“Five years with Epilepsy, you must of went through a lot!” You are right, but not in this department. I have had two relationships from my diagnosis till now and hopefully no more (hint hint, haha). Relationships can be hard and difficult for the average person, but what about dating someone with Epilepsy?
When I first got diagnosed with Epilepsy, it was the right before the start of a new relationship. I was struggling to accept the diagnosis at this point, hiding it from everyone I could and only telling those who had to know. So when I started dating this new fellow, I was not sure what to say or how he would even react. Well good thing for me I did not have to tell him; I actually had a tonic-clonic seizure right in front of him within a week of dating. Thankfully, he kind of knew what to do and we were at his house with a few mutual friends. I eventually came to and I still remember how pale his face was. I must have had a dazed look as I struggled to recognize the faces around me. He started pointing to our friends asking their name and then pointed to himself and I remember yelling out “some dude that I’m dating…I don’t know, I can’t remember, but I know I am dating you” (this became a running joke between us for a while). The next morning, we had a little chat about Epilepsy and my seizures. He was intrigued and concerned, but reinforced me that it was okay and he wished I told him sooner. He willingly drove me to and from work so I could keep my job, let me sleep at his house so it would be a shorter drive and I could have more sleep, and wrote me notes every day when my memory started to fail me. Now I cannot say he was always this sweet. Eventually the epilepsy became a common occurrence before it was under controlled. Side effects from the medication had put stress on our relationship as well as welcoming two children. The pregnancies actually triggered seizures as well as stopped my seizures and that was a terrifying and stressful time. We eventually went our separate ways for very good reasons. Although, one reason on my behalf involved my Epilepsy but that is a story for a different time.
Now with my second and current relationship, things were little different. I was now a single mother with Epilepsy and in college. To me, I felt like this was already a lot of baggage to be bringing someone. I was always very open and not afraid to tell people I had children at the age of 22. I told him that right off the bat without a care. They were my world. But when it came to epilepsy I hesitated. He already took one suitcase, can he really take another? My seizures were controlled at the time and not frequent. When I went to tell him I made sure to emphasize that part and he was not fazed by it. He told me how he had family in the medical field and he actually went into telling me about his medical problems. It was actually really nice and he made me feel accepted. It was a while into dating before I had a friendly reminder that I have Epilepsy, but it occurred in my sleep while we were apart. I dreaded telling him but I did the following day. He asked if the girls were okay and told me we would have a relaxing weekend together. A few months later I had another nocturnal, I had always had my myoclonic jerks, and then I finally had my typical tonic-clonic seizure while bathing the girls. This is when he started to really worry. He worried with the others too and with every jerk, but the severity of the tonic-clonics and the what-ifs worried him more. This was his first experience with my typical seizures. I went on to having a nocturnal again the beginning of this year and he begged me to get a new neurologist as I was fighting to see the one I had at the time. Eventually the next tonic-clonic hit and sent me into a brick wall. That was it for me. I went right to a neurology clinic and got seen the following week.
Now this has put some stress overtime on our relationship. He was constantly worried about me as I still had driving privileges prior. He would be sure to text me and I would be sure text him that I was okay and made it to where I had to go. He would call me every night and every morning. He told me about the day I crashed my car a little later; “I didn’t hear from you that you got to your friend’s house and I started to worry, but then I told myself ‘she’s probably busy studying, she’s always alright’ and you weren’t. I still feel awful. I love you” and tears fell from both of our faces as I never truly understood he was so worried. I typically try to push Epilepsy to the back of my mind. It was not until my pediatric rotation I started to be a little more open and it was not until the accident that I truly stopped caring about judgement with coming forward. This is our reality and people needed to know.
My Boyfriend’s Perspective
You having Epilepsy did not bother me, that does not make you any different. I think the hardest part is the side effects of the medication; I noticed the difference as soon as you started them. It can be stressful. Yeah, I worry every day that something is going to happen to you or that could potentially die; but I know that can be avoided. With the medication, I do not know how to help you with your side effects. I am not sure what to do sometimes. Epilepsy itself does not make you different.
So what do I do?
Be honest – First and foremost always be honest, and tell them BEFORE a seizure happens. If they truly love you or want to be with you, they will want to be with you no matter what. If their opinion changes of you after you tell them you have epilepsy, do you really want to be with someone like that? You deserve better, much better, and there will be better out there for you. You do not need someone like that in your life.
Take the time to explain – Do not just walk up to your partner or potential partner and tell them you have Epilepsy and walk away. Sit down with them and explain to them the type of seizures, the frequency, what they should do for you, and what the medication you take is and potential side effects from them. This will help alleviate their stress and give you a peace of mind. Also, if you ever had a seizure in front of them they would be well prepared in knowing what to do and this could help give them a sense of confidence about your condition. I know it may sound overwhelming but honestly if they are a good person and are right for you, they would listen because they care.
Do not settle – I did not quite mention this but there was a point in my first relationship where I settled. I literally said to myself “who else would want me, I have Epilepsy.” I had a hard time accepting the diagnosis myself and did not have very good experiences with telling others. I felt like no one would ever accept me, so how could they possibly attempt to love me. But trust me, they will, someone will – I promise.
Take care of yourself – Sometimes we do need help, other times we do not. But knowing a seizure could happen without warning can be a stressor for both of you. Be sure to take care of yourself first! Take your medication, avoid triggers when possible, go to your regular appointments, and be on top of your care. This will allow your partner to relax and let you relax too knowing you are doing your very best to prevent a seizure from occurring.
Do not let Epilepsy stop you – Do not feel like you are any less deserving of dating or a good relationship just because you have Epilepsy. You can still go out, you can still enjoy yourself, and you can still enjoy the company of others. You are just the same as everyone else – you are beautiful, you are deserving, and you are amazing.
But wait, when do I tell them?
There is no set time limit on when to tell someone and this varies depending on yourself and when YOU feel comfortable. For me, the first time I was in denial – I probably would have waited a long while before telling him if my Epilepsy did not beat me to it. For my second relationship, I figured I might as well lay it all out on the table. At this point I learned if someone could not accept me for all of me, then I deserved better. I told him in the very beginning – perhaps even at our first date – that I had Epilepsy.
Remember, it is entirely YOUR choice when you tell someone. It is not an easy topic for some to talk about but do keep in mind it also may affect your partner the longer you wait. Just know that no matter what, they will still care for you and love you. They will also be mindful of your feeling about the topic. And if they do not, then take the advice a friend once gave me from a picture she had found:
“Some people will only love you as long as you fit in their box. Don’t be afraid to shove that box up their —”
(well, you get the idea)