If you're reading this, know that you're in good company.
I was diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering a grand mal seizure, without warning, in class one day in 6th grade. Four years later, I was chosen as a candidate for surgery when doctors determined a cyst in my brain was the cause of my seizures. Thankfully, since then, I have been seizure free.
But prior to undergoing surgery, an important aspect of controlling my condition was finding the right medication to prevent seizures. Fortunately, we found a medication called Keppra which was effective at just that.
I like to think of myself as an optimistic person - the glass half full type who always responds to the question “what do you want out of life?” with the simple answer of “to be happy!” But soon after going on Keppra, that seemed to change. Suddenly, I seemed to have no control over my emotions. Although the occasional mood swings or melodrama are to be expected at the age of 13, mine seemed to be quickly spiraling out of the realm of “normal” and into the realm of concerning.
I was miserable to be around, constantly irritable, and looking to pick fights. In the midst of an argument with my parents, for no justifiable reason other than to spite them, I once jumped in a pool fully clothed. On top of that, I was extremely depressed. I remember thinking to myself that someone could tell me I had won the lottery yet I couldn’t find it within me to care.
Completely cognizant of the fact that I was behaving irrationally, I couldn't change the way I was feeling and behaving, despite how hard I tried. If anything, that lack of agency made me even more frustrated. Unaware that it was largely due to the effect of the medication, I resigned to believe instead that I simply had no control over who I was anymore.
I once told my parents that I was going to kill myself; it was mostly out of anger and looking for a reason to upset them, but it was partly because of the fact that I felt like a life lived beyond your control wasn’t a life worth living.
I was extremely fortunate to be a candidate for brain surgery, and even more fortunate to have been seizure free and back to my “normal” happy self ever since. Nevertheless, my experience with epilepsy taught me that sometimes the cure for physical health can come at a steep cost for mental health, and prioritizing the two can be incredibly difficult.
When I walk around grounds and see kids who appear to have completely normal lives, I know now that nobody's life can be defined as normal. Yet the problems that seemingly make us different from everyone else paradoxically bring us all together. It should give us comfort and reassurance to know that all of us are struggling. In fact, we're not alone - we're in good company.
Sophie Punke, University of Virginia