How to Protect Your Mental Health While Living with Epilepsy
February 15, 2020
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Having epilepsy can have a huge impact on a persons well-being. Not solely physically but also emotionally, mentally and socially.
When we look after our well-being, we can help to reduce seizures and function better in our daily lives.
Below, I’ll discuss the different facets of well-being, how they’ve personally affected me along my journey and what we can do to protect them!
This includes lifestyle choices to ensure health and wellness. Improving your body through healthy eating and exercise.
Before my diagnosis, this concept was foreign to me. I lived quite an unhealthy lifestyle. Not considering the consequences or toll it could take. It took epilepsy to enter the picture for me to understand the meaning and importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. Showing my body love and care.
Our bodies crave nourishment and healthy foods packed with nutrients to keep our bodies well-conditioned. Cut out fast food in exchange for fresh food and include light exercise into your daily routine. Take a nice 20 minute walk with a friend or use a home fitness DVD. Make it as fun as possible.
Working on our emotional well-being is just as important as taking care of our physical well-being. Emotional wellness includes the ability to learn and grow from experiences. To manage stressful circumstances, anxiety, anger and depression. To remember to be kind to ourselves even in the midst of the struggles that we’re facing. Are you beating yourself up about your diagnosis and the changes that you’ve chosen/needed to make for the betterment of your health? Are you encouraging and kind to yourself? Be mindful of your internal dialogue and if your vibe isn’t kind, constructive, inspiring or empowering, catch yourself and begin to explore replacing these thoughts with positive affirmations.
This was and even still sometimes is a struggle that I contend with. Living with epilepsy is not a walk in the park. It takes every ounce of emotional strength to keep me standing tall. Some days are good, some days are okay and some days are plain messy. Stress is without a doubt my biggest seizure trigger and it’s one that I constantly work to manage. My internal dialogue isn’t always sweet to me. Being my own worst critic at times. Hearing myself say “I can’t…” or “I’m never going to…”, etc. As cruel as epilepsy is, it does fire me up to fight back with reminders of my strength and determination and speaking words of affirmation. It’s just a matter of not allowing the negative dialogue to overpower when it comes knocking at the door.
Emotions are a gauge not a guide. There are several things that affect our emotional well-being, the things we do or the ways we think can have the greatest impact.
The New Economics Foundation was tasked with reviewing the key factors associated with people’s well-being. It featured five factors, which it called the “Five Ways to Well-Being, summarized as:
Connect with people around you – Family, friends, and neighbors. Invest time in them. Building connections will support and enrich you every day.
Be active. Step outside. Go for a walk or run. Cycle, play a game or dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Discover a physical activity you enjoy and suits your level of mobility and fitness.
Take notice. Catch sight of the beautiful. Be aware of the world around you and savor the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Appreciate what matters to you.
Keep learning. Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for a course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favorite food.
Give. Do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out as well as in.
Being able to interact positively with people around us is key to healthy social well-being. It involves using good communication skills, having meaningful relationships, respecting oneself and others, and having a support system of family and friends. It doesn’t mean you’ll always be positive and happy every single day, but you have the necessary resources of communication skills and a great support system to help you get through the hard times.
Unfortunately, not everyone has a support system, or knows who to turn to for help to get through the hard times. In cases like these, reach out to your doctor for possible resources, your church, your local community, and online support groups. If you feel alone, always remember that you’re not and even if it’s hard, take steps to reach out, because you matter!
Others have access to a support system ready and willing to embrace them but instead walls are built to keep others out. In the process of building walls to keep others out, they are in fact, walling themselves in.
This was a complex circumstance for me in the beginning of my diagnosis. At first, I had the support of friends extending their condolences but it didn’t take long before one-by-one they began to fade away. Was I a burden to them? Were they afraid of my condition? Who knows. I was left with very few friends. My seizures were relentless and I had to bring an end to working outside the home. I enjoyed interacting with the public but there wouldn’t be much of that for a while. I fell into a depression and didn’t care much for social interaction. I essentially transformed from an extrovert to an introvert. I put my thoughts and feelings into notebooks and “I’m fine” became my go-to response when asked how I was doing. I gathered stones to build walls to keep others out with the assumption that no one understood my plight. Living in such a way is not truly living but simply existing. In locking yourself away, you’re left alone in a toxic state of mind. Losing sight of happiness and how to authentically smile. I could see that my husband’s heart broke alongside my broken heart and my family refused to leave the wall that I’d built. I eventually became tired of being tired and I made the decision to welcome the embrace of the support of my spouse and family. The greatest decision one could ever make.
Never assume. Always try. Social wellness is pivotal in your journey. Sure, some can make it alone but to have a support system, cheerleaders alongside you, makes your stride all the more empowering. If family or friends don’t understand what your condition is, sit down with them and help them to understand. Open the lines of communication of how you’re feeling. “I’m fine” is fast food. Exchange it for true meaningful thoughts and feelings.
Other ways to cultivate social wellness:
Join the gym or go to a fitness, or dance class
Schedule regular Skype (or phone) dates with your out-of-town friends and family
Connect with others who are on the same journey as you in your local area or social media (Facebook groups).
Choose a cause you’re passionate about and volunteer
Connect with a pet – Owning a dog or cat means lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Pets can also help boost self-esteem and overall health.
Mental health extends to a wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking and behavior. Including epilepsy.
Not only are our brains hard at work to control our seizures but to navigate our circumstances while we try to go in a healthy direction physically, emotionally and socially. It’s up to us to protect our mental health.
How has mental health affected your journey with epilepsy? Share in the comment box below!
I am a happily-ever-after wife, an Epilepsy Diagnosee, Advocate for Epilepsy Awareness (The Epilepsy Network), life lover & Christ inspired! Life is a journey and I'm loving every moment of it. Even the bumps in the road!