Have you ever been in the ocean during high tide? When the waves are coming so fast that you can’t seem to catch your breath? That’s the best way to explain how I’ve felt for the past year.
Last summer, I was going through a difficult breakup. It happened in the end of June, and it was a huge wake-up call for me. I was the one that was in the wrong, and I knew that it was because of my weakness that things hadn’t worked out the way I wanted to. I was devastated, and I carried my guilt around everywhere. I truly hated myself and resented everything that had happened.
I stayed single and devoted that entire summer to improving myself. I made a conscious effort to think more positive thoughts, focus more on work, write more, and accept that things aren’t always going to work out exactly the way I want them to. It was hard work, but I got through it.
When I went back to school at the end of August, it was definitely hard to see my ex again, but I was okay. One day, he came to me with Slushees, which was one of our favorite things to get when we were dating. He told me that he saw the difference in me and he wanted to try again.
My world had finally come back together. The boy I loved was willing to try again. I had worked on myself and felt confident for the first time in my life. It was a new year, and I finally had my new start. It was going to be the best one yet.
Exactly two weeks after that, I suffered my first grand mal seizure in my college’s dining hall. I woke up with blinding pain in my right arm. The paramedics had been quick to dismiss it because they were more concerned about the seizure. My world was rocked. At first, it was all a blur. I didn’t really know what had happened. I didn’t understand how or why I had this foreign thing happen to me. I had been healthy for my entire life. I worked out, ate healthy enough, and had never even broken a bone.
The doctors told me that I had such a mild case of epilepsy, that once I was put on medication, I should never have a seizure again. Which was music to my ears. I made sure to take the proper precautions and eventually stopped worrying so much about my epilepsy.
However, I had get my arm checked out by a doctor in order to be cleared to go back to swimming. The orthopedist informed me that from the force of the convulsions, my right shoulder had completely dislocated and relocated while I was unconscious. When I woke up, my labrum and the ligaments around it were torn. I told them that I was a Division 1 athlete and that I had to swim. They told me I could try to swim on it, but I would eventually probably need reparative surgery. And that was okay for me. I would handle it. I told myself that I would come back from it. The surgery could wait.
I tried to muscle it out for three full months. At one point, I was swimming full strokes. Still with pain, but I was doing it, and that was all that mattered. However, after a follow up with my doctor, he strongly advised that I undergo surgery to correct the damage, or else I would just make it worse.
So, I did. I had never gotten surgery before. While I understood that it was a simple procedure and everything would be okay, I was still afraid. The months of physical therapy that followed were an entirely new experience for me. I didn’t understand the concept of a part of my body suddenly not being able to do what I had always counted on it to do. Not to mention, as much as I enjoyed cheering for my teammates, being on the sidelines was torture.
But, eventually, I got used to my new way of doing things. I began to not mind physical therapy all that much. I looked forward to being there for my teammates, and started to enjoy the time off from swimming that I hadn’t gotten in years. I accepted my circumstances and told myself that it would all be over soon. As soon as my shoulder was healed, I could go back to doing what I loved and living my life the way I had wanted to.
Two months after my surgery, I suffered a second grand mal seizure. I had been taking my medication regularly, avoiding excessive drinking, and making a conscious effort to get enough sleep. However, after a fight with a friend and waking up early to head to practice, lack of sleep left me back on the floor, this time at the movie theater.
After the second seizure, my everyday life became something completely foreign to me. I could no longer count on the fact that I wasn’t at risk. In my head, I had told myself that “my epilepsy didn’t count” because “there were people with much worse cases”. When I started to see myself as someone who would truly not be able to live my life exactly the way they had planned to, I lost perspective of who I was. The fear overcame me. If I didn’t get eight hours of sleep, I wouldn’t leave my room for anything other than class. I panicked about taking my medication fifteen minutes late. I avoided social gatherings because everyone else was drinking. A simple twitch of my arm or leg (these can sometimes be due to seizure activity in epileptics) sent me into a full blown panic. I lost control of my life. The anxiety that I had spent the entire summer healing from came back in full force. I started to see myself differently, like a sick person. I had been so used to seeing myself as a healthy, young athlete, who was as well off as someone could be. The realization devastated me.
It was a long climb up from there. During that time, I also had to isolate myself from a friend who was very important to me. Eventually, I worked my way back up to feeling okay. I was optimistic that the summer would be better. I could have some time to myself and get ahead professionally. I was excited to start working for a television production company and get experience in the field that I’m interested in.
However, when the summertime came around, I felt trapped. The state of New Jersey mandates that people who suffer from seizures refrain from driving for a full six months after an episode, so I lost my independence. Being home full time allowed my mom and I to get more opinions on my epilepsy. Each doctor I saw recommended something different: but there was one message in common from them all: We’re not sure. Epilepsy has a tendency to be a gray area, which frustrated me to no end.
The fluctuation of my medication due to the different opinions of doctors left me frustrated and depressed. After finding out halfway through the summer that I have a B12 deficiency, I was given shots every week to bring my levels back up. I’ve had at least one doctor’s visit each week for the entire summer. In mid July, I was looking forward to an appointment with a highly renowned epileptologist who I knew would have the answers. I was wildly optimistic. I went in for the appointment and my hopes were crushed when he informed that he wanted me to go into the hospital for testing.
While it gave me the answers I wanted, being hospitalized was an exhausting, traumatizing experience. Now that it’s over, I am on the right track to becoming healthy again and I am feeling overwhelmingly positive. However, I am feeling a sense of caution.
In the past 10 months, every time I finally felt like the hard part was over, something unexpected came. Something new, something I didn’t think I had the strength to handle. Before now, I had never gone through a period of time in my life when I was constantly having to pick myself up, only to be knocked down again. It was a concept completely foreign to me.
When life feels like the ocean in the middle of a storm, it becomes hard work just to stay afloat. But fighting those battles makes you realize that you are capable of coming out on the other side. And that you will. I used to think I was a good swimmer, but I am better than ever after going through this past year.