It’s World Mental Health Day. We all have our own stories with it. Like the common cold, mental ill health is something I think most of us have personal experience of at some point, with a wide range of reasons, symptoms and recovery rates. Our story may be composed of personal tragedy, trauma, illness, addiction, poverty- perhaps all of these and more- but all will be different in their own complicated ways.
I have epilepsy. It has its challenges as you can imagine, and my mental health has fluctuated more than the value of bitcoin over the years. While the reasons for that are complex and certainly not solely down to epilepsy, it has definitely factored itself in over the years. There’s the pure, isolating fear of when or what will happen during the next one. Will you wee yourself, flash your arse or catapult out of a rocking chair… again? Will you lose a tooth, break your neck or get robbed…. again? Will people laugh at you? Will you wake up this time? Because although you try to keep that one at the very back of your mind, people seem to think it is perfectly acceptable, even if they’ve just met you, when finding out you have epilepsy insist on telling you all about their mate’s cousin who had a fit in the bath once and died.
I mean seriously people, what the fuck is with that? Do all of you really have a friend who has a cousin who drowned in the bath from having a seizure? Regardless, what has possessed you to think that is something I need to hear? I have my own stories of near misses , cheers, and would rather not be told of the poor bastard who never made it.
I don’t know if the rest of my fellow epileptics would agree here, but one thing I’ve found is doctors love epilepsy. They love it. Or specifically they love linking absolutely anything and everything to it, even when you’re just in for a regular GP appointment, which can make it really hard to get the right treatment. Depression? Dr: It’s probably your epilepsy. Psychosis? Dr: It might be your epilepsy, but imma sit with my hand hovering over the panic button under my desk just in case. A bit fat? Period pain? Dr: Hey, do you think it might be linked to epilepsy?
The thing is though, so little is known about the condition or about the human brain in general, that is genuinely almost impossible to disprove that it isn’t. Epilepsy can mimic mental health symptoms and it can also be affected by a number of things, including stress and diet.
While I doubt Socrates or Joy Division’s Ian Curtis were ever asked if their period pain might be a form of epilepsy, it certainly does present challenges with our mental health. For Curtis, who’s seizures would frequently occur on stage, this is definitely evident in his lyrics as he wrote extensively about his condition and others. The song ‘She’s lost control’ – a song that gave me a morbid sense of comfort when I was a teenager- was written about a young woman with epilepsy who he knew from Macclesfield Occupational Rehabilitation Centre who died from the condition.
Medications too, can affect our wellbeing. They might stop our seizures, but as many are also tranquillisers and anti-psychotics, they literally fuck with our heads.
Sometimes I have absence seizures, which can often look like daydreaming. Sometimes I may move slowly with my arms in the air and eyes up, which is how goths dance usually anyway, but after going to see Joker on Sunday night, it’s making me anxious that people will think I’m about to exact my revenge on the City of Gotham.
In the middle of writing this, I got up to make a drink in the office and seemingly decided to tip the rest of my glass of water over myself in front of a perplexed agency staff member who isn’t aware of my neurological status. During these times I’ll feel like I’m sleepwalking, an astral part of me suddenly transported to a strange Other Realm while the rest of me remains present in the real world, dangling somewhere between consciousness and dreaming and being a bit vague and moody about it. Basically I’m Bran Stark, without designs on taking the throne and better taste in music.
Whatever compounding circumstances make up your mental health status, be sure you can find solidarity somewhere, no matter how lonely and desolate your situation seems. Reach out where you can, and take comfort from where you can.
I feel relatively safe these days. Just. Both from my mental health and from epilepsy, but that hasn’t always been the case. If we meet, you can help just by not looking terrified every time I make a sudden movement or gaze out the window. Don’t mention baths and for fucks sake learn the names of some other famous epileptics, because the next one of you that says “Ooh, you’re just like Katie Hopkins” is getting brayed.
Honestly, I’d prefer Caligula.
Here’s a great band to see us off.