People With Epilepsy Can Save Lives

Chris Rich was diagnosed with Epilepsy at just eight months old but that hasn’t stopped him from living a full life, one that is committed to saving the lives of others.

Chris first started helping others as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. He was mostly operating as support in the fire department, which means he wasn’t breaking down doors and carrying people out of burning buildings but he was there and ready when the other firefighters needed him. He kept engines running and on occasion helped to put out exterior flames. As an EMT he ran thousands of calls. He would perform simple tasks of helping the elderly get dressed, which I for one did not know was an EMT’s duty but I’m glad to know someone is out there looking out for the underdressed elderly. He would also field major calls like providing emergency help for an overturned ski bus, but majority of his calls fell somewhere in the middle, car accidents, injuries etc. In his position as a volunteer EMT he learned that he had a knack for working with people who were intoxicated or suffering from mental health issues and decided to dedicate his life to helping them.

Chris’s next step was to get his degree in Psychology. The process took him six years to complete. That’s two years longer than the average student takes but considering Chris was experiencing 400 to 500 seizures a year I would say he completed it in record time.

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

When reminiscing about his college experience Chris shared a wonderful story as a reminder that it’s ok for those of us with Epilepsy to laugh at ourselves from time to time, and to be grateful for the love and support we receive from people who care about us. It was spring in Rochester, New York, a time of year when melting snow and fresh rainfall would combine to create rich fields of slush and mud. While trudging through the slush to the dorms with his girlfriend Chris experienced a partial seizure and decided to sit smack dab in the middle of a mud puddle. Without thinking twice, his girlfriend sat beside him, the two of them in the heart of campus just sitting there in the mud. As passersby looked at Chris, his girlfriend would usher them on saying, “Move along.” Chris laughed when he shared this story with me, and I laughed when I heard it. So many of us have similar experiences to this, things that on the surface sound embarrassing but if we can laugh at ourselves they are empowering pieces of what make each and everyone of us strong and unique.

But I digress. Back to the life saving!

After college Chris got a job in a 15 bed locked in patient psych unit where he led groups and helped feed and care for the patients. In this position he performed a lot of crisis intervention, talking people down from tough places before things became physical. His co-workers would acknowledge when he didn’t feel well and on those days he would perform lower impact tasks like paperwork. Having just listened to a podcast that said as recently as the 1940s people with Epilepsy were being committed to psych wards, I find it incredibly empowering and inspiring that Chris chose to work in one. Rather than being committed to a psych unit, he committed himself to one and to helping the patients there who couldn’t help themselves.

Chris’s next step was working in the emergency room of a level one trauma center. It was a very fast paced environment where he would see an average of eight clients in twelve hours. Many of the people coming through the doors were homeless or suffered from chronic mental illness and it was his job to assess whether they needed immediate treatment or another course of action. Many peoples’ lives were literally in his hands in this position and he came to the aid of each and every one of them.

Chris found himself in a new position working for a non-profit mental health center during the height of the synthetic marijuana crisis. In this role he was still conducting assessments on patients but his job was a bit more dangerous. He worked by himself, seeing six to eight people a shift with half of the patients would become violent due to illness or withdrawn but Chris didn’t waiver. He stayed strong and helped as many people as he could in his role.

Today, Chris has turned in the crisis units and dangerous patients for a desk and data analysts. His work is a bit quieter but it is still committed to helping others. Chris is now the guy who makes sure that the government holds up on its end of the bargain when patients receive state funded treatment. He processes paperwork that helps to keep people from experiencing crippling medical bills. It may not sound flashy but if you have ever experienced or even stressed about having to experience a medical bill without insurance, you know just how vital his job is.

When I asked Chris if he felt comfortable with my titling this post “People With Epilepsy Can Save Lives” because of the work that he has done for people with trauma and substance abuse he humbly said “Yes.” stating that he knew that he had saved four lives by keeping people on the phone until the police were able to disarm them. I have a feeling that the number of lives he has saved through his service work goes well beyond that.

Having Epilepsy is a struggle. Some days it feels too hard for me to even save my own life. I can’t begin to put myself in the shoes of someone like Chris, a real hero who is fighting his Epilepsy battle while helping others fight their demons and saving their lives along the way. I am honored to have heard his story and be able to share it with all of you.

People With Epilepsy Can Be Business Owners

It’s an all too familiar scene for those of us with epilepsy; you begin to feel off, something doesn’t seem quite right, you lose consciousness and before you know it you are coming too with several people around you and a shooting headache with no memory of what just happened.

That is how KK Gardening owner and home-schooling mother of two Kirsty explained the experience of her first seizure to me. Kirsty’s first seizure occurred in 2015. Since then, she began homeschooling her 10 and 8 year old daughters, attended college to become a horticulturist and opened her own gardening business.

Kirsty acknowledges that the road has not been an easy one. Six weeks into her first attempt at college classes she suffered her second seizure and received her formal Epilepsy diagnosis, forcing her to have her license taken away and to put her coursework on hold while she tried out medications that made her feel suicidal, and she grappled with low energy and memory loss. To top it all off, she experienced the loss of her family dog. A veritable “When it rains it pours” type of situation. Many people might throw in the towel in this situation but not Kirsty, she remained positive and moving forward.

“I suffer from quite a few symptoms but have learned to try and keep my chin up even at the most toughest of times.”

 

 

After her second seizure in 2015, Kirsty and Jason, her husband of 12 years made the decision to home educate her daughters. With only one driver’s license between them they were no longer able to provide reliable transportation to and from school and homeschooling was meant to be a temporary solution until the transportation situation was resolved. However, the girls took to homeschooling. Their performance and possibility increased during this trial period. It was then that Kirsty officially became a home-school mom.

Kirsty dedicated 2016 to her children, to building back her self-esteem and to adjusting her life to work with the reduced energy levels and memory problems epilepsy caused her. Near the end of the year, with renewed self-esteem and encouragement from her family Kirsty returned to college part time. She took things slowly, acknowledging her body and mind’s needs, and passed her courses with flying colors.

Today, in addition to educating her daughters, Kirsty owns and operates KK Gardening. When she is not homeschooling, she is outside helping people beautify their homes and gardens. She still struggles with short term memory loss, low energy levels, and self-esteem issues as so many of us do but she has learned to work with it all and is happy. She pushes herself each day to maintain a rich, fulfilling life and is an inspiration to so many others. Kirsty is an example of why we should never give up. As hard as life gets when you battle with Epilepsy, if you set your mind to something, keep your chin up, and make adjustments based on your body and mind’s needs like Kirsty did you too can achieve your dreams.

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!