By Dana Pirolli
Many people make it a point to not define someone by their medical condition or disorder that they endure. As much as I agree with that standard, there are so many parts of my life that I look back and think, “If I did not have this condition would I be a different person?” The truth is, I would not be who I am today if I did not have epilepsy.
I was formally diagnosed at 11 years-old after having countless absence seizures and tonic-clonic seizures. Throughout most of my adolescence and teenage years, my family and I held on to the hope that maybe I would outgrow this condition like some children. Taking my medication twice a day seemed to do the trick and throughout my teenage years, the medicine worked properly.
I began having seizures again my first year of college; I had multiple tonic-clonic seizures sporadically that year. The only people who knew were the people closest to me. I felt very isolated, delayed and powerless. All my friends were packing getting ready to go away to school and there I was, home, trying a new medication hoping that it was successful. I realized then that my life was altered. The path that I had planned had taken a complete left turn. I despised having epilepsy. I was forced to acknowledge it and I hated that the most. I just saw myself as a burden to the people around me and it made me embarrassed. Despite the lack of control in my life, that year surprisingly ended up being one of the most memorable. I attended a community college where I had no seizures during school hours, which was such a relief.
After I went six months seizure-free, I decided to try out for the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles cheerleading squad. I never thought I would actually make the team, but when I did, it truly felt like I was being given a break from all that had been happening in the past year. I felt that my life was finally back where I wanted it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of failure. There was so much of that year to be thankful for and I was too busy focusing on how to act like everything was “normal." The positives seem to slip on by.
I went five years with no seizures -- it was the longest I have ever gone without having any. I reached a point where I was able to disconnect myself from the condition. I still took my medicine twice daily, but I began to get careless. I had a terrible diet, awful sleep schedule and took my medication at different times during the day. I know that there had to have been moments where I forgot to take it.
Finally, my body and brain had had enough of my careless ways. I ended up having eight tonic clonic seizures for the past two years, along with a few atypical absence seizures. I would go months where everything was fine and then all of a sudden, I'd have another seizure. I was forced to acknowledge it, again. But this time, I welcomed it. Instead of disassociating myself, I had learned to accept this condition, who I was and who I wanted to be. I didn’t realize how it truly was controlling my life. By me trying to ignore it, I lost sight of taking care of myself.
I am so thankful for the supportive people in my life. I would be nowhere without my family. They have been there for me since the start of it all and words cannot express the level of gratitude I have for them. I am a firm believer that whatever someone’s situation may be, good or bad, it is going to shape you into who you are as an individual. I would be lying if I said that I still don’t fear certain risks or outcomes that I know exist with having epilepsy, but I think that’s what opens my eyes to the beauty of my life.
These past two years have been one of the most trying experiences with epilepsy. However, once I recognized the reality of my situation, everything seemed to fall into place. I am happier, accepting and at peace. I found who I was and discovered who I want to be. There are definitely nights where I cry and pray that eventually the right treatment will come along. After recent seizures that have occurred this year, my level of appreciation and life itself has gone up tremendously.
I want others to understand epilepsy and truly understand the facts about it. There is so much we can learn from this condition that I know it could open many doors into learning more about other mental disorders. For individuals who live with epilepsy/seizure disorder or have had a seizure in their lifetime, understand that just because you lose control of your brain and body, does not mean it should control your spirits. The strength that one possesses after a life-altering experience such as epilepsy determines more of your character than you know. The struggles that you withstand today are only the beautiful beginnings of the life you encounter tomorrow.