Out Of The Storm

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~Haruki Murakami

We never saw the storm coming. Before we knew what was happening, we were surrounded by it. The pounding rain and furious wind disoriented us and knocked us from the path that we were on. And the lightning. The lightning shot through my son’s brain and contorted his tiny body. With relentless force, it changed our lives forever.

When the storm first hit, it scattered us. It pulled us away from each other and left us feeling lost and alone. I was angry at the storm. Angry for trying to take my son. Angry for trying to take my family. Angry for making me feel helpless. I shouted at it. I kept shouting, but it didn’t relent. Even after I lost my voice, I kept shouting until I realized that shouting wasn’t going to help me find my family. So I stopped shouting and began my search.

It took awhile for me to catch my bearings. The storm forced me to shed some of the baggage I was carrying to make progress and move forward. My wife was on a similar path, and she had started moving forward, too. Eventually, we found each other through the endless rain. We found our son, too. His frail body was exposed to the storm more than ours and we weren’t sure if he would recover. So we took turns covering him until he was finally able to move. Tired, battered, but together, we set off as a family to find our way through the storm.

It was years before we could see even a few feet ahead of us. Years where our hands would slip for each other’s grasp but we managed to reach for each other before we slipped too far apart. Some days we would take turns carrying our son or carrying each other. We kept moving, but it felt like we were going in circles. The storm would seem to let up only to return in force with another step. We’d tread over the same ground, seeing the footsteps we’d left pooled up with water.

After years of wandering, we stopped walking. If we weren’t going to make it out of the storm, we knew we needed shelter. At first, it wasn’t much. The wind would easily push over our weak walls, forcing us to rebuild. But we learned and built stronger walls. When the weight of the rain was too much and collapsed the roof, we rebuilt it, too, stronger than it was before. We found other people who were in the same storm, and we helped each other. And there were people living outside the storm who would send in their support, too.

Today, we find ourselves both out of the storm but still in it. We can see it through the window, threatening to take down our shelter if we let our guard down. So we continue to reinforce the walls we used to build it. We’re doing it as a family, closer than ever before because of the journey we are on together. None of us are the same people that we were when we walked in. We are changed. Tighter. Stronger.

The storm isn’t over and it won’t give up. And neither will we.

Paying The Toll

We were coming off a good weekend. We celebrated my wife’s birthday on Saturday, and we ended Memorial Day visiting friends, having a swim lesson, and staying up a little later to see part of the first game of the hockey finals. We put my son to bed tired but happy.

Just after midnight, the first seizure came. I heard the sound come from my son’s room a second or two before the sound came through the speaker of his monitor. By the time I got to him, it had passed. He was sitting up in his bed disoriented, so I helped him lay back down and waited for him to fall back to sleep.

The next seizure came a few hours later. The next one an hour after that. And the next one an hour after that. It was like aftershocks after an earthquake, except each of them was just as intense as the one before it. He had at least four that I saw, but we learned during the overnight EEGs that we don’t see them all.

When he does anything that exerts an effort mentally or physically, a nap-time seizure or a collection of seizures during the night is likely to follow. We bowled for an hour and he had a seizure during his nap. After a morning baseball game, a seizure. Even though he only goes to school for a few hours, he’ll often have a seizure during his nap.

We tried to explain it to his school. It’s not just about what he can handle in the moment. The exertion carries beyond the activity itself. It show’s up as more seizures, which set him up to be more tired the next day. That lowers his seizure threshold for the next day, too, making him more likely to have seizures or requiring him to spend more energy regulating his emotions or attention. It’s downward spiral that ends with the husk of a boy too tired to function.

It feels like the universe collects a toll from my son based on how much he gets to actually live his life. It imposes a penalty to knock him back down and remind him of his limitations when he tries to exceed them. Someone with uncontrolled seizures shouldn’t play baseball. Seizures. Someone with uncontrolled seizures shouldn’t be progressing in school. Seizures. Someone with uncontrolled seizures shouldn’t be going to the skate park, or an amusement park, or a hockey game. Seizures.

Every time it happens, I question whether we did too much. But I gave up wondering if we should be doing anything at all, because that’s having no life. That’s letting epilepsy win. That’s not giving my son the life and the world that he deserves. So we’re careful and we’re calculated in deciding what to do and how much to do. We do our best to protect our son but let him be part of the world. We introduce as much downtime as possible so that we can distrupt his pattern of exhaustion and let him do the things he loves.

The universe seems committed to collecting its toll, but we’re doing everything we can to minimize how much my son has to pay. Because we’re going to keep on living.

A Different Life

There have been times when I have wondered how my family’s life would be different if my son didn’t have epilepsy. There have been times when I have wondered what it would be like even if his seizures were under control, or if he didn’t have the side effects that he does from his medications. But a television show forced me to confront a much tougher question.

I’m a big fan of the show Black Mirror, and I found a similar show on Amazon Prime called Electric Dreams, based on short stories from Phillip K. Dick. In an episode called The Commuter, the protagonist is a father who has a son prone to violent outbursts. As the story develops, the father is offered the chance for a different life, an easier life, in which his son was never born.

electric dreams the commuter parenting
The Commuter, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Amazon

As I watched the episode, I thought about turning it off. The story hit too close to home, because I’ve also thought about what my son’s future will be like if we can’t get his seizures under control. I’ve wondered what his future will be like if his emotional and behavioral issues weren’t able to be controlled. And I was ashamed that, when things were at their worst, I also wondered where my life would be if my son wasn’t born.

Even writing it down, I feel sick. I’m looking at those words and I’m not sure where to go with them. I want to spin it to be about my son because this wasn’t the life that I dreamed for him. But, while that is part of it, there is also a selfish component. When we were having to hold him to control his angry, dangerous outbursts, my thoughts went to darker places. I thought about having to do that for the rest of my life. I thought about someday having to put him in an institution or visit him in jail. I dreaded the phone call where someone on the other end tells me something that my son has done that we can’t excuse or take back. But those thoughts weren’t about what his life would look like. They were about what my life would look like.

Our life is hard sometimes. It’s also amazing, and we’re very fortunate in so many ways. But it’s also impossibly hard. It’s hard to watch my son struggle every day. It’s hard to feel like everything is always out of our control. It’s hard to keep having conversations about what to try next because everything we’ve already tried didn’t work. It’s hard to hold on to hope for a future that is different than what is in front of us. It’s hard to not let fear take over and seek out alternative paths.

But having the thought isn’t the same as wanting it to be true. If I were given the choice, I would choose this life every time. I would choose my son every time, because being his father is one of the best things about my life. Being his father has made me a better person and a better man. Being his father has opened me up in ways where I can have these impossible thoughts and come out the other side knowing that I am where I am supposed to be. And every day, when I see his face, I also know that I am where I want to be.