Mike’s Story

Mike's Story

Without warning, it was like an unstoppable force had awakened me from a deep sleep.  As I came to, I suddenly realised I was standing alone in the middle of a sidewalk with a severely dislocated right shoulder.  The feeling of intense fear, immense pain and extreme confusion overwhelmed me as I had no idea of how I got there or what had happened.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t a strange dream; I had experienced an epileptic tonic-clonic seizure (formally known as grand-mal seizures) while I was driving alone.  I had subconsciously exited the vehicle and walked halfway to my home before regaining full consciousness. Thankfully, only my vehicle was involved so no one was hurt and my vehicle was undamaged.  This terrifying situation is all too familiar as a person who has suffered from Epilepsy for over 17 years.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder and is the fourth most common neurological disorder that affects people of all ages.  Epilepsy is a condition with a wide range of seizure types and varies from person-to-person. A seizure can be extremely frightening to witness, so it is very important to stay calm.  Clear any objects close to the person seizing and DO NOT constrain the person in any way or put objects in their mouth, as that can lead to further injury. Call 911 right away if the seizure lasts more than five minutes.  For more information regarding Epilepsy and what to do if someone experiences a seizure, please visit the BC Epilepsy Society www.bcepilepsy.com.

I had my first seizure while writing my Math 12 high school provincial.  My convulsions were so strong that I dislocated both of my shoulders. When I finally regained consciousness, I was on an ambulance stretcher in extreme pain wondering what had happened and why (temporary memory loss is a common side effect of tonic-clonic seizures).   It was a terrifying time for me and my family. I experienced several more episodes over approximately three years before I was diagnosed with Epilepsy. I am fortunate to say that I usually experienced 3-4 seizures a year; much lower than more severe forms of the disorder.  To this day, doctors have not identified an exact cause of my Epilepsy, however, lack of sleep and high stress levels are significant factors to trigger more seizures.

I suddenly found myself not being able to drive, I couldn’t play hockey or any of the sports that I had once enjoyed due to recurring shoulder dislocations.  To this day, I experience bouts of intense fear over whether I am experiencing a symptom before a possible seizure episode or if I am just being paranoid of my own thoughts.  Throughout the years, the disorder severely affected my confidence and self-esteem. There was a point in time where I couldn’t shake someone’s hand without dislocating my shoulder.  University was a huge struggle for me as very high stress levels lead to seizures during midterms and final exams. I relied on carpools or public transportation to get to campus (30 minute walk to the bus stop and 2 buses resulted in 2-hour trips each way).  I also noticed several classmates started avoiding me after witnessing a seizure episode. On a number of occasions, I was so discouraged during university I contemplated dropping out and continuing as a bartender/server.

I am very glad to say that this story has a happy ending.  I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Economics and have enjoyed an extremely rewarding career in the Public Service Sector under the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation since 2009.  Under new medication levels, I have experienced only one seizure in the last three years, which has provided me with an opportunity to regain my driver’s license after almost nine years. After two shoulder surgeries and reduced seizure frequency, I no longer experience shoulder dislocations.  I am playing ice hockey again and I have even taken up kick-boxing (training only and no head punching). I am also sharing my life with an incredible partner who is due with our first child on Canada Day, so there are A LOT of things to be thankful for! Although I live with Epilepsy, I live a very full, rich and happy life.

I feel that I owe many of my achievements in life to my family and my friends.  My family and friends were always so supportive during my struggles. They always offered a ride when I needed it, they were always there at the hospital if I had an episode and they always had me smiling when times were really tough.  My neurologist was also essential in my successes as he was able to determine a level of medication that drastically reduced my seizure frequency.

Although my Epilepsy has caused a lot of frustrations in the last 17 years, I truly think I am very fortunate in life and I wouldn’t change anything if I had the opportunity.  As the saying goes, ‘you develop character through the face of adversity’ and I can 100% attest to this and agree that my struggles have turned me into a much better person from who I once was.  I have a much deeper appreciation for life and have more compassion towards others.

I am far from an Epilepsy expert, but I do have countless other stories as a person who lives with the condition.  If anyone is interested in chatting about living with the disorder or living with someone who has it, please do not hesitate to contact me at: mikescha@uvic.ca.

Mike delivered the Keynote Address at our 2018 Education Day.  To watch his presentation, please click here.

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