People With Epilepsy CAN Be Dancers

As mentioned in my last post, when I was first diagnosed with epilepsy I was urged by doctors and specialists to stop my path toward becoming a professional dancer. But what they didn’t realize is that I had been dancing for twenty years and you don’t just tell a dancer that they can’t dance anymore. That is why, as soon as I felt my health was a bit under control and I was better able to recognize the warning signs of seizures and auras, I got right back into dancing. Yes, I had to do this from the safety of my hometown, where my family could be there at a moment’s notice, rather than in NYC or traveling the world as I had originally pictured myself but I was able to dance again and that was really all that mattered.
My first two years back in the dance world I was blessed with the opportunities to tap dance as Columbia in a live performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to become a member of two of Maine’s most respected modern dance companies, Collective Motion and Sonar Dance and to even join a kickline of dancing Santas in the state’s most celebrated holiday spectacular The Magic of Christmas at Portland’s largest theater, Merrill Auditorium.

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The year after my performances as Columbia and Dancing Santa #4, I was honored to be named Portland’s Best Dance Performer by The Portland Phoenix, one of the city’s most respected arts and entertainment publications. So, not only can people with epilepsy be dancers but we can win titles for it too!

Maybe dancing isn’t your thing but there’s something else you would like to win a title for… Best Dog Trainer, Best Puppeteer, Best Kindergarten Teacher. Whatever it is, if you can dream it, you can be it. Don’t let epilepsy get in your way.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer Liz Pettingill of Portland, left, participates in the 5 Rhythms of Dance class during YogaFest at the East End School in Portland on July 14, 2013.
I would really like for the blog to evolve into more than just my own personal stories. Do you have an epilepsy success story to share or know of an epilepsy warrior who is doing amazing things despite this burdening diagnosis? Email me at epilepticexplorer@gmail.com. I would love the opportunity to meet you all and share your stories of inspiration!

 

People With Epilepsy Can Visit New Places And Teach Yoga

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When the words “Epilepsy diagnosis” are first heard it is easy to feel like your life, or the life of the loved one you care for who has been recently diagnosed is over. I am here to tell you, from experience that it is not.

The year I was diagnosed with epilepsy I thought my life was over, quite literally. Prior to suffering my first Grand Mal seizure I had just graduated with a degree in Dance & Performance Studies, and had plans to go on auditions in hopes of joining a touring company that would allow me to see the world while doing what I loved. Unfortunately specialists and neurologists urged me not to continue on this path. The fear was that by performing in group pieces I could potentially be endangering myself and others. It felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me. This was my plan. Movement was my life. I was lost and sinking into a deep bout of depression. Post graduation, pre epilepsy I had begun taking regular yoga classes primarily to keep my body fit and flexible for anticipated auditions. When the epilepsy started, yoga became so much more to me than just a form of exercise. It became my escape, my way of keeping grounded. The yoga studio was the place where I felt a connection to my former, dancer self and I would leave each class feeling calm, warm and centered. I realized I wanted to help others feel the same way and that yoga could become my new path to pursuing a movement-centered career. I began saving my paychecks and researching yoga certification programs. It was then that I found Marianne Wells Yoga School and decided to enroll in her program, which would lead me to Costa Rica to receive my 200 hour RYT certification.

The day came and it was time for me to head off on my first post-epilepsy diagnosis solo journey. Here I was with a recent diagnosis of a condition I knew so little about, and I was about to board a plane, alone, headed to a completely foreign country. What was I thinking!? Looking back on it the answer to that question is quite easy. I was thinking, “Live.”

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The plane ride went off without a hitch and before I knew it we were landing in warm, sunny Costa Rica. It was March at the time and March in New England is notoriously grey and gloomy, so the green trees and blue sky were a warm and welcoming sight. For the first time since my diagnosis I was not thinking about my epilepsy. I was in a new place, where no one knew of my condition. I was able to go from being Liz the epilepsy patient to just Liz again. It was an incredibly freeing feeling.

Myself and several other women from the yoga certification program were picked up at the airport and brought to Samasati Nature Retreat where we would begin our training. The grounds were beautiful, with lush greenery everywhere, quaint cabanas for us to sleep in each night with our roommates, walking trails to waterfalls and a wonderland-esque level of natural beauty. It was like being in a dream, or like waking up from the epilepsy nightmare I had been living in the past year.

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While at the training I was woken up at dawn by mischievous, spirited, howling monkeys, I went on a solo walking meditation each morning, I learned the ins and outs of Iyengar style yoga instruction and I felt welcomed and safe.

epilepsy_yoga_1I was able to open up to the women in my program about my epilepsy and am glad that I did. I learned so much from each of them. MaryAnne herself took me aside one day and taught me about how important focusing on the root chakra is for individuals with neurological conditions like mine. Another woman who was a nurse taught me about the healing powers that different sound waves harness, and my roommates supported me through two auras that happened while on the trip. Up until then I had been ashamed of my epilepsy, hiding it from others because I was afraid of judgment and did not want to burden anyone with worries about me or my health. These women gave me the confidence to embrace my condition and acknowledge that it is simply a part of me, a part that makes me unique and strong.

Epilepsy can easily make you feel like your life is over, that you cannot accomplish your dreams. But don’t let it do that to you. Epilepsy is not the end of the road but merelyepilepsy_yoga_smile a detour. If you think you have hit a road block, get creative, maybe there is a new way for you to get around it in order to live the life you’ve envisioned. Feeling stuck or lost and want to talk to someone who has been through it? Email me. I know how much the support and insight from my fellow yogis meant to me when I was in such a dark place with my diagnosis. I am more than happy to provide help to any of you who feel you need it.

In the meantime, stay strong, stay positive, stay grounded and keep smiling!