Mental Illness: there, I said it. It's a topic that is typically unacceptable to talk about. There is still a stigma around it, though it is getting better. It is so simple to poke fun at or discount mental illnesses. I think most of the stigma is around the word "illness" because, well, we don't like talking about things that make us different, and that one word does. Even though you can't see that someone is mentally ill, it is still there; that's why you can't judge a book by its cover. Mental illness affects 1 in 5 people... that's a lot of people for us not to be talking about it.
I'm here to tell you that it is perfectly normal to talk and to educate people on issues like this. Through this series, we will discuss different mental illnesses and go in depth into what happens when you have them and how they affect relationships.
Firstly, if you have read any of my PNES journey, then you know it is a topic close to my heart. (If you haven't, in short, I was diagnosed in July and am out of work due to daily seizure attacks, and it has taken a toll on my mental health.)
Secondly, please read this with an open mind. Some of these topics are sensitive, so viewer discretion is advised. So, let's get into it, shall we?
PNES, also known as psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, is a, in the words of my doctor, "a manifesting of psychological stress/distress." It is also classified as a type of conversion disorder or a dissociation disorder. For me, this looks like years of PTSD, depression, and anxiety all jumbled into one, nasty, psychogenic beast. PNES is fairly common: about one-third of people that go to epilepsy centers have it. Many who have this get misdiagnosed because it looks very similar to epilepsy except they are not as uniform or triggered the same way as epileptic seizures. Some people have "focal" seizures, the type where you stare off into the void, and there are "tonic-clonic" seizures, the type where you convulse. I fall into the latter category. My seizures, personally, range from mild to severe convulsions, and sometimes include screaming and crying during or afterwards.
So let's talk about causes. There are many causes for PNES such as traumatic events, abuse (physical or sexual), great loss, or sudden changes. Since it is classified as a conversion disorder, it appears around young adulthood. Mine appeared around the age of 21/22, which is fairly common.
Typically, PNES is hard to diagnose since it looks so much like epilepsy. One test typically performed to determine which it is, is an EEG (electroencephalogram). This is because, in an EEG, there will be no spike in electrical signal spikes in the brain as in an epileptic seizure. During an EEG, you lay with your eyes closed while they monitor your brain activity. They shine a light in your eyes, and they also flash the lights to try and trigger a seizure. Depending on how your PNES affects you, you may have a seizure due to the lights (for a while I did, but it quickly resolved).
If you are diagnosed with PNES, know that it is almost 100% treatable and curable. It is hard to hear (trust me, I've been there). But, once you are diagnosed, you have a way of getting the help you need to get better. For me, I needed a psychologist and a psychiatrist. For me, my psychologist helps with dealing with PNES (he specializes in it), and my psychiatrist helps control my hallucinations and PTSD with medicine. I was put on three different medicine to help with serotonin as well as hallucinations. Even though I didn't want any more pills, it has helped tremendously. Though I only go to 2 different doctors, you can also see social workers as well as licensed mental health counselors (it depends on your neurologist's recommendation and your preference).
A few different treatments that people diagnosed with PNES are cognitive behavioral therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, just to name a couple (these are the two I am doing). Even though these seem like easy tasks, they can be difficult. Cognitive behavioral therapy is common. It helps people learn how to change a behavior or behaviors; whereas prolonged exposure psychotherapy helps a person confront their fears. These two, especially used together, help with retraining the brain from the trauma experienced.
This is just a brief glimpse into PNES. For more information, look on the web (I suggest epilepsy.com), and, for first-hand accounts of what it is like, look for journals or stories written by people, like me, who have it. I hope that this has shed some light onto the subject for you and has taught you something new.
Thank you for listening to the silenced voices of mental health survivors.