The Lucky Ones

It’s been five years since my son’s first seizure. He still seizes on most days. The side effects of the seizures and the medications take their toll on his brain and his body. He can’t do all the things he wants to do, and he sometimes struggles with the things that he can do.

It’s been hard.

But other people have it worse.

Are we the lucky ones?

Taking handfuls of pills every day to keep seizures under control isn’t lucky, but we have access to healthcare and can afford his medication.

Falling behind at school isn’t lucky, but he goes to school.

Having behavioral issues isn’t lucky, but they are rarer than they were.

Managing mental and physical fatigue every day isn’t lucky, but he can walk and talk and play baseball.

Having seizures every day isn’t lucky, but my son is still here.

There is always someone somewhere that has it worse.  That’s the trap of comparing one’s situation to another. But minimizing our anger and frustration and pain doesn’t make them go away. It doesn’t make my son’s seizures go away, either. It just takes me away from my feelings and makes me feel guilty for having them.

We’re not lucky because his situation is better than someone else’s. There is nothing lucky about epilepsy and what my son is going through.

But I do feel lucky.

I feel lucky because he’s my son.

What It Means To Be An Epilepsy Dad

This post is part of the Epilepsy Blog Relay™. Follow along all month!

Father’s Day was last Sunday.

I woke up early, like I do on most Sundays, and went for a run. When I returned, I was greeted to my favorite sound in the world when my son said “Hi, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day!” as he handed me a card that he made himself and a big hug.

Being a father is the most amazing experience of my life. It’s also the hardest, most fun, most frustrating, most rewarding, and scariest experiences of my life. I feel the pressure to give my son a very different childhood than I had and, most days, I feel ill-equipped to do so, but I am trying.

Adding to the challenge of just being a good father is being the father to a child with special needs. Even if there were a manual called How To Be a Good Dad, it’s the equivalent to trying to read that book in the dark. Every intention, every plan, every expectation went out the window and I had to start again looking through a very different lens.

This July, it will have been five years since my son’s first seizure. It will have been five years since I started looking at the world through that different lens. And it will have been five years of living a very different life than I thought I would.

I’m not just a father. I’m an epilepsy dad.

When I became an epilepsy dad, I started this blog so that I could share my experiences navigating this new world. Five years in, here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

I may never know why this happened. I’m an engineer, a problem solver. I’m used to finding the reason why something is broken so that I can fix it. After countless scans and genetic testing, there is no identifiable reason why my son has seizures. But not knowing why and living in denial doesn’t change the fact that he has epilepsy.

It doesn’t matter why this happened. There is nothing that I could have done differently. Even if there was, there is no way to go back and change it. Looking backward and wondering why takes me away from the present, from my son, and from our future.

It may never go away. My son has refractory epilepsy, which means that even though we’ve tried a lot of different medications, he still has seizures. He is on the ketogenic diet and he has a VNS and he still has seizures. It is the most helpless feeling to know that there is nothing that I can do to fix this for him and that his seizures may never go away.

Plans change. I think as parents we all have grand plans for our children when they are born. But as our kids get older and discover what they want, those plans change. This is no different, even though I want to be mad at epilepsy and blame it for the changes. My son was always going to find his own path and, in some way, epilepsy will influence his course. But that is not a reason to give up on the future. It’s a reason to accept that plans change to support him on his journey of discovery, which is what a good parent should do, anyway.

There is a lot to be grateful for. Five years ago, we almost lost our son when the doctors couldn’t get his seizures under control. The pressure and fear and anger that I have felt in the last five years placed a strain on my relationships and on my marriage. But today, my son plays baseball and makes me the most amazing cards on Father’s Day. My wife and I are closer now than we have been in a long time. The situation hasn’t changed, but we have and I am grateful every day that we are together.

You can’t be an epilepsy dad without being a dad. At the end of the day, I’m still his dad. We still have fun, and laugh, and joke, and have pillow fights right before trying to take a nap. I still need to teach him good values and show him how to be a good person. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the worry and the diagnosis and the future but that shouldn’t take away from being a dad first. Because, especially with all the complexity that life has thrown at us, that is what he needs from me the most.

NEXT UP: Be sure to check out the next post by Lisa Hairston at livingwellwithepilepsy.com for more on epilepsy awareness. You can check out any of the Epilepsy Blog Relay posts you may have missed.

A Movie Script Ending

Our journey with epilepsy has the makings of a movie.

It has the time before. The time before epilepsy. The time before seizures. The time before medication, and side effects, and surgery.

It has the inciting event. The first seizure in the lobby of the arcade. The second seizure onboard an airplane. The “ticks” that turned out to be seizures that snowballed into status epilepticus and months in the hospital. The days when my son couldn’t talk or move. The night when my son was surrounded by a team of doctors trying to save his life.

It has an enemy and its name is Epilepsy.

It has the struggle. Every day. Early morning seizures. Exhaustion. Navigating the world in a fog. Trying to keep up. Learning. Behavior. Therapy. Rebuilding.

But it doesn’t have an ending. In the movies, the hero faces challenges, defeats the enemy, and returns home victorious and transformed. But we’re still on the journey and there isn’t a clear path home. Our enemy is one that he could face for a lifetime.

I started this post years ago. It sat unfinished, but I had an idea of how I would end it.

Compassionate people reassure us and say some children grow out of their seizures. We smile and nod, but its like they are watching from the seats in the theater but we’ve seen the script. We know what’s going to happen next but don’t want to reveal any spoilers. If they knew the ending, this isn’t a film that most people are going to hang around to see. Because people love a happy ending.

I wrote that at a time when things were exceedingly hard and relationships with the people around us were being tested. Some of those people are no longer in our lives. But, in spite of how I felt it was going to play out at the time, some people stayed. We’ve gone from feeling as if we were always going to be alone to cherishing what we have. Who we have.

It is true that our story may not have an ending, but it does have one more thing. The journey revealed many lessons about ourselves and the people around us. It showed us who is in our corner. The struggle forged stronger bonds. The journey has given us allies and surrounded us by our village. Our people. Our family. And we draw so much strength from knowing that we are not on this journey alone.

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ~GK Chesterton