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Opinion

Epilepsy Awareness Month is a good time to learn seizure safety

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November 9, 2016

I’ll never forget my first seizure. Well, I’ll never forget the little that I remember.

My family and I were on our way home from vacation and had stopped on the side of the road because the car in front of us hit a deer. I was asleep at the time, so I don’t remember this at all.

The next thing I knew I was being pulled out of the car by paramedics. I threw up on one of their shoes. My head was throbbing, my jaw was tight and my whole body was sore. In a state of panic, I asked my mother what happened. She looked down at me with tears in her eyes and said, “You had a seizure, honey.”

I had my first seizure six years ago, right before my 16th birthday, and was diagnosed with epilepsy shortly after. What came next was being weaned on and off different medications, my family tiptoeing around me (rightfully so) and the loss of my independence.

During these past six years, a lot has happened in my life. I graduated high school and I am about to graduate from college in the spring. People have walked in and out of my life. I grew up a little and figured out a career. I also had two more seizures.

I had a seizure two years after my first one. Two years after that, I took myself off my medication without telling anybody. I couldn’t take the fogginess anymore, I couldn’t take not being myself and not being able to remember anything. I couldn’t handle the depression. Two years after that, this last spring, I dropped to the floor of the bathroom in my parents’ house and had a seizure, hitting my eye on the corner of the counter as I fell. I am now back on my medicine.

Having seizures is scary, terrifying. It feels like your brain is attacking your body. What is more terrifying, however, is what I realized after my first seizure. Having to tell my friends, teammates, teachers and coaches, I quickly learned that not a lot of people know what to do if someone has a seizure, or really what epilepsy is.

This has continued into college. The scariest thing that I heard is that people think that if they see someone having a seizure that they should try to hold the body down or put things in their mouth. Please don’t do that.

I am extremely lucky that I have only had three seizures in my life and that now I am currently stable. I am also lucky that when I had my seizures I was either surrounded by or discovered by my family. But even though I am on my medication and things are going well, sometimes when I’m in class or in the library studying I feel a hint of a seizure creeping up, and I am terrified. Not because having a seizure means that I can’t drive for six months, or that it feels like my brain just ran a marathon, but because I can never be sure if someone in the room will know what to do if I have one.

In the United States, one in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. Each year, 150,000 Americans develop epilepsy. So it’s safe to say that epilepsy and seizures are pretty common. So why do most people know nothing about it? That’s something that we can change.

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month, a perfect time to educate yourself and others about what a seizure is, the different types of seizures and most importantly, what to do if you witness someone having a seizure. So this November, hug someone with epilepsy, wear purple and please visit this website: http://www.epilepsy.com/.

Natalie Howell is an alumna of UW-River Falls. She was editor of the <em>Student Voice</em> during the 2016-2017 academic year.