You may have heard this term before, it is a pretty broad topic and Aura could mean everything from “psychic phenomenon” to migraine auras. What a lot of people don’t know, what I didn’t know until my diagnosis, is that auras are a symptom of epilepsy. I have temporal lobe epilepsy so that is my main focus, I can’t speak about other types of epilepsy. I would have really appreciated someone explaining this to me a few years ago, because doctors, for the most part, haven’t with me.
So what is an aura?
When a temporal lobe seizure starts to occur, a person may experience sudden, unusual feelings, such as:
- deja vu
- extreme happiness
- a rising sensation in the abdomen
These early signs are called auras or warnings, and they may last for a few seconds up to a few minutes before the seizure occurs. Other possible auras include hallucinations of sounds, voices, people, smells, and tastes. Not all people who experience temporal lobe seizures experience auras. Sometimes people do not remember experiencing an aura.
Once the seizure begins, you may remain conscious but your body will begin to twitch and display unconscious actions. You’ll make repetitive, uncontrollable movements such as lip smacking, swallowing, chewing, staring, or hand rubbing. Temporal lobe seizures look different in different people. They may be long or short, and they may be intense or mild to the point where you don’t notice it’s happening.
After a temporal lobe seizure occurs, you may experience:
- trouble speaking
- being unaware a seizure occurred
- intense fatigue
Rarely, people who experience a temporal lobe seizure will go on to experience a generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure, which causes convulsions and a loss of consciousness.
Auras I experience most commonly are deja vu, anxiety and hallucinations of smells. I’ve experienced some of the others on occasion, but not more than once or twice. Generally, after experiencing an aura it’s followed by an absence seizure. I’ve been left hanging though, they can be false alarms or a warning that maybe something could trigger a seizure in the future. I do remember mine and only remember the aura.
I’ve touched on this before in a post of its own. Click here if you would like more detail. What happens is just before a seizure I will smell dirty rags. This has to be one of the more irritating ones considering I love candles, perfume and for things to just smell nice. I even have pillow spray, it’s ridiculous but something I wish I knew about a long time ago. It’s usually a fairly quick experience, less than a minute of nasty dirty rags in my nose. It is the least disorienting of all of the auras I’ve experienced, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
Anxiety is so broad of a term and can manifest itself in many different ways. I experience two types of anxiety, the social kind that truly makes me an introvert (read about that here). The other is anxiety as an aura. I can easily tell which is which because the aura makes me honestly believe that my entire world is going to end. It’s almost a panic attack, the one thing that stops it from becoming one is the seizure that follows after a few minutes of doom. This aura is the most terrifying to me and happens very often.
These auras are probably the first type I experienced and can trace back a few years before my diagnosis. I clearly remember one of my first ones and it happened in a college class. Luckily, it was a large auditorium and I could sneak out. They were written off as generalized anxiety and I was prescribed many different medications that did not work. If my sudden onset of severe anxiety was looked into a little bit further maybe my diagnosis would have come sooner.
Deja Vu/Jamais Vu
This one has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I hate it when people say “oh, that’s a lucky symptom”. No, deja vu has never been a fun experience for me because it never made sense until I thought about it after my diagnosis. I like to understand things, not leave them a mystery. And let me tell you, deja vu is no mystery or something the universe is trying to tell you. It’s a misfiring of electrical activity in the brain that for me is shortly followed by a seizure.
But how do you explain “the feeling”. Well, where do feelings come from? Your brain. It’s very possible that you are just experiencing a little hiccup in your brain (after all it’s a massive network and things don’t always run smoothly no matter how healthy you are). The feeling that you’ve done this before is just a feeling in the end. And as humans; feelings drive a lot of our decisions so it’s easy to blow it out of proportion if it’s more unusual than normal. That feeling could easily be panic (like anxiety) or even that you’ve never experienced this before even though you have.
That last part is called Jamais Vu and I have gotten this quite a bit. As it sounds, it’s the opposite of deja vu. It’s made me think that I’ve forgotten how to put a spoon to my mouth or put on a jacket. It’s just as disorienting as deja vu, but with an added element of frustration (again, an emotion).
I’ve also learned that I love ruining things for people. Taking the mystery out of certain things makes me feel fantastic. In the end, deja vu is nothing special but can make you feel special. Also, a crap warning because it isn’t always so clear.
This one is just wrong, but I have experienced it before. It was a weird day, I probably looked like I was just having a great day or on drugs. This one is so unnatural it made me feel uncomfortable about myself, and yet after it was over I had to maintain that level of happiness so people wouldn’t think I was being fake.
In the end, auras are your body’s warning system. It’s telling you to prepare for something that’s going to happen. They are both a blessing and a curse. Not everyone who has epilepsy get’s enough warning to learn when a seizure is about to happen, it can be helpful in that way. But, it comes with a caveat: you still have epilepsy.
If I experience an aura, I usually don’t have to prepare myself because my seizures are much different than others. I don’t fall down for the most part, but if I am chopping something with a knife I try to put it down.