Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seizures, Memes, and Society

I experienced my first diagnosed seizure when I was 15.  It was a Friday afternoon, and I was incredibly excited for the home football game that night.  I rushed home after school, and Grandmother kindly offered to fix me a snack before I headed out.  She was a master at making amazing breakfast foods at any hour of the day, and amongst my favorite meals was her scrambled eggs, bacon, and chocolate chip pancakes.  As a young person, I always felt a sense of peace when I was in Grandmother's kitchen.  It was a place where a person was given hugs, good meals, and encouragement.  I recall being tired that afternoon, but that was not unusual at the end of a busy week for an over-achieving teenager.  It was a stressful time in my life.  My mother was in the midst of the unwinding of her toxic second marriage, and my grandparents had kindly taken me in when things became too unstable in my home life.  Thus, being in my Grandmother's kitchen to enjoy a meal before a teenage adventure was a welcome respite from the turbulence I had experienced in my young life.

I can clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table in my tee shirt & shorts that warm afternoon as Grandmother cooked.  I recall sitting down in her chair, instead of my usual spot on the opposite side of the table.  I was hungry and could hardly wait for her delicious cooking.  I was laying on a gurney and they were telling me that I had to go to the hospital.  I did not want to go to the hospital, I wanted to go to the football game!  My mother was suddenly there and she & Grandmother were staring at me with fear in their eyes.  I kept begging the men to leave me alone; I pleaded with my mother not to let them take me away.  I could not understand what was happening, or why I could not form the words I needed, or where the time had disappeared.  I began crying helplessly out of profound fear.  I was so scared, and so weak.

The preceding paragraph is an accurate representation of the disjointed experience for me of having a seizure.  Life seems normal, and then it is altered forever.  It has always amused me that I recall little things up until the start of a brain seizure, and then I simply lose time.  As horrifying as it is to realize one's body can fail without warning, the hardest part for me was always the memory loss.  I pride myself on recalling precise details and having a good vocabulary.  My experiences with brain seizures is that they rob me of both of these things.  A seizure renders me alone, scared, without words, and outside of the normal human experience of those around me.  It has taken me a very long time to have any kind of acceptance or peace with this reality of my world. 

As a teenager, I had another diagnosed seizure at 16, and then went on a medication which I detested.  I took it faithfully for two years, and then blissfully went off of it as my neurologist said those two experiences were likely anomalies.  I went off to university, sure that these experiences were just terrible memories.  When I filled out my college medical paperwork, one of the questions was "do you have epilepsy?"  I checked the box labelled NO without hesitation.  After all, society made fun of epileptics.  They were oddities who could not control themselves.  I was certainly not going to be ridiculed as a weak person.  Then, at the end of my freshman year of college, I had a major seizure which caused me to stop breathing.  I was incredibly fortunate that my college roommate was with me, and she knew CPR.  I can recall that we went to brunch at the dining hall that Sunday morning, and then returned to our room to study.  She later told me that I suddenly sat up on my bed where I was reading and looked at her strangely, and then fell back and began turning blue.  

After this experience, I was put on Depakote, which became a wonder drug for me.  It allowed me to go through life without worrying about having a seizure, worrying about my body failing me, worrying about people ridiculing me.  Society can be very judgmental on those of us with physical disorders -- which is funny since every single one of us has something.  After seventeen years of being on Depakote, however, my life changed and it became clear that I needed to transition.  Thanks to the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, I was able to stop taking the Depakote.  I had no idea that when I stopped taking medication, that was the start of a new journey of learning how my neurological system operated.  For my whole adult life, the drug had worked the wonder of masking all my symptoms.  Without it, I encountered an array of physical issues and I experienced more seizures.  

