By Steven Estrada
All I could see, in blurred vision, were two firefighters hovering above me in the ambulance and my mom sitting beside me, with tears running down her cheek. This is when I had my first grand mal seizure. This episode led to my diagnosis of epilepsy. It changed my life.
For the better.
I had my life planned out. I was an LAPD police explorer for four years. Being a cop was all I wanted. I was going to join CSUN’s ROTC, become a military officer and eventually an LAPD officer. I had to reconsider this after my diagnosis at the age of 17. I was told I could never have a job as a soldier or police officer. At first, I was devastated. My dreams to protect and serve were shattered. But, after understanding my condition and appreciating the gift of life everyday, I am able live a life filled with love and peace.
After my diagnosis, I realized that violence was not for me – it was for the better I did not become a police officer or a soldier. I believe that everything happens for a reason, even if it may not be obvious at first.
Epilepsy comes in a few different forms, resulting in different types of seizures that include: tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures and absence (petit mal) seizures. In the U.S I am part of the one in 26 who will develop epilepsy sometime in their life. I am prescribed Lamotrigine, an anti-epileptic drug (AED) that helps me reduce my seizures, along with side-effects of drowsiness. However, there are 1 million people in the U.S with uncontrolled epilepsy – no medication works for them. Epileptics who have this have to rely on homeopathic remedies to help control their seizures. These remedies include: aromatherapy, acupuncture, herbs, and vitamins. A remedy, which is starting to spread across the nation, is medical marijuana – in particular cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is the non-psychoactive part of cannabis – so you will not have the “high”, tetrahydrocannibinol, or THC effects. However, cannabis cannot be 100 percent CBD, but it can get close. Charlotte’s Web is a strain of cannabis, named after Figi, which is very high in CBD and low in THC.
Families have moved to states like Colorado with recreational marijuana being legal, to provide this medicine that is essential to help their children reduce their seizures. A young girl named Charlotte Figi who had her first seizure that lasted 30 minutes, at three months – has Dravet Syndrome (a rare seizure disorder that causes hundreds of seizures a day) helped spread awareness of CBD. At one point Figi was on seven medications – some of them heavy duty that left her in a sedated state. She could not talk, walk, or eat. After moving to Colorado and consuming CBD in a syrup solution – she started having fewer seizures and would begin to smile, walk and act like a toddler should act. Even though I have epilepsy, I appreciate life much more because someone can be suffering from my illness and not have access to healthcare or holistic remedies to manage their seizures.
Unlike most epileptics, I am fortunate to still have my driver’s license. This is because my seizures only happen when I sleep. Since they are nocturnal seizures, some people like me do not wake up in the morning – they can suffocate on their pillow or choke on their saliva, also known as Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). Experts say that one out of every 1000 die each year from this. Even with today’s medicine, epilepsy cannot be cured. It is a chronic disorder that needs a lot more research and better treatments.
My seizures are provoked by stress, anxiety, lack of sleep and lack of a well-balanced diet. As a college student working part time, these are hard to avoid. Despite these challenges, I try my best to live a seizure-free life. “Don’t think about it – just breathe,” my yoga teacher, Aj Foley always says. I have learned to not dwell on the past and to allow my mind to be at peace even when I am surrounded by stress or conflict.
The top three reasons why people practice yoga, according to a national poll – is wellness, sense of peace and calmness, and health. I chose to practice yoga to find a sense of peace, which in turn positively affects my health by not getting seizures.
My disorder has taught me to love so deeply everyday – because people like me may not wake the next morning. I’ve learned to not take things for granted because there is always someone who has less than you and someone who has more.
As I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling, I felt soreness in my tongue – I knew I had a seizure, from biting down on my tongue. I am prescribed Ativan, an anxiety pill, that is placed inside my cheek to stop the seizure. Contrary to popular belief, you should NEVER place anything in the mouth – unless it’s medication to stop the seizure. A side-effect of this drug is drowsiness so I am usually “out of it” for the majority of the day.
You’d be surprised how many prominent figures in history have epilepsy. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Issac Newton and Vincent van Gogh are a few. A more recent celebrity who had epilepsy, is Prince. Prince suffered from childhood epilepsy until the age of 7. He says that an angel told him he will be cured and have no more seizures. The seizures never came back. Prince rarely spoke about his condition because as a child he would get teased a lot in school. But, he expressed his feelings through his music, such as his hit song Purple Rain – purple being the color for epilepsy awareness.
Don Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec shaman, wrote a book that I think everyone can benefit from. In his novel, “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” he tells us the four most essential affirmations to live a peaceful life – which are: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions and always do your best. I have found that living with this mentality has been very helpful in reducing my seizures and living a better life.
I created a club at College of the Canyons called Invisible Disabilities Education Awareness and Support (IDEAS). I made this club to create a support group for people like me and to spread awareness of the stigma against people with these types of disorders. Professor Phil Gussin, IDEAS advisor and fellow epileptic, helped me create this club because he too wants to destigmatize invisible illnesses, educate the students and to help students who need help. Epilepsy is one of many invisible illnesses – including multiple sclerosis, autism, depression, fibromyalgia and diabetes. Along with educating people about these types of illnesses, we also host events throughout the year, such as the stress awareness week – IDEAS and the American Medical Student Association club gave out fliers about techniques on reducing stress and shared information about resources on campus, like the Student Health and Wellness Center, located in the student center.
Live life as if this will be your last day. Live in the moment, live life to the fullest and appreciate all that you have. It has worked for me to live a much better, meaningful life and I believe it can work for you.