Epilepsy Lifestyle

Knowing Your Triggers

“Christmas is around the corner and everywhere I turn there’s a reminder of this festive season. The rush of the city, families buying presents, children begging their parents for sweets and gifts, the continuous row of shops promoting their sales and gifts and the endless amount of shopping bags. I usually find this time of year such a joy. Every year by the beginning of December I’ve done all my Christmas shopping and am enjoying the festive season around me. I’ve never understood those who don’t enjoy this time of year – what’s not to love? This year, however, my mind is elsewhere.

This year, it’s my duty to decorate my own home, to purchase my own Christmas tree and spend even more money on decorations. If money wasn’t stressful enough around Christmas, adding decorations onto the pile added more stress. Unfortunately my epilepsy, anxiety and depression cannot handle stress very well. Tonight, I’m snuggled up in bed writing this post recovering from tonsillitis and last night’s seizure. I feel like crap. I’m struggling to speak, to eat and to stand up, my head is pounding and my glands are the size of tennis balls. My partner has been a diamond and has taken care of me this past week, including staying up with me throughout the night after I had multiple myoclonic jerks in my sleep.

I’ve got to recover, and quickly too. I have so much I need to do. I still have to sort our home for Christmas and purchase all of these Christmas decorations. I want to be healthy enough to enjoy transforming my beautiful home into winter wonderland. I want to be healthy and happy enough to celebrate the run up to Christmas with my partner and family. I don’t want to be bed bound and fighting to stay awake.

This year, it’s more important than ever for me to know my triggers for my seizures, anxiety and depression so I can wake up on Christmas Day ready to eat an unbelievable feast of goodies instead of laying in bed struggling to sit up and worried about my next seizure. I had originally created this post as a video, but due to my busy schedule and health, I’ve decided to write instead.”

Such a lack of Christmas spirit right?! I actually wrote the beginning of this post last week when I was really run down, hating the fact I was really poorly and simply exhausted. As cringe as it is to reread, I think leaving it here is just as important as writing as my usual bubbly self. As cringe as it is, it’s actually how I felt all week. I was frustrated that I was poorly because all I wanted to do was jump out of bed, put the Christmas playlist on and wrap my presents! I was so fed up. I’m only human. And I know I’m not the only one struggling with my health this Christmas. So I’m letting you know that you’re not alone! So how can we stop stressing and start enjoying Christmas? There’s many ways to prevent seizures by knowing your triggers. So I have a few ideas I’d like to share with you for not just this festive season, but everyday.

Flickering and flashing lights: this is probably one of the most well known seizure triggers from the outside world. What’s interesting is how wrong this perception is – only 3% of those with epilepsy actually have photosensitive epilepsy. If you’re like me and have photosensitive epilepsy, take a step back this month. Be aware that they’ll probably be more decorations around the hometown that might be a trigger for you. Be careful and take each step as it comes.

Planning ahead: due to the stress of December that thousands of us face every year, it’s not surprising that our seizures or anxiety can be very sensitive. So prepare for the unknown and try to plan as much as you can in advance. The quicker you plan your shopping, medication prescriptions, doctor appointments, Christmas cards etc, the less you’ll have to worry about nearer the time. Although it’s Christmas next week, you’ve still got enough time to get everything sorted.

Diet routine: with some epilepsy warriors, their seizures are triggered by caffeine, chocolate and the sudden change of food intake. I’ll put my hands up now and say that I’m totally guilty of having one too many hot chocolates and spending the entire month basically ignoring my healthy diet! I have, however, made sure I’ve stayed away from coffee as it causes my migraines and I drink plenty of water because doing so I’ve found helps keep my seizures at bay.

Medication reminders: what do we not want to do this Christmas? Forget to take our medication! Doing this can potentially risk your body to blood level changes and therefore seizures / side effects. If you realise you’ve missed a dose then take it easy the next couple of days. You don’t want to push your body too much when it’s extremely sensitive to any potential trigger. If you’re seriously worried about your state of health then get in touch with your doctor or epilepsy nurse. They’re in place to support you. There’s many Apps and phone reminders that you can use so you never have the worry of forgetting your medication! I have alarms set twice a day everyday. Annoying as it is, I’ve only ever forgot to take my medication once in five years.

Sleeping: as difficult as it may be this month to get the full amount of sleep ready for the next day, make sure you structure your routine so you can still get enough rest. Christmas is such a busy time of year our bodies will use more energy than normal. I’ve been feeling more fatigue than earlier in the year due to the amount of energy I’m burning because there’s just so much to do! My favourite pastime currently is reading. As soon as my head is in a book I forget about the world. I love reading before going to sleep as it helps me drift off to sleep.

Suffering with an illness: as you know already from the beginning of my post, I had tonsillitis. If it wasn’t frustrating enough, being run down made my epilepsy more vulnerable and caused my seizures to spiral. Common colds etc seem to be a reoccurring theme every winter, so make sure you’re looking after yourself as best as you can.

Create a calm zone: throughout the entire craziness of Christmas and the stress, creating a calm zone can help you relax and reset your mind. Again, mine is reading. It takes my mind off of everything and I’m in my own bubble. I love it. I find relaxing baby music really helpful as well, it just calms me. It’s always important to take time for yourself to regain your energy and sanity.

I could write a much longer list, but you get the idea. At the end of the day, your health comes first. How can you possibly enjoy Christmas if you’re not looking after your body? Stress is such a horrible feeling and is something that is so highly associated with Christmas, but why? Who cares if I don’t have my Christmas decorations up in time? Who cares if I’m not in the festive spirit this year. There’s so much more to life than just one day. The unneeded stress for just one day is not worth damaging your health. I know 100% the people I love around me would rather see me happy and feeling strong than fatigue because I’ve slaved over a tree that’s only going to be there for a number of days. I love Christmas, but the stress isn’t worth damaging my health!

Christmas is about love and appreciating those you have around you. If you’re lucky enough to spend your Christmas with those you love then I assure you it’s worth everything. I hope everyone enjoys the festive season. Continue to spread happiness and love. And remember, knowing your triggers for epilepsy, anxiety and depression is important for everyday of the year, not just this winter.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Lisa 17th December 2016 at 7:12 am

    Dear Louise,
    Thank you foranother very real, heartfelt post. You never cease to amaze me. Get well, my dear, and merry Christmas to you!

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