I had my first Grand Mal seizure at the age of 12.
It took a year and a half from that day to be properly ‘diagnosed’ with Epilepsy. I remember that chunk of time more vividly than post diagnosis.
Before continuing further I want to be clear on a few things. First, this is not a sob story or piece to solicit sympathy. Things happen. It’s life. Second, I see my diagnosis as a blessing; yes a blessing, on many fronts. Because of the love and perspective of a strong mother, I was never allowed to feel sorry for myself. It could always be worse.
Diagnosis gave us an answer to the misunderstood. Said diagnosis was tougher on my mom than myself. I truly had no idea what all this meant in the big picture. Epilepsy, after all, wasn’t something you heard a lot about. There was no celebrity poster child for this condition. There was no ‘awareness’ campaign, it just was.
As I pen this, I am preparing to run my third Full Marathon since October 2013. When this piece hits the stands, the race will be complete and I will have yet another ‘race weekend’ with girlfriends to store in the memory bank. This is a fact which I am still somewhat daunted by, yet proud of. Truthfully, I’m not completely sure how this all happened.
It started as a simple goal, when I came to love the activity of running. A goal I hoped to fulfill to show my children that anything is possible regardless of circumstance or age. Once that finish line was crossed in 2013, I knew I would do it again. Each time I train for one of these events I learn so much. I learn about myself, my life, love, commitment, friendship, you name it. A lot gets accomplished in 5 a.m. darkness as the world sleeps. I’m never lonely; my mind’s too active to allow that to happen.
So last week, as I spent time on my last double digit run I thought of the contrast from my 12-year-old self to my 40-something self (okay 47 and proud). During that earlier period when we were faced with the unknown there were meds and testing ... Lots and lots of testing. All of this eventually controlled my seizure activity.
Strenuous physical activity was the first thing to be cut by my mom. Bye bye, track and field. Bye bye, swim team. Our coaches were adamant about cross training via the weight room and my mother would not have me bench pressing … anything. I was her one and only child and she did what she felt was ‘safest’ for my well-being.
Now as a mother myself, I understand her decision. It was a vulnerable and inconsistent time as my seizure activity was still pretty regular.
Initial diagnosis gave us the hope that I would grow out of it. Very common for teens to do, we were told. I am happy to report while I did not truly outgrow it, through the grace of God, a great doctor and listening to my body my activity has been controlled over two decades.
Meds and annual visits are still a part of my daily life and I’m grateful for both.
So what’s the point of all of this?
I’m far from a celebrity or notable character raising awareness, but I am no longer afraid to be ‘public’ with a condition many deal with daily. Like most things the more public I’ve been, the more people tend to share their own personal experience or that of their child.
Those are the moments I live for. The moments of helping the mom, a peer who struggles with giving their child wings from fear. To be able to relate and discuss as a once child of epilepsy who now has children of her own.
As that 12-year-old, ‘benched’ child, I was lost, frustrated and at times angry. As the 22-year-old young adult who learned outgrowing this did not look possible I was scared, worried and at times hopeless.
Now, as a grown woman, a mother and yes, a marathoner I can’t believe how amazing life has played out. Never did I think I would have my own children, never did I think I would run through city streets both alone and surrounded by thousands and never did I think I would someday openly share about something which once seemed so private and paralyzing.
In the wise words of Buddha, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, then at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.