Friday, July 20, 2007

Living with monthly Epilepsy seizures

In the summer of 1993, when she was 13, Jenn Lamothe was struck in the head by a baseball. After a brief examination by her family physician, the injury was considered nothing more than a "goose egg" on the forehead and she was sent on her way. In the 14 years that have passed, the injury has not only led to Lamothe being diagnosed as an uncontrolled epileptic; she has lost friends and her job because of it.

"I was in Grade 8, and I was at school when I had my first seizure," says Lamothe. "I just dropped to the ground and that was it." Now 27, Lamothe says she has about three seizures a month and she has learned to live with them, but things weren't always this "stable." As a child, Lamothe's seizures were easy to control as long as she took the proper medication, but around age 20, the pills stopped working and things got out of hand, she says.

"My pills stopped working and I started having seizures constantly," she says. "I have the old funky-chicken grand-master seizures. I was having them two or three times a week and trying to work full-time, but that wasn't really working well." Brought on by "any kind of overall stress - mental, emotional or physical - that becomes too overwhelming," Lamothe says the seizures have left her body bruised by the falls and she often doesn't remember much when she wakes from them.

"It's a part of life and I have come to accept that now, but there will be days, as I say, 'Jenn is out of order' days that I won't work, so I might as well just make use of the days that I do." Throughout her struggle, Lamothe visited countless physicians, but none could provide a full diagnosis, they simply told her she was epileptic and "not controlled anymore." After trying to battle the disease herself, Lamothe traded her full-time job for the safety of her home, but with nowhere to go and fewer and fewer friends coming to visit, she says she fell in a rut.

"You just kind of get sucked into this little hole," she says. "If nobody asks you to talk, you don't talk and you start losing the ability to talk. I felt like that old woman that you ask 'how are you doing?' and she goes off, 'Oh, my sciatica is acting up and my knees...' and so I just stopped going out. "I didn't want to see people anymore, so I just stayed home." Living in Barrie at the time with her husband Jacques' salary as their sole means of survival, the couple decided to move to Sudbury to be closer to family and where the living is more affordable.

Once here, Lamothe, who is originally from Hawkestone, says she spent four years at home, refusing to leave, trying to fight the epilepsy. "Everybody tells you that you have to fight, you know, you have to fight ... and in some cases you do," she says. "You have to be resilient and you have to keep trying to find an answer, but after awhile, if the answers aren't coming, are you losing your life in between? "Those four years where I thought, 'Hey, I'm really working and I'm fighting this disease off.' I was just sitting on the couch. I wasn't doing anything and it's really one of those moments where I said 'you know what? Forget this.' "

By setting goals that may seem mundane to many, such as getting dressed or walking to the corner store alone, and by changing to a vegetarian diet for more energy, Lamothe says she has been able to gain back some of the independence she lost years ago. "It has taken me three years since I have really been trying to work up to getting a full-time life back," Lamothe says. "I'm not there yet, but I'm trying my very best. I am going to suck everything I can out of every minute that I am awake and I will do everything I can." For the last six months, Lamothe has been working from home as a freelance writer and has managed to have five of her works published in The Sudbury Star.

With her most recent effort, a short essay about her struggle with epilepsy, Lamothe was named one of the winners of CBC's "This I Believe" essay contest. She will get a chance to tell her story on CBC Radio One. Lamothe says she heard of the opportunity on the radio one morning as Jacques was getting up for work. After visiting the website and submitting her essay, she says it took producers less than three hours to call her back to say they wanted her to come in and record it for the show.

"They have about 40 essays that they've asked famous Canadians to write and read and then they have people from all over Canada sending some in," Lamothe says. "Essentially, what the essay is about is that you put what a really personal belief of yours is. It's a way to share beliefs with all of Canada without really forcing anybody to change their beliefs.

"So with my essay being about epilepsy, I decided to write about that point in my life where I realized, 'You know what? I can't keep fighting sickness if it isn't going to get any better, so maybe I should just learn to live with it.' " With Jacques' help, which she says has been her strength through it all, that is exactly what Lamothe plans to keep doing.


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