How One Girl Overcame a Brain Disorder Diagnosis
When I was 21 and in my fourth year of university, I had three seizures in a row—out of the blue—after a birthday party. I was rushed to the emergency room and stayed there for a few days while I underwent tests. The tests were inconclusive, but my neurologist came to the conclusion that I had been roofied. I dropped out of school that semester and didn't leave my room for a month. After awhile, I didn't have much trouble readjusting to my social life: going out, returning to school, and taking an engaging internship that following summer. I was so happy to be healthy that my family even had a one-year anniversary surprise party to celebrate my year of being seizure free. (I knew it was happening but did my best “This is all for me?!” face anyway.) Which is why, when I had three bigger seizures exactly a year later on the same weekend, it absolutely ruined me.
At this point, I had already graduated and was working a “big girl” job. So while the stint in the hospital was longer, my time off from work was limited. The thing that changed the most this time was the aftershock. Instead of bouncing back aggressively to prove all my (nonexistent) haters wrong like I had the first time, I hung my head, defeated, sad, and confused. Every day I questioned why this had happened to me, and I compared myself to my friends. I wondered if I was a bad person who deserved what had happened, which was in retrospect clearly irrational. But at the time, it was the only way I could make sense of what happened.
When all the test results came back, I was diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Epilepsy. After that, I started turning down social events and bailed on seeing all my friends. I was no longer my usual upbeat, sassy, social self. Instead, I cried all the time. All I could do was focus on my newfound label; this time, it wasn't for saying something funny, or for eating the most chicken wings in one sitting, but rather for having a permanent medical condition. Prior to having epilepsy, I had never even broken a bone. I couldn't help comparing myself to every single person I met and interacted with, viewing myself as inferior to everyone.
After a Christmas party, hanging with people who I usually get along with, I felt so meaningless and small that I literally could not speak. I came home and cried for two hours. It was a vicious cycle, one that perpetuated itself as part of my depression. The stigma of having epilepsy led me to believe that I was no longer considered “normal," that I was lesser then my peers, and that I would be singled out as being different. I was scared of being found out. There were days when I literally could not haul myself out of bed, and some hours when I could not stop crying. The worst part is that I didn't even understand why I was feeling that way.
Mental health is such a hard concept to grasp, and I personally thought that all my issues surrounding it would be over once my condition was diagnosed and I was put on medication. Little did I know that that would set off the even bigger issue of dealing with the stigma of my diagnoses’ label. I started going to therapy, as well as meditating, and slowly started feeling well enough to start socializing again.
One day I woke up to find a light had switched on inside me. I realized that just because I have epilepsy doesn't mean it defines me. While I would be lying to say all my issues have disappeared, I can definitely say I'm much healthier now that I have realized a label is only that; it's nothing more than a name. I was so focused on feeling sorry for myself that I had lost track of the bigger picture.
Yes, an awful thing had happened that had changed my life. Yes, it could happen again. And yes, now I have to take some pills twice a day. However I’m still a weird groovy girl who loves writing, photography, cooking, traveling, eating, and existing. That will never change.
Layla is a 23-year-old writer living in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram.