Depression and Epilepsy

Epilepsy and depression suck, and the hospitals do not have a medicinal Jack Daniels for the family.

I am not asking for sympathy or empathy for Kathy or myself. Your thoughts and, if you are so inclined, prayers are much appreciated. We are after all non-theists.

Kathy was diagnosed a decade ago with epilepsy. Without going into detail about the short circuiting occurring in her brain, up until Christmas, 2011 most of her “episodes” have been mild.

There are six-levels of seizures of which Kathy suffers from three. The first is an “absence seizures” where she goes on a short trip for a few seconds and then returns. She will get stuck usually on a visual, like the television or computer monitor, and not move or respond to sounds. We call these her trips to Tahiti.

The second level is “mild” or an atonic seizure, without the convulsions of the Grand Mal. They tend last about ten minutes and then she sleeps the effects off for about 12-hours. These are what I have been dealing with since getting together seven years ago. I took the package with full disclosure. The first few scared the living crap out of me because I could not “fix” the problem. I learned over time that there is no “fix” for epilepsy, just meds and a few life style changes.

The third level is the “Biggie,” the Grand Mal or Tonic-clonic seizure, where the convulsions are severe and the effects on the patient and family are devastating. For Kathy they come in waves. Last year was the first biggie and she had six within a few hours. Last week Sunday/Monday it was seven. The how, whys, and whens are not important here.

Kathy no longer drives and I have become her chauffeur. It is a lot like being a “Soccer Dad,” except my kid is a bit older. Trips to the doctor, shopping, and work need to meet our collective schedules. The second is my being on guard for the telltale signed of a seizure approaching. It is different for each individual and sometimes easy to miss. The constant visual is exhausting for both of us.

Regardless of which level, whether physical, psychological or psychotropic based, there are results that one must understand. There is a loss of memory from the beginning to sometime after recovery. I have gone over the events with Kathy six times since last Sunday. She remembers snippets but is not sure if it is from her memory or from the stories.

Depending on the severity of the seizure, there could be damage to the brain itself. This is the reason the emergency rooms send the patient for a CT-scan. The EEG is done later to determine any possible “mechanical” damage.

I have come to take her seizures with a bit more than the proverbial grain of salt. I have learned to watch, analyze and report with relative accuracy what happened before the EMTs arrive. I make jokes, believing that it may be the only way to maintain my self-sense of sanity. I have learned that there is little one can do during a seizure other than keeping the person from injuring her or himself. I also learned never-ever put your fingers anywhere close to the person’s mouth.

Some are aware of what is going on about them immediately after the episode, most lose the time between seizure and recovery.

I make sure that once the medical people are taking care of things, I can walk off and breakdown, cry, throw water on my face, whatever it takes to continue my charge, taking care of Kathy. The problem is that my self-preservation routine only goes so far.

My own depression with episodes of paranoia is treated medically. At 60-years old, I have lived with depression most of my life and have taken drugs off and on for 20-years. For the most part, “a better life through chemistry” is my mantra.

Depression manifests itself in too many ways to describe, but all deal with self-doubt and self-anger. Often, the depression is well hidden when one is in public. I tend to be the “sage” of the party, talking about anything in which I do not have an immediate personal stake; mostly politics and religion. I use humor to cloak the anger or sadness. I also use humor, sometimes bad or inappropriate humor, or simply find a quiet spot and “mop,” to hide my depression from the public. Like epilepsy, there is little one can do to relieve the pain until the episode is over.

Kathy’s advice for family and friends of an epileptic is the same I suggest for depressive episodes – Make sure the person is safe, cannot harm him or herself, and when the worse is over put them to bed to sleep it off. Call an ambulance if things look really bad for the depressive or if the epileptic is having a grand mal.

The major problem with depression and epilepsy is there are no cures short of brain surgery. Both can be somewhat controlled with drugs, and depression by drugs and therapy, but we live with the idea of a depressive or epileptic episode could occur at any time. Some epileptics have an “aura” just before a seizure. Most depressives have no such “luck.”

Where it took Kathy three days to recover, I am still working at it. My depression has now turned to stress headaches and those should go away in a few more days if, and that is a big if, nothing else major goes wrong.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to vent and I promise to be back on schedule next week. Now to finish grading tests for my students.


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David Rosman is an award winning author of 15 books, essayist, a political communication consultant and manager, and acclaimed public speaker. He teaches Communication at Columbia College.

His newest book is “A Christian Nation?: An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs?” (IVC Publishing) is now available at and Barnes and Noble. 

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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