable things. Like fear, I guess.

Because I do spend a lot of my time rather terrified of lots of things. And so do lots of other people. And maybe being open about it can give us all more courage.


Footnotes

The reason for these footnotes is to keep huge amount of information out of the post so I can go ahead and write what I’m trying to write without getting distracted by, for instance, medical details.

1 Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome as defined by NIH Genetics Home Reference:

Congenital myasthenic syndrome is a group of conditions characterized by muscle weakness (myasthenia) that worsens with physical exertion. The muscle weakness typically begins in early childhood but can also appear in adolescence or adulthood. Facial muscles, including muscles that control the eyelids, muscles that move the eyes, and muscles used for chewing and swallowing, are most commonly affected. However, any of the muscles used for movement (skeletal muscles) can be affected in this condition. Due to muscle weakness, affected infants may have feeding difficulties. Development of motor skills such as crawling or walking may be delayed. The severity of the myasthenia varies greatly, with some people experiencing minor weakness and others having such severe weakness that they are unable to walk.

Some individuals have episodes of breathing problems that may be triggered by fevers or infection. Severely affected individuals may also experience short pauses in breathing (apnea) that can lead to a bluish appearance of the skin or lips (cyanosis).

As far as anyone knows, I have CMS8, which I’m only mentioning because I remember one of my readers being a genetics geek. I have an AGRN mutation.

2 Temporal Lobe Epilepsy as described (in terms of most common seizure type) by the Mayo Clinic:

Temporal lobe seizures begin in the temporal lobes of your brain, which process emotions and are important for short-term memory. Some symptoms of a temporal lobe seizure may be related to these functions, including having odd feelings — such as euphoria, deja vu or fear.

Temporal lobe seizures are sometimes called focal seizures with impaired awareness. Some people remain aware of what’s happening, but during more-intense seizures, you might look awake but be unresponsive. Your lips and hands may make purposeless, repetitive movements.

Temporal lobe seizures may stem from an anatomical defect or scar in your temporal lobe, but the cause is often unknown. Temporal lobe seizures are treated with medication. For some people who don’t respond to medication, surgery may be an option.

An unusual sensation (aura) may precede a temporal lobe seizure, acting as a warning. Not everyone who has temporal lobe seizures has auras, and not everyone who has auras remembers them.

The aura is actually the first part of a focal seizure before consciousness is impaired. Examples of auras include:

  • A sudden sense of unprovoked fear or joy
  • A deja vu experience — a feeling that what’s happening has happened before
  • A sudden or strange odor or taste
  • A rising sensation in the abdomen, similar to being on a roller coaster

Sometimes temporal lobe seizures impair your ability to respond to others. This type of temporal lobe seizure usually lasts 30 seconds to two minutes. Characteristic signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of awareness of surroundings
  • Staring
  • Lip smacking
  • Repeated swallowing or chewing
  • Unusual finger movements, such as picking motions

After a temporal lobe seizure, you may have:

  • A period of confusion and difficulty speaking
  • Inability to recall what occurred during the seizure
  • Unawareness of having had a seizure
  • Extreme sleepiness

In extreme cases, what starts as a temporal lobe seizure evolves into a generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure — featuring convulsions and loss of consciousness.

To be even more specific, what starts as a temporal lobe seizure can migrate damn near anywhere it wants to. I’ve never had a tonic-clonic seizure, but I’ve had plenty of absence, atonic, and myoclonic seizures along with the classic complex-partial and simple-partial that most of my seizures consist of. You can read more about generalized seizures here at Johns Hopkins Medicine. They also happen to have a good page on focal epilepsy (of which my seizures are merely one type) and a decent one at their children’s hospital on temporal lobe epilepsy.

Author:

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

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