Spreading Epilepsy Awareness Through Music

On seizures, strength, and songwriting

April Rose Gabrielli is a pop musician and singer who released a song to spread epilepsy awareness titled "I Woke Up Alive." In November 2020, April experienced her first seizures and was diagnosed that very month. This turn of events led her to learn more about her diagnosis and what she could expect moving forward to pursue her goals as an artist.

In 2021, she went into status epilepticus, having 5 seizures back-to-back. Nevertheless, April continued to write songs and signed her contract with Soho Records from her hospital bed. "I Woke Up Alive" tells the story of April's fight with epilepsy and how unpredictable it can be.

I interviewed April to hear more about her experiences.

Interview with singer April Rose Gabrielli

When was your first seizure?
My first seizure was in November 2020, followed by another within the hour! I was very fortunate overall. I was home, lying on my bed, just about to sleep. Luckily, I was not alone, and my partner called 911. I had another seizure once I was in the emergency room.

They were both (and still continue to be) tonic-clonic seizures preceded by an aura paired with auditory and visual hallucinations. I never have just one, kind of like a potato chip. They're cyclical seizures. I have had as many as 5 back-to-back within an hour.

When were you diagnosed with epilepsy?
I was diagnosed with epilepsy a few days after being admitted to the hospital after my first 2 seizures in November 2020! I woke up after having slept for 3 days because of all the medications, and they immediately told me I had epilepsy.

My first question was, "Am I going to be able to be on stage again?" They assured me that I do not suffer from photosensitive epilepsy (flashing lights, etc.) and that I experienced something very different.

It took about a year to determine my exact triggers, diagnosis, and medication combos. However, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about my seizures, although they are currently under control.

When did your love of music start?
I have loved music since I was a very little girl. My parents always had fun dance music playing throughout the house, and my mother taught me how to play piano at the age of 4! I became a dancer at the age of 6 and started to sing around 9 years old. I loved dancing, but singing and playing the piano felt like the absolute height of being able to express myself. I was hooked very early on.

I love writing, making, and listening to music, but I am absolutely engulfed