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.

All The World’s A Stage

Recently, my son performed in his first school play. School has been physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for him this year. He likes school, but it takes a huge toll on his body and mind doing full days. In an otherwise difficult year, the play was the thing he most looked forward to, so we adjusted his schedule to allow him to rehearse with his class and have a part in the show.

He worked hard rehearsing for his role. Memorization is extremely difficult for him, but he practiced reciting his lines almost every day. We’d catch him at random times singing the songs from the show as he played with his toys or started to drift off to sleep. It was the first thing in a long time that he had that was his and that he was excited about.

When the day of the show finally arrived, it started with six seizures before breakfast. He had big circles under his eyes as he slowly crawled out of bed. As it goes with epilepsy, we didn’t know why he had more seizure than normal. But we let him rest most of the day with our fingers crossed that he would feel well enough to go to the show. Even after an afternoon nap, he still seemed tired but, thankfully, his excitement and adrenaline gave him the boost he needed to make it out of the house.

My wife and I sat in the audience anxiously waiting for the show to begin. I had a big smile on my face when I saw my son peak his head around the curtain. I heard the kids getting into position and felt my heart start to beat faster. Finally, the curtain opened, and I thought we made a terrible mistake letting him do the show that night.

I could see by the look on his face that he wasn’t really present. The energy that got him out the door seemed gone. Most of the time, he looked lost on the stage, bouncing between children to try to find the spot where he should be. I felt helpless every time we made eye contact. I felt angry that they didn’t set it up better or give him a buddy to remind him where he should be. While these thoughts raced through my head, I tried to keep a smile and to be a friendly face in the audience for him.

My wife and I struggle with finding the right place for my son. Not just with school, but finding environments that are safe for him and that try to understand what life is like for him. Watching him on the stage, unable to find his place, brought that fear of him never finding that place center stage. It acted out my anxiety of what life will look like for him as he gets older because the world doesn’t know him and doesn’t understand him. I saw on that stage a future for my son where he spends his life bouncing around, bouncing off people, endlessly lost.

When the show was over, my son came running off the stage and into our arms. He was happy. He had just done something impossibly hard and felt good about himself. At that moment, everything I was feeling melted away and I held him and told him how proud of him I was.

It’s hard to not get lost in those visions of what the future will look like for my son. There have been too many times where I get swept up in those feelings and miss what is happening right in front of me, in the present where my son needs me to be. It’s in those moments where he continues to show me what he is capable of and remind me that the future is unwritten and filled with as many possibilities as it will be limitations. The only thing that is certain is what we have at this moment. As I held my son and felt his joy, I didn’t want to miss it.

Saying Goodbye To The Past

I sat down to write a post reflecting on 2017 but couldn’t decide where to begin. To say that 2017 was a big year is an understatement. Not just globally or politically, but personally, as well.

Even narrowing my focus to our lives, I’m not sure where to start. Our lives look completely different today than they did a year ago. We might as well be two different families, tied together by the common thread of a child and a family living with epilepsy.

We sold our first house back in Colorado and used the proceeds to buy and move into a place here in Philadelphia. Our Colorado house was the one we brought our son home to and it is where we made all our first memories with him. We were able to tour it one last time before we signed the paperwork, which provided some closure. But it was not without the pains of recognition of a life that might have been.

Around the same time, I started a new job. I’m still in the same company, but doing something completely different. In some ways, I’m going back to my roots by taking on a brand new challenge. It feels good to be excited to go to work again, and to feel like what I’m doing is making a difference. For a while, it felt my like half of my life was my job and half was my family, and both were spinning out of control. Things are only now starting to level off, but for the first time in a long time, I can take a breath.

We lost both our primary neurologist and our nanny. Our neurologist was there from the beginning. She knew my son and was our lighthouse during the stormier times. When she decided to continue her studies in epilepsy, we selfishly hoped she could do it at our hospital. But her path took her elsewhere. We miss her, but she left us in good hands.

Our nanny came into our lives when we needed her most. When my son was at his worst medically and behaviorally, she jumped in and rescued us. When she left, we naïvely thought we were in a stable enough place to go it alone. But the seizures and the side effects didn’t care what we thought, and they came back with old friends. The behavior issues we thought we had overcome were back and, before we knew it, they overwhelmed us. We finally asked for help, and we’re hopeful that we were blessed again with our new nanny.

This year, like every year since his diagnosis, we’ve adjusted my son’s medications. We stopped CBD and another medication because they weren’t working for him and started a new one. We’re ending the year with fewer seizures but more side effects and trying to strike a balance. He’s still on the ketogenic diet but at a lower ratio, and I’m hoping by this time next year he will be off it completely.

My son also started second grade, which is a testament to his resilience. But it has also shone a light on his limitations. Academically and socially, school is challenging for him. We’re continuing to adjust his education plan and our expectations, but it will be a long, uphill journey.

There isn’t a moment from last year that wasn’t touched by epilepsy. Every day we face the reality that our son has seizures, and needs medication, and faces challenges. But that doesn’t mean it has to define our year or our lives.

Somewhere in the middle of this, we went on a family vacation to Hawaii. It was an opportunity to get away from everything. The seizures followed us, but the experiences we had made them feel like a minor annoyance instead of the gorilla that we deal with daily. We visited family in Florida and Colorado. I ran a half-marathon, and we did an Inflatable 5K and became Spartans as a family.

In reflecting on last year, I want to say goodbye to it. I want to learn the lessons that it taught me, but I want to focus on the year ahead. It’s important to know where you have been to know where you are going. To repeat the things that brought you joy. To avoid the things that took away from your existence. To see the things you have survived so that you know you can survive them again. But it’s also important to be present in this moment and to look forward to the next.

I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going. I have respect for the past, but I’m a person of the moment. I’m here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I’m at, then I go forward to the next place. ~Maya Angelou

I wish you a very happy new year.

epilepsy dad feature saying goodbye to past