November 8, 2014 is a day that will be forever seared in my husbands memory, and in mine. It was a regular Saturday morning. We slept in, and I had just gotten up and was cooking breakfast. I remember turning over bacon in the pan, going through a mental list of things I had to accomplish in the day. The next thing I knew, I was laying on the floor of my kitchen, with my husband looking over me, pressing something to my head with an expression of fear and panic on his face that I'd never seen before.
Shaken up but calm he told me I had a seizure, and I was alright, but I was bleeding from my head. He told me he had called the ambulance and they were on the way, and I just needed to be calm and hold a towel to my head. The next few hours flew by in a post-seizure induced haze... Not only had I experienced another grand mal seizure, but during the seizure I supposedly stiffened, and fell like a tree to my tile floor. I hit my head hard and was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, as well as a busted up shoulder.
The few weeks after the seizure found me not being able to be alone (I was being monitored for internal bleeding). I had to take disability leave from work as I was put on a strict regiment of cognitive rest, which involved no thinking, reading, watching TV, looking at a phone or computer, or doing anything mentally strenuous. I remember crying to my husband and my parents worried that the very thing that so defined me, my intellect was slipping away. I didn't know if I would be able to return to work, continue my normal activities, or even have a family. They told me then, as did my doctor, that given the proper rest and new habits, my brain would slowly heal and I would get better ... slowly but surely...
AND THEY WERE RIGHT!
Here I am, nearly one year later, and seizure free. It has been quite a challenging year, and I have had to realize some things about my own limits.
1. I needed lots of help to recover. I am not one to like to ask for help... but having my seizure made me recognize that reliance on other people is not so much a sign of weakness, but a grace to help us be open to the gift of another's self giving. From the friend who brought us soup that first night, to my parents helping watch me 24/7 in the first few weeks after the seizure, to a husband who has accommodated his life to help me maintain my health... I am overwhelmed by the generosity.
2. A great boss, and a supportive job can make or break you. One of the most fearful times in the past year was when I went back to my job as a think tank researcher in DC. I was never so afraid of failing in my job due to my cognitive limitations, nor was I so physically afraid of what would happen if I had a seizure. But my boss has been incredibly understanding, working with me to develop a plan to slowly get me back in the swing of things and encouraging me along the way as I rebuild not just my mind and my body, but also my self-confidence.
3. Behavioral therapy is a great way to address common triggers. I also, as part of my therapy to rehabilitate my mind, was able to pursue cognitive behavioral therapy which helped me to identify physically what happens when I am faced with particular triggers. During the course of my treatment I was able to distinguish between the fear of having another seizure, and being more scared of the 'accident' that can potentially follow one. It also helped me to understand what things in life were truly necessary for me to do, and what things in life were tasks I had placed on myself that I 'ought' to do.
4. Letting go of the life you imagined is the hardest lesson in life. Throughout this year, time and again, I have had to learn to let go of the vision of life I had for myself as a type-A person... and admittedly it has not been easy to do. I find myself in the season of performance reviews and while I have performed great at work, no performance review out there will truly recognize what I have been able to accomplish. And that burns sometimes - I mean talk about deserving a medal for merit! From not being able to think one year ago, let ago write, present or do anything necessary in my job, to standing up in front of senior White House officials and conducting high level meetings - I really didn't think it would happen in a year's time... and in recognizing that about myself I have found new found freedom.
5. The life you did not imagine can be better than anything. This is what has most surprised me about my life this past year. While this year looks different than anything I thought, I have been blessed with graces I never imagined would be possible. I have written multiple blogs on my experience with epilepsy, and how to manage expectations in the workforce. I also have been able to cultivate a work-life balance that is truly life-giving... and more importantly I have been able to share those lessons with others!
Because by God's grace I have come through this past year stronger, healthier and happier than I was before. I have a sense of conviction of helping others to believe in themselves, and a healthy realization that really for any of us, epileptic or not, life is completely out of our control. And I prefer to see that element of the unexpected as life's next great adventure!
NEXT UP: Be sure to check out tomorrow's post at http://epilepsygenetics.net, courtesy of Ingo Helbig for more on Epilepsy Awareness. For the full schedule of bloggers visit livingwellwithepilepsy.com/