Today Is Not Yesterday

I was recently in Colorado and had a chance to catch up with friends that I have known for more than ten years. We knew each other before I was married and before any of us had children. They’re also one of the few people who knew us before epilepsy.

We reminisced about the days when our lives were simpler and had much less responsibility. Adulting is hard. The weight of trying to focus on a career but still spend time with the kids, friends, and each other gets to be too much. We’re all exhausted and come home and want to do nothing but go to bed early.

Ten years ago, we thought it would all be possible. Ten years ago, we thought nothing would change. Now, we’re tired and depressed because we couldn’t maintain our lives from the past. So it made sense that we would be nostalgic for the time before we felt like we were failing.

But we’re not failing. As much as we thought we could, we weren’t supposed to keep things the same. We couldn’t just sprinkle on new stuff like kids or a more senior job. Our lives evolve and become something else. Today is not yesterday. It’s something new.

Instead of trying to fit my new life into the old one, I’ve tried to figure out what my life should look like now. Instead of focusing on what was important to me then, I’m trying to focus on what is important to me now and build my life around that.

But it’s hard to let go of the past, especially when there are days when the present seems impossible. Every seizure, every outburst, every time my son can’t remember what just happened…I just want to hop into a time machine and go back to before any of this happened.

I think that is what my brain is doing every time it compares today to yesterday. It’s trying to bring me back to the past. But it’s wasting energy. It’s swimming against the current instead of letting the current carry me forward. Worse, the past that it is trying to bring me back to isn’t real…it’s a distorted version made better by years of distance.

It’s not always easy to focus on the present. The present is hard. The present is real. But instead of using my energy to try to make my life what it was, I should be using it to make my life the best that it can be now. Because the present is where my life is. The present is where my family is. The present is where I am needed. The present is where I am supposed to be.

Nostalgia is a necessary thing, I believe, and a way for all of us to find peace in that which we have accomplished, or even failed to accomplish. At the same time, if nostalgia precipitates actions to return to that fabled, rosy-painted time, particularly in one who believes his life to be a failure, then it is an empty thing, doomed to produce nothing but frustration and an even greater sense of failure. ~R.A. Salvatore

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

Early Mornings And Coffee Spoons

It’s still dark outside, but I’m at my usual station, too early in the morning, writing. My son had a short seizure that woke me up. My wheels started turning and I couldn’t turn them off. The upside of him sleeping in our bed is that I don’t have to lose sleep wondering if the monitor is working. The downside is that his seizures are right in front of me, and its impossible to go back to sleep once they are over.

At some point, he isn’t going to be able to sleep with us. He’ll be too old and too big to fit in our bed. If there were ever a reason to wish him to remain seven forever, that might be near the top of my list. Coming in a close second is the fear that his condition is going to get worse as he gets older. Our doctor is concerned about what happens at puberty. It’s another stage of brain development where seizures can change or be more severe. I thought it was impossible for things to get worse. Apparently, they can.

Today, he’s only had epilepsy for a fraction of his existence, but by then, he’ll have had epilepsy for most of his life. We’ll long have lost count of seizures, and meds, and have long forgotten about the time before this began. It will be all we know and all he can remember.

This is what happens to my unrested brain so early in the morning. It gets pulled into the stream and dragged wherever the current takes it, and there is no safe shore for my thoughts to land. The present is filled with seizures, medicine, side effects, and, presently, a lack of sleep. The future has too much uncertainty, doubt, and fear. The past is too painful. Remembering a time without epilepsy is getting harder and, if I try, it makes me sad. What we saw for our lives back then was not this life.

My coffee sitting on the window sill does little to pull my unrested brain back to happier thoughts. But as I stare out onto the dark street, I can at least resist the urge to measure our lives with coffee spoons, in careful doses or as an observer. There is so much left to our journey, so much active living to do and so much of it is unknown that dwelling in any one place is fruitless toil.

Instead of focusing on a when, I try to focus on my what. My what is my family that is together and, in many ways, stronger than ever. Most days are hard, but there is always something to be grateful for. We have a nightly routine where we call out something that we’re grateful for from our day. Even if we skip the rest of our routine, that one gets done. Because those things for which I am grateful are worth measuring, and I want to focus on adding as many of them as I can to this life.

On that note, I’m going to sneak back into bed and lay next to my family. I’m going to do everything that I can to settle my mind and be present in that feeling of being together.

And, maybe, I’ll actually sleep.