I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2008 when I was nine. Having epilepsy was extremely rough in the beginning. All of the seizures I had growing up were absence seizures, which can be common for young children. There were countless times when I would come home from school and take a nap. I would not remember anything I learned in school that day, and it would take me hours to finish my homework. I was struggling mightily with my work. My parents explained to my teacher that I was struggling with my work at home. Unfortunately, my teacher was no help.
As I got older, I started having fewer absence seizures. I only suffered one seizure throughout junior high school, and by the time I reached high school. However, that one seizure changed me forever.
I was 16 in November 2015 when I experienced a tonic-clonic seizure at a family event. I suffered a mild concussion due to hitting my head on concrete. I remember waking on the ground, dazed and confused, with my family surrounding me. I asked, "What happened, and why am I lying on the floor?" My cousin said, "Anthony, you had a seizure." I immediately felt embarrassed and frustrated.
Before this seizure, no one in my extended family or my friends at school knew I suffered from epilepsy. I was embarrassed because I had a seizure at a family event and frustrated because it meant my driver's test would be delayed. According to New Jersey law, if you are actively having seizures, you cannot drive for at least six months. Since part of the six months was on my 17th birthday, I could not take my driver's test on my birthday. What is a rite of passage for most 17-year-olds, especially where I live, wasn't an option. In addition, I was sidelined from participating in any athletic activities for a week. I felt like I was being punished for having a seizure by being stripped from doing the activities I enjoyed. I wondered why this had to happen to me.
Watching my friends from the sideline, I wondered what being back on the field would be like. As the months passed, my friends started getting their driver's licenses. I wondered what it would be like to drive again. I remember getting back into the driver's seat for the first time in months, thinking I would mess something up. I did just fine, though, and I also took driving school for a second time and excelled.
In July 2016, the day finally came to get my license. I passed my driver's test with flying colors. Knowing that it took me longer than expected to get my license, I felt a great sense of accomplishment knowing I overcame obstacles to reach my goal.
To this day, I have been seizure-free. I am a voice for the epilepsy community, and I have talked openly about my epilepsy diagnosis with my family and friends. April 2023 marked one year since I got off my seizure medication. Every day, I am grateful and blessed that I can exercise, stay healthy, and, most importantly for me, drive my car.
I want those actively having seizures to know they should not let their epilepsy diagnoses define who they are. I have learned to count my blessings and not take anything for granted. Sometimes, you never know how lucky you are until something is taken away. Remember, tough times do not last, but tough people do.