Saturday, November 7, 2015

Epilepsy Lite

     Being diagnosed with epilepsy the summer after I graduated from UNC didn't stop me from doing something I never planned to do. That autumn, I moved seven hours away from my hometown to be closer to my boyfriend, Ron, in Pennsylvania.
     When I was a little girl, I gazed out over my back yard, past the pastures and woods to another hill, far away but close enough to see it was open, no house on it. That's where I was planning to live, where I could wave at my parents from my front yard after tucking my children in their beds at night.
     Sometimes, I still think about that other life and almost fall asleep from boredom.
     The Depakote continued to work and my secret was safe. Ron stood by me when I was diagnosed, and my health wasn't an issue when we married in 1990. I followed the plan outlined by my neurologist when we decided it was time to have kids.
     Depakote can cause serious birth defects, and the worst damage occurs in the first three months. That means women like me can't have accidental pregnancies without risking harm to our children. We must be extremely careful, using reliable birth control when on meds.
     So, I had to tell my coworkers, just a few of them, when I stopped taking Depakote in 1992 so I could plan a pregnancy without hurting my baby. Some women with epilepsy don't have a choice; I'm lucky.
This is Ron with my crashed car. That expression on his face!
   That was the first time I had to explain myself, just in case.
    When I say the word, "seizure," there is a moment of panic on the other person's face. I know what they are thinking; it's the natural reaction:  What would I do if this person had a seizure, here, in front of me?
    That's how my "Epilepsy Lite" story came to be. I don't use the "E" word, not ever! I simply explain that my seizures are so mild that most people don't even notice. What should they do if it is noticeable? If I'm staring into space for a long time? Nothing, really.
     When I told this story to my coworkers in 1992,there was no reason to explain further. I could still drive  because I had never passed out; I wasn't that out of it during a seizure.
     There was no reason to think I would get worse because I had the good kind of epilepsy. There was nothing to worry about, in my mind, but plenty of reasons to be careful.
     That changed on October 27, 1995, when I drove my car into a house on Okinawa.