Brankin: Being a college student with epilepsy

I am one of the few college students I know who has epilepsy, but I am nowhere near alone.

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Tara Brankin

I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 15 years old. Before I had my first seizure, I didn’t give a second thought to my habit of losing control of my arms and dropping things first thing in the morning. The only time I’d seen someone have a seizure or even heard about them was from watching shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” that occasionally featured a character who had some form of epilepsy. That character’s seizures were usually uncontrollable and required brain surgery, which would play out in a dramatic scene set to an even more dramatic score. I never would have thought having epilepsy would become such a huge part of my life.

The remainder of my teenage years were a series of trial and error with different medications. While I never dealt with constant seizures, developing a chronic health disorder as a teenager was not easy. It became especially difficult as I prepared to leave for college and realized the transition would be challenging.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3.4 million people nationwide have epilepsy. Three million of them are adults and 470,000 are children. The seizures caused by epilepsy range from tonic-clonic seizures, where the person loses consciousness and convulses, to myoclonic, which is characterized by the quick jerking of one’s arms or legs. I have myoclonic epilepsy. My seizures are triggered by lack of sleep and stress and — on occasion — dehydration. As I entered college, I also realized that a new catalyst had developed around my seizures: drinking too much.

When I thought about college as a high schooler, I pictured late nights cramming at the library, humid parties with warm beer and staying up until 2 a.m. with friends. I was forced to realize that doing any of these things with epilepsy would be wildly irresponsible.

I don’t want to throw myself a pity party. Yes, having epilepsy is tough, but there are others with this same disorder who have it so much worse than I do. I found a medicine that controls my seizures very well, and I am able to go about my day like anyone else. While I can’t stay up all night, I can hang out with my friends without worrying about having a seizure in front of them. Having epilepsy does not control my life. It is something that has arguably made me stronger, as cliche as that sounds.