Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Psychogenic Non-epileptic Seizures (PNES)


This information from the American Epilepsy Foundation gave me a pretty succinct understanding of my seizures.

Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are attacks that may look like epileptic seizures, but are not caused by abnormal brain electrical discharges. They are a manifestation of psychological distress. Frequently, patients with PNES may look like they are experiencing generalized convulsions similar to tonic clonic seizures with falling and shaking. By definition, PNES are a physical manifestation of a psychological disturbance and are a type of Somatoform Disorder.

For some patients with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures, the seizures are a manifestation of trauma, which is also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In order to treat patients with PTSD, the clinician has to take the seizure apart to see what the seizure represents in terms of emotions and memory as well as where this trauma is stored in the body.” She postulates that when a person experiences trauma such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, witness to violence, his/her body can absorb this trauma. Therefore, a seizure is the body’s way of expressing what the mind and mouth cannot.

Understandably, many patients’ first reactions upon hearing they have PNES, and not epilepsy, is one of disbelief, denial and confusion. That is because mental health issues come with highly stigmatized labels such as “crazy”, “insane” etc. These stigmas are embedded in our language and even more deeply in our unconscious belief system. However, people with PNES are not “crazy” or “insane”. Some of them are victims of trauma and their recovery from the trauma as well as the seizures depends largely on their ability to overcome the stigma and follow-up with a mental health professional. “PNES is a real condition that arises in response to real stressors. These seizures are not consciously produced and are not the patient’s fault.

Why is that last sentence in bold? Because I have to keep remembering it to offset the feelings of guilt and shame I have due to my seizures. They make me feel that I am weak; that a stronger person would carry on on in spite of past trauma.

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