Achieving My Dreams While Living With Epilepsy

A new friend of mine who doesn't have epilepsy but reads my columns replied, "Boy, you've really done a lot of things with epilepsy!" He went further and said that most everyone he knows with it are on disability, and as he put it, "have their wings clipped" because of their prohibition to drive, employers' inflexibility, or their personalities are impaired by pharmaceutical side effects.

The many things I've achieved with epilepsy

I've just turned 60 and have been epileptic since I was a toddler. He's right, though, I have done a lot of things: worked on a leading TV soap opera, been the assignment editor at a TV news station, taught English in China, been a stock broker – to name a few. 

Once the US Navy shut the door on me to serve it, I was elected the youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention before my age had ever given me the opportunity to vote for a president. Presently, I substitute teach and have my own TV show about epilepsy on YouTube with an international audience.

Seizures have interfered

Unfortunately, my complex seizures interfered many times. Throughout my 30s, I couldn't earn enough to pay for my medication, so it was necessary to accept part-time employment so that I didn't lose my government assistance.

I haven't been sweating when doing these things because I was able to make things work first by arrangements with my parents, and in later years, working things out with my wife. My "retirement years" are looming, and I am dependent on my wife's income.

Sometimes things work out as they should

You might think that I'm panicky, but I'm not. Things have a way of working out. 

For instance, when I lost my job as a broker, it freed me to learn TV in school. When I lost my work at the TV show, it freed me to return to my parents, where my dad welcomed me because he was exhausted caring 24/7 for my mother, who was fighting 3 terminal diseases. When I lost my job teaching English in Changchun, China, it freed me to go do it in Shanghai – and meet the woman who would become my wife.

Getting used to failing – epilepsy or no epilepsy

I've written to you before that we must learn how to deal with failure. They say the average millionaire fails 16 times. (I should be a veritable billionaire now.) 

As much as it hurt me to see SpaceX's Starship explode (for those who follow space exploration), I'm confident I'll see it work because the leaders and engineers are some of the most passionate workers in the field. They also know how to differentiate between a dream and a fantasy.

Difference between a dream and a fantasy

Our peers in the epileptic community must learn to differentiate between a dream and a fantasy, too. We have to do this if we ever hope to rid ourselves of all fear, bitterness, and shame

A dream is a cherished ambition, and an ambition can often be an obsessive and overwhelming goal. Meanwhile, a fantasy is a continually strong and entertaining desire that is unobtainable – whether it is against the laws of physics, our financial means at the time... or because of the limitations epilepsy has imposed upon us.

Can you join the military with epilepsy?

Growing up, I planned on being a career officer in the Navy until I would transfer to NASA and be an astronaut. With plenty of early achievements and excellent grades, despite my epilepsy, I truly thought I'd beat the system because I'd always heard, "You can do anything you put your mind to."

But who was I kidding? I was only kidding myself that if I unable to drive a 15-year old station wagon, why would the Navy let me work with $100 million weapons systems? Or why would NASA let me fly a space shuttle? Just because Julius Caesar was a triumphant warrior, I had to be realistic that he was working with spears, arrows, and chariots rather than laser-guided missiles or advanced weapons.

Accepting the limitations of my epilepsy

I learned that I was living a fantasy. I'll admit to you though that it took loads of soul searching over years until I grasped that my limitations. I had to twist my reasoning. I said I wanted to do those things to "serve my country," but could that be done in other ways than yielding weapons? Being involved in politics was a so-so alternative.

Finding a new path toward my dream

It took decades before I realized my dream to serve America was as a goodwill ambassador to China, which I was doing in essence by being a kind and happy English teacher to college students. Few of my students had ever met a foreigner, and no one at the 6 schools at which I taught had ever met an American. I made good friends everywhere, who all said, "You’re not what I thought an American would be like."

I sleep easy with the satisfaction that I realized my dream to serve America by giving influential Chinese citizens (all of them were either studying education or law) a sight of what real Americans were like. I'm proud that I might have been a bigger helper to America than if I'd been a Navy officer or astronaut.

Epilepsy may close a door... So open another!

When a door is slammed in your face, don't pout and give up. Do an objective analysis of what went wrong, what the other person was thinking, or something you didn't bring up in your argument. Maybe there are many more people with just more qualifications and skills for a job than you. Then decide: Am I wanting a dream or a fantasy?

Once that determination is made, don't be as stubborn as I was in wanting to go directly from Point A to Point D. Our disability might make it appear to be totally impossible because we can't get to Point B. After researching our dreams, it might be evident that we can't get to Point B, but we can get to Point M, which links to Point E, via which Point D is achievable!

Maintain your faith that there is a reason for everything that happens, and do not be afraid to fail. Everyone fails at something.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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