I slowly learned that what I thought were annoying tics and muscle issues and painful migraines were actually the warning signs that my body used to tell me when my neurological system was struggling.  It is my new normal, and I have learned to take comfort that my body tells me when something is wrong.  Since I have brain seizures, they do not manifest as typical seizures.  Instead, it appears that I simply faint.  As a child, I often fainted.  I now suspect that these were brief seizures.  My grandmother's younger sister had epilepsy, but Grandmother had no idea I was experiencing a seizure on that Friday night so long ago when I was 15, because I simply fell off my chair and became unresponsive.  Now I know that it is my body giving off warning signs when I begin to experience tics in my face, when my muscles feel so heavy it is hard to function, and when the inside of my head becomes a painful maze of fog.  I understand now that my body has not failed -- rather, my body & my mind are trying to function together to the best of their ability despite any & all challenges.

My last recent seizures were on my birthday and on Thanksgiving in 2015.  Since then I have successfully been able to care for myself so that I do not reach the point where my body experiences a seizure.  I have stopped hating my body for failing me, and started accepting that everybody has something.  I have stopped detesting the warning signs my body experiences, and started embracing that my body tells me when it needs more care.  But the most important part of this is that I have stopped hiding the reality of my experience, and telling more people that I have epilepsy.  That I am fortunate enough to have epilepsy.  How tremendously boring it must be for those of you who wake up every morning without wondering what level of functionality your body will have that day!  For me and for others with neurological conditions, it is a surprise every day.  And I am now at peace with that.

I still do not find it easy to discuss my neurological condition with others.  The reason I am doing so now is not for my own benefit, but because of a meme.  A silly, inaccurate meme that really has no impact on me -- but could impact others.  Recently I saw a shared meme that was attempting to portray Hilary Clinton as weak, and mocked her for taking a weekend off to rest because she "has seizures and wears diapers".  I have some policy disagreements with Secretary Clinton, thus this is not an endorsement of her as a candidate.  It is, however, a powerful indictment of anyone who wants to portray a woman as weak because she might have seizures.  I like to think of myself as quite a badass in most situations, yet there are many times that I have to force myself to rest in an effort to care for my mind & my body.  I do not know if Secretary Clinton actually has seizures, but if she does then she has become a much stronger & more interesting person in my mind.  And I want to correct the perception that seizures equal weakness.

Memes can be funny things, and are far too easy to share.  I know the person who shared the meme that has stuck in my craw did not share it to hurt me in any way.  In fact, that person is one of my all-time favorite & most supportive friends -- which illustrates to me that as a society we have a problem censoring ourselves when appropriate.  I have no doubt that if this friend had considered how such a meme could impact me, the "share" button would never have been hit.  So I am asking you, my friends, to truly think before sharing a meme . . . Have you verified the "facts" contained?  Does it make you a better person to disparage another human being?  Could you be inadvertently hurting through this meme someone who truly loves you?  I wish I could restrict all memes to feature only adorable cats, funny goats, Downton Abbey, and Ron Swanson.  In lieu of this, I am asking you to be my missionaries for a polite society, for a kind world -- only share in any circumstance what you know to be true, and only put into this world what will truly make it better.

You see, this does not so much matter for me.  I have spent many years on my journey with seizures.  I know how to care for my body, and I am far too stubborn & independent to be hurt by a silly meme.  But there are many young people who are just starting down their road with seizures, and such a silly meme could hurt their young hearts.  It could make them feel they are less of a person because they have epilepsy. It could set them up for the same experience I had as a teenager of always feeling ashamed when jokes were made about epileptics.  I could not bear for such a thing to happen to a young person, and so I wanted to share my story.  Even more important, there are many young people who do not have epilepsy who could see such a meme -- and view it as justification to make fun of those who do.  After all, if it is okay for an adult to make fun of someone with seizures, a young person can easily make the leap that it is okay for them to make fun of someone with epilepsy as well . . . Or cancer, or diabetes, or a mental illness, or a physical handicap.  This is not okay, and only the adults have the capacity to stop this.

