Inspirational messages often depict life as a series of valleys and mountaintops. The struggles that come in each life are somewhere in the middle of those green valleys and rocky slopes. We describe individuals as reaching grassy plateaus or climbing dangerous paths because of their life experiences. A wonderful example of this imagery is Psalm 23 in which the Psalmist (presumably King David) talks about these mountain paths and beautiful areas as they relate to his daily experience with God.
I love the 23rd Psalm. I think of it each day and I understand the value of the images. Images carry power in a sense. They are a little like math in that you convert your experiences into images to understand them and perhaps improve your outcomes. Creative common denominators. The images I carry in my life, while different, are nonetheless powerful and act as tools for me to understand my circumstances, particularly TLE.
I have never been able to relate to the mountaineer view of living. For me, life is like, has always been like, walking on the surface of a frozen lake. Some places are easy to move over. Maybe it snowed a bit, and while that is cold and uncomfortable, it also helps to ease the difficulty of the journey, both physically and mentally. After all, snow is beautiful, you can walk on it and, as someone else observed, it works. Other paths are slick and the ice is thick and clear, making me slip, slide, and struggle to keep my balance. I am often on my ass during these periods. This time represents the frustrations and struggles with practical issues, the “one step forward, three steps back” periods of life. Everyone has them and yet they still deserve some thought, if not work, in overcoming the falls.
And then there are those dark times when, as I move forward with eyes on the goal of the horizon, I suddenly plunge into a nightmare of cold dark water, after falling through the thin ice above. It is precisely when I am concentrating on the horizon, the goal, the useless dream, the outrageous hope, or the ridiculous wish, that this happens.
Struggling beneath the water, I can’t think, reason, or plan. I am angry, confused, and good to no one, particularly myself. I must let go of the struggle and the fear if I am to rise through the water to the surface. To save myself, I must let go of the need to control. The same is true about all aspects of the seizure cycle. For me, struggling, fighting, giving into anger, guilt, and the whole host of emotions that surround a TLE seizure only serve to keep me underwater.
The creative use of imagery has helped me to deal with the unexpected and always-feared seizure cycles by converting the emotions and the physical challenges into an understandable picture. I began to use imagery early with the use of bio-feedback for untreatable migraines. Combined with the music of Pink Floyd, I worked out a process that was pretty usable for years. It worked so well in fact that just hearing the opening guitar on Shine On You Crazy Diamond opens up images and soothes my head, even if I don’t have a migraine. Working with images that have meaning and power is common is sports, business, therapy, education, and religion. All these areas and many more that I have not named have reaped amazing benefits from creative work with images.
In the CIO article “Creative Visualization: A Tool for Business Success”, the author tells us:
“Visualization helps people get clearer about aims and objectives,” says social psychologist and author Stephen Kraus, president of Next Level Sciences, a success consultancy. In other words, visualization quite literally fosters people’s ability to develop a clear vision, both in terms of end states and products. “People with clear nonconflicting goals accomplish more and are healthier,” he says. In his book Psychological Foundations of Success, he says vision is a cornerstone of success and points to the words of Harvard marketing guru Ted Levitt, who says, “The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious.”
So, the purpose of writing all of this is to encourage those of us with TLE to add this tool to the box of treatments, behaviors, and research associated to our condition. Why shouldn’t we use a successful and often cathartic device to help us manage our seizure cycle? Why shouldn’t we harness our own creativity to make living with TLE a bit easier?
There are so many other tools that provide improvement but we may not use them because we, and others, may have perceived them as ridiculous, ineffective, or woo-woo. Tools such as yoga, which can yield a higher control rate than some drugs.
In one study detailed in Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Epilepsy, Orrin Devinsky, MD, Steven V. Pacia, MD, Steven C. Shachter, MD, describe the 86-percent improvement in seizure frequency in a yoga control group vs a non-yoga group. That improvement is far better than a lot of drugs on the market for seizures, but I have yet to have a healthcare professional suggest yoga as a control measure in addition to other treatments. Same goes for the creative use of imagery. I am not saying mainstream healthcare providers are against it, just that they are completely uninformed.
Take a clear, slow look at your life. Find those tools that helped you once, whether it was a successful soccer game or a good business proposal and see how you can repurpose them to your best advantage. It’s all our stuff anyway. No one should discourage us from thinking or trying additional things to improve our life. Start with David’s mountain and at some point you will find your own internal landscape. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or safe, it has to be authentic to you. My ice lake is not a happy image to someone else but it is real and true to me. And most important, it is useful.