Swimming With Epilepsy

Do you like to swim? I sure do. But even as an adult going for a splash, I know it's important to have someone else present when I'm in the water.

I loved swimming as a kid

I always loved to swim. I'll never forget when I was a little girl doggie paddling in a hotel pool in Saratoga Springs. Or in the community pool near a summer house my grandfather bought in Pennsylvania. Lakes were beautiful and a pleasure to be in, too. After all, I wasn't too short to stand or walk in those.

Then came age 6 when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Having complex partial seizures and going unaware, as well as simple partial seizures every now and then. My swimming freedom was gone and I did not have any choice but to wear a life jacket.

Not allowed to swim with epilepsy

After a period of time, my parents told I wasn't allowed swim to because of seizures. I begged them to let me go in the water. "But I HAVE AURAS!!" was a response I gave. My mother would then say, "Even though you have auras it can be dangerous."

But by third grade, my epileptologist approved me going swimming. I was very excited and went for swim classes at a YMCA in Queens, New York. And even though I never wanted to believe it, it was true: if you're swimming and have a seizure disorder, there should always be at least one person with you. It's a matter of safety.

When I was done with swim lessons, I received compliments of what a great swimmer I was. But don't mention butterfly stroke, which is very hard. It sounds like everything was great, right?

Having a seizure in a pool

I will never forget in Atlantic City, walking into the pool and suddenly a complex seizure began. Sometimes when a person has an aura there is not enough of time to tell someone. This was one of those times. I was almost 3-feet deep and all I remember is the beginning with my head moving forward.

Luckily, the lifeguard rescued me. I will admit, he was good looking, too! But swimming was no longer allowed on that day. At first, I begged to go back in. Then I accepted the truth and we took a nice walk on the boardwalk. That was always a fun part of Atlantic City.

How to stay safe when swimming?

I think it's important to ave at least one person with you when swimming, even if there is a lifeguard or your seizures are under control. Because even if your seizures have been under control for a year, there is still always the chance that one will randomly happen. That's how it goes with epilepsy.

My mother came into the pool with me before being diagnosed and after. I am 35 and know if we are on vacation and I want to swim, there needs to be a lifeguard and she needs to be there. If there is not a lifeguard, could the person you're with pick you up and out of the water on their own?

Boogie boarding and swimming in the ocean

Another time, a friend in junior high invited me to a beach club she belonged to. Us girls went in the pool together, walking, jumping, and diving in. Then we'd hit the beach, and our mothers came with us there to supervise. Boogie boarding looked like so much fun, and I finally talked my mom into letting me do it.

The girls went in with our board and we were waiting for a wave. While waiting, a rip current pulled my board back and as I got deeper and deeper, a seizure occurred. I was no longer aware, except somehow, was still on the board.

Nearly drowning from a seizure

At first, no one noticed. Then suddenly, my best friend's mom told my mother I was having a seizure – but she only knows how to doggie paddle. Luckily, my friend's mom was very tall and strong. She and her daughter saved my life. (Thank you, Pat!)

After that, I was no longer allowed to boogie board and only able to go up to my waist in the ocean.

Stay safe when swimming with epilepsy!

Thankfully speaking, I haven't been in an incident like that since. The last time I swam was 2 years ago. It was so much fun with 2 other adult friends in a community pool out in Long Island. My seizures are more under control and I do not go unaware any longer, but when it was time for them to get out, I followed. Even if I'm having fun, I can't take the risk of having a seizure and drowning.

Just remember, safety comes first. And if you have to wear a life jacket or you're unable to swim at all, do not feel a shame. There are many other fun things to do during vacation!

Community Poll

I have experienced the following signs during a seizure.

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

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

How often do you think about your seizure triggers?