It’s All in Your Head
I laid there in fear, clutching my teddy bear as the machine above me made vigorous noises to a rhythmic beat. The longest hour of my two-year-old life crept by as I lay in the contraption which seemed to have swallowed my small body whole. During the weeks following the MRI, my mother checked our mailbox repeatedly to see if my results had come in. When they finally did, my family learned that I, despite no signs of brain damage, had been diagnosed with epilepsy. With this discovery, my parents believed that their lives would undoubtedly revolve around medications, doctor visits, and the constant fear of losing their youngest child. As I grew up, I began to wonder: why me? There is still no scientific explanation as to why I was diagnosed. However, while most would see a brain disorder as a burden, I have learned to cope with my disease and focus on the positives.
Despite the challenges that come with being epileptic, I have been blessed with opportunities that showed me the silver lining surrounding my condition. For six summers during my childhood, I was able to attend Camp Blackhawk through the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, a place with specially-trained counselors and facilities designed specifically for epileptic individuals. In addition to giving me life-long friends, Camp Blackhawk made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am. While some campers were like me, less disabled and more able to live a normal life with the right medication, many of the others were living with epilepsy much more crippling than my own. Some of the kids had more seizures in a week than I have had, even now, in my entire life. Witnessing someone, especially someone you have grown close to, have a seizure is heart wrenching. You know you can only help them as the seizure begins, by holding them down so they don’t hit their head, but must then wait until their torment subsides. Yet, as the summers went on, I grew accustomed to witnessing countless daily seizures at Camp Blackhawk. I learned how to turn a person on their side and support their head, all while calling 911. I’ve done this dozens of times since I was eight; it’s routine to me now.
By seeing how a single disease can affect different individuals, I quickly learned to never take anything for granted. I now know the presence of epilepsy in my life is almost nothing compared to that of many others. I take a few pills in the morning and then go about my day, while there are those bound to wheelchairs, fed through tubes and unable to take care of themselves. However, I am grateful for learning this at a young age. Perhaps if I didn’t experience what I did, I would still think that my disease was the end of the world.
My epilepsy, though tough at times, gave me the blessing of Camp Blackhawk, a place where I made incredible friends. I bonded with both kids who will never be able to do the things that I take for granted, like ride a bike or go to school, and with others in similar situations as my own. My experiences there shaped me as a person; now I don’t let a person’s disability solely define who they are, because they are so much more than their medications and limitations. Camp also taught me true leadership, being someone others can look up to in times of need. In leading the younger kids in campfire songs and assisting campers in pool activities, I embraced my natural ability to be a leader. Now, whether it’s guiding a friend through home troubles or giving a tour of the school to a new student, I find joy in helping others through their challenges, just like my teddy bear got me through my first MRI.