Suffering, Perseverance, and Hope
Mathematics was my worst subject in school, but let me show you what appears to be a cool algebra formula for life: (S x T = P) (P + L) = C = (H + F)
Written another way: Suffering over Time = Perseverance, which continued through our Lives = our Character, and our own Character in life equals the Hope and Fulfillment in the lives we provide to others.
My epilepsy has been a factor in most of my job losses, rejections from women (during bachelorhood), 5 car accidents, and every period of isolation I've known. I've had it almost all of my 59 years. Believe it or not, though, I feel that my life is blessed. Yeah, I'm blessed! I've always found someone whose situation is harder than my own.
A particularly hard time in my epilepsy journey
1991 was the worst year of my life. The frequency of my seizures skyrocketed because of the stress at work, resulting in those car wrecks and being fired from my job for the first time. Unable to support myself financially, I suffered in exile at my parents' home in a rinky-dink farm town where I knew no one. People on the one-lane streets weren't staring at me because of the seizures they'd seen me have, but rather, because they wondered who I was and no one would give me a hospitable greeting. Worse, my medication had me entertaining suicidal thoughts for the first time in my life.
I watched TV all day until the channels stopped broadcasting at midnight, then took walks on country roads. One clear night I shouted to the stars, "God, I lived by your Golden Rule and treated others good! Why are you doing this to me?!" Then all was silent except for the whistling winter wind. I looked for a shooting star or some other heavenly action that might confirm that my plea had been heard. None was seen.
Remembering what I have to be thankful for
Because hindsight is 20/20, if I had thought about it then, I would've easily remembered some people worse off than me. I'd met people who seized several times a day. I'd seen men fight for a cardboard box to shelter them from the Chicago winter. I'd seen people beg on the streets for food. I'd seen people paralyzed following a car wreck, whereas I walked away from all of mine with only a cracked rib in the final accident. And I knew how to write my name and solve an algebra problem.
If I'd have really thought about it, I would've recalled being a volunteer counselor at a special needs day camp every summer I was in high school. Some campers were children, and others were adults with Down’s Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities. As a counselor, our campers' many conditions included a boy who was deaf, a boy with muscular dystrophy, and a girl who was born with an open spine, among many others.
Every night after camp, I thanked God for giving me a brain too busy to control itself. And really, I didn't think of myself as being "handicapped" until a Navy recruiter called me that when I was 18. All the Armed Services denied me the chance for a military career that I'd prepared years for. Their insistence that I was disabled angered me more than at anything before or since. My parents consoled me then that if God shuts one door, he opens another.
And before bitterness had the opportunity to rot my heart, I got a college scholarship from my state senator who let me run his local office while attending college.
Suffering with epilepsy, but still persevering
My suffering was appalling in 1991, though. At that time, bitterness did start to metastasize, but new doorways opened after time to return to school and learning TV production. Slowly, I began to remember that no matter how bad my life with epilepsy seemed to be, there was always someone in worse shape than me.
Eventually, I taught in China. But unlike my heart in 1991, when several Chinese universities fired me for having seizures in their classes, they were joyous opportunities to move and see other cities and make even more friends. If it wasn't for the fact that a university in Changchun fired me, I'd have never become engaged to my wife in Shanghai. And it was that school's termination that moved me within minutes of her in Guangzhou. And without all that, we wouldn't have the exceptional daughter we cherish today.
Hope and inspiration from others
The suffering of a young woman named Aimee Copeland near me in Georgia made national headlines in 2012. She contracted a "flesh-eating" disease while ziplining. The media raved how the disease ate both hands, one entire leg, and part of a foot of this robust hiker and swimmer in days! After losses like those, anyone would've been sympathetic if she'd just raved before crawling under a rock and hiding. Instead, she now has a foundation of her own that acquires tracked-all-terrain vehicles so that others like her can enjoy hiking in wooded parks. And she's a yoga instructor and a motivational speaker.
When I learned her story, I felt utterly ashamed of my behavior in 1991. The character of her and others exemplifies hope and fulfillment! She encourages me to make the most of my life.
Living with epilepsy and gratitude
Every day begins for me by remembering to be grateful that I am sleeping under a roof with people who love me, there is food in my belly, and that even if my brain doesn't operate like others think it should, my mind is still sharp and productive.
Finally, I'm grateful simply to have woken up – something that many people around the world didn't do and never will do again. All part of PERSEVERANCE.
It's enjoyable to see the facial expressions of garbagemen, check-out clerks, or gardeners who I don't know break into smiles when I take the initiative to say, "Hi. Have a great day." Then, I'm helping to contribute to some HOPE for FULFILLMENT in others' lives.
Has epilepsy impacted your memory?
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