If you have made it all the way through my post, you are a good friend, and I know you will be a guardian of the young minds around you and a missionary for a better society.  My request of you is that when you meet a person who has seizures -- whether from epilepsy or from a brain tumor or from another situation -- that you be ready to say to them, "You have seizures?  Wow, that is a really interesting fact about you.  You must be a tremendously strong and fascinating person from experiencing those.  A goatherd I know once told me on great authority that seizures are the result of a brain that is far too powerful for a normal body and thus needs to re-boot from time to time like a supercomputer."  Those words could change the life of a person you meet who struggles to accept their own physical challenges -- whether it is a young person or even Hilary Clinton.  And I will always maintain that having a physical challenge makes you far stronger and far more of a badass than anyone who creates memes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August Update from the Farm

Happy August from Harrison Farm!  This has been a busy summer at the farm -- and the animals have contributed to that by being especially unruly!  BeyoncĂ© the Chicken continues to recover from injuries sustained during a raccoon attack in June, Pajamas the Goat maintains her role as most loving goat on the farm, and we are currently saving up for some veterinary treatments for our beloved donkey Cecilia.  Finn Lambkins is settling into his role as herd bellwether, and I continue to work on ideas for the children's book which I would love to write about him.  We recently had another baby goat join the herd . . . Meet the adorable Kaity Cupcake!

We are very excited for our upcoming on-farm dinner!  It will take place on Saturday 8/13/16 at Harrison Farm, 5278 Berger Road 43125.  Tickets for the dinner are $60, and can be reserved by responding to this email.  Guests are welcome for tours of the farm & appetizers starting at 5:00pm.  Dinner will be served at 6:00pm, and guests can bring their own wine or beer to enjoy with their dinner.  We recommend a full-bodied red wine to accompany the delicious Harrison Farm lamb chops!  We hope to dine outside, but should it rain we will gather around the farmhouse table inside.  We will be enjoying an amazing menu by Chef Kristin Root Reese, that will highlight summer flavors.  Since we had to close ticket sales last month before some of our friends were able to reserve their spot, we are again offering delicious Harrison Farm lamb chops for the entree so more people can try them.  Please join us!  

If you cannot attend this month's dinner, but you would like to try some delicious lamb chops (or goat chops!), we have both lamb & goat available for sale.  My interns have tried lamb and goat during dinners at the farm, and they have given very favorable responses!  Our available options include rib chops, loin chops, roasts, shoulder chops, kabob meat, and ground.  We also have organ meats for the truly adventurous cooks!  Our animals are pasture-raised, and grain-finished.  We welcome visitors to the farm who would like to see the atmosphere in which they are raised.  I truly believe they provide delicious meats!

Our animal-inspired jewelry business is starting to take off!  Thus far, dogs have definitely been the most popular animal for the etched crystal jewelry . . . There is now a dachshund, a Maltese, and a Labrador retriever gracing the necks of three of the most stylish women in our area!  We are starting to book shows for the upcoming months, and I can hardly wait for the first one.  Looking for a beautiful necklace, eye-catching earrings, or a really cool prism for someone who loves animals?  Keep in mind that we can deliver to those in the Columbus area!  

The summer is moving too quickly, and I am treasuring my final weeks with my amazing group of interns!  We had some truly outstanding adventures in July, and I am extremely grateful to all of my friends who offered their time for our educational adventures on our "Friday Fun Days".  Our recent adventures have included a trip to Western Ohio to visit a hog operation and an alpaca farm, as well as a trip to Northeast Ohio to see a dairy and a hay operation.  I am very blessed to have such phenomenal young ladies interning on my farm, and I appreciate so much how all of my former interns (and student assistants) have become like family to me.  In fact, I am excited to have the pleasure of officiating at TWO weddings in 2017 for young women who worked for me during their school days!  My interns receive a diverse experience as they learn about my work with celebrations and animals and teaching, and I am most grateful for what they contribute to Harrison Farm.

As always, please know how much I appreciate the support that all of my friends offer! I write these email updates myself to share with you more of the adventures of the farm, and I send it specifically to those I know.  I have encouraged Finn Lambkins to take over some of our marketing efforts for the farm, but thus far he feels his full-time job is being adorable!  I am extraordinarily grateful for the kindness which our friends show.  This allows Harrison Farm to keep working to achieve its mission of enriching lives by connecting people with animals & farming!

Katherine Harrison & all the animal friends