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Control's Nemesis

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I am, in the most literal sense of the words, a drug addict. Every morning at six o'clock I take pills, and again at six o'clock in the evening. Every day, for the last four and a half years. These pills control my life, and no matter what I have to take them. If my alarm goes off at six and for some reason I don't have my pills, I panic. But the difference between my drug addiction and the common perception of drug addiction is the fact that I don't take mine for fun. I take eleven pills a day in order to keep some semblance of normality in my life. I take pills because without them I am just a heap on the floor, unable to control my body, not knowing what will happen to me in the next minute. I take pills to control the epilepsy which hibernates in my brain like a bear in spring, able to wake at any minute.

I was diagnosed with General Epilepsy at the tender age of thirteen after a spectacular event involving a classroom of eighth graders, Christmas decorations, a desk, and the first of many grande mal seizures. That one event jump-started my life spiraling out of control as I did the rounds of pediatricians, neurologists, epileptologists, and numerous visits to a hospital lab to get blood samples taken. I used to be afraid of needles, but after months of acting as a human pincushion that fear was demolished. Oddly enough, I never blamed anyone for my epilepsy. Sure, I asked “Why me?” thousands of times into the silent night, and I cried billions of tears as I watched my life turn into a waiting game. Will I have another seizure today? Will anyone be there to help me afterwards? Will I end up in the hospital? When will this medication stop working? But there were no answers, no certainty, no one to talk to.

The frustrating thing about my epilepsy is that it is continually mutating. I often envision it as a transient, pulsating blob which infects every part of my brain. Whenever I switch medications I imagine it as a roadblock put up in front of the blob, but the unfortunate thing about roadblocks is that they can always be gotten around. It may take a while, but the epilepsy always triumphs. At the moment, my medications have been effective for about nine months. A normal person would be happy, they would think that this combination of medication is going to last for life. I am not normal at the best of times, and I know better. Perhaps this roadblock is more sturdy than the others, and maybe there's more than one, but in the end these medications will fail. My epilepsy is unique to me, it is an integral part of my personality, and therefore it is quite similar to me: conniving, slippery, and determined to succeed. I can't win, because I fight against myself.

I have learned to live with my epilepsy, and to talk about it. I refuse to hide from something which will never go away, and when it chooses to be can be quite flashy. All my friends know that I have epilepsy, and all of them know what to do if I have a seizure. I have been lucky enough to never encounter discrimination based on my status as an epileptic, but the stories I have heard from others have made me more determined than ever to help find a cure for this condition. People give billions of dollars to cancer research, and while that is all good and well, what about the other – less publicized – conditions that make people's lives hell? There are already fairly effective cures for some cancers, but the closest to a cure they have for epilepsy is brain surgery, which can't be used for all types of epilepsy. For example, I can't use brain surgery to get rid of my epilepsy because mine doesn't have a focal point – it saturates every part of my brain. I would have to have a brain transplant.

Unlike cancer, AIDS, and malaria, epilepsy has been around – and well known – for centuries. However, most of history shows epileptics in a negative context and has discriminated against them and killed them. Epileptics have been murdered due to something they can't change, yet no one learns about those specific things. Hitler murdered epileptics and others with incurable mental illnesses, yet the most we get is a one-word mention in a history textbook. The first time I ever read a book which mentioned that epileptics were killed alongside Jews, Gypsies, Poles, the mentally ill (epileptics aren't mentally ill because other than the fact that we have seizures, we are normal), the insane, and others, I felt like a gigantic fist had punched me in the gut. Never before had I felt so different, so isolated. Unfortunately for me, that was not the last time that fist made an appearance. In my history class I found out that for quite some time the United States had barred epileptics from immigrating. Good thing I was born an American citizen. I wonder, does it still ask on the citizenship application if you have epilepsy? Are we really such a plague on society?

I write this article not to place blame on people, or to garnish pity for myself and others. No, I write to spread awareness of the fact that we epileptics are not just another bunch of people with a seizure disorder in a medical textbook. We have a voice, we have a story, we have lives that are quite similar to yours. One in every hundred people has epilepsy, and every one of those people has felt alone in their misery. So the next time you think of making the common gesture for retarded – slapping a hand sideways against your chest – you might want to reconsider. Because there may be an epileptic standing next to you who is offended and hurt by that gesture, for they have unwillingly done that during a seizure. In a high school with 2,200 students, about 22 of those have epilepsy. They may be sitting next to you in math or walking past you in the hallway. We are your friends, your acquaintances, the strangers you pass in the grocery store. We are among you everywhere. All I ask for is your respect.





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