You probably know someone who has epilepsy. One out of every 26 people in the United States will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by unusual nerve cell activity in the brain and results in electrical shocks through the body known as seizures. This medical condition is not always biological or inherited. An individual can either be born with it or develop it through unfortunate events like head traumas or life-threatening infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis. Unfortunately for my boyfriend, Vicente Gonzalez, in seventh grade he had the bad luck of receiving a terrible concussion during wrestling practice and developed both meningitis and encephalitis a few months later: a very rare occurrence.
Epilepsy is one of the oldest medical conditions in the book in comparison to other disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, yet those unaffected still don’t understand the severity of this disability and how a multitude of people are consistently being diagnosed with it around the world. My boyfriend’s rare path with epilepsy has not only taken a toll on his own life for the past 10 years, but it has also impacted my mental and emotional health substantially.
Balancing out school, work and a social life is never easy. Sometimes you forget to eat, you go days on end with only five hours of sleep every night, and let us not get started on the heavy effects stress does to our body, both physically and mentally. For some of us, such as myself, I take these issues light-heartedly, as just another day in the life of a college student. Unfortunately for others, such as those suffering from epilepsy like my boyfriend, without a controlled lifestyle, any of these situations could lead to an unpredictable seizure that could leave those witnessing or experiencing it traumatized.
In 2015, my boyfriend and I met while working at Starbucks in my hometown. After a series of unfortunate events following a seizure, his driver’s license was revoked and he was temporarily without a job. I had never met anyone with epilepsy prior to him. This illness had a nuance beyond the typical seizures people attribute to epilepsy. For the past 10 years, my boyfriend has been taking daily medication to keep his neurological disorder under control. And for the past three years, he has had to prioritize a balanced lifestyle for himself over me at times, which is hard for some people to grasp.
Living with a long-distance relationship, receiving frequent updates through text or a phone call on what and how he’s doing at the end of the day means more to me than whatever is going on in my life. I am the only one who makes up his support system and, since becoming his partner nearly three years ago, I knew what role I played in making sure that we were able to grow old together and not let this disability get in the way.
The challenging realities of living with epilepsy is as important to be aware of as any other disability. Earlier this year, my parents’ neighbors suffered the death of their son from an unpredicted seizure in his sleep. He was only 18. My biggest fear is to wake up one day and never get a good morning text from my boyfriend because of his disability. Sharing with others that you have a disability is a conversation many avoid, so knowing someone with epilepsy is not always ideal. The reality of helping those with epilepsy is learning the warning signs of an oncoming seizure, which are quite straightforward.
External warning signs of a seizure include muscle twitches, unsteadiness, mental confusion that randomly occur in the middle of a conversation and convulsions. Regardless if an individual with epilepsy is taking medication to control seizure outbreaks, sleep deprivation, substance use and stress can lead to treatment failure. It’s important for everyone to know how to help an individual during convulsions in order to save a life from this threatening disability.
Thankfully, since meeting my boyfriend I have never had to assist him during a seizure. We have been able to keep his health under control; however, I have put it upon myself to practice what to do if a seizure does occur. When someone begins their convulsions, it is best to keep other people and sharp objects far away from the person. Make sure to hold their head up or lay them slightly on their side so they do not choke. Remember to never restrain them from convulsing.
Epilepsy can affect anyone in their lifetime, including you or a loved one. It’s important to stay aware all year round, not just the month of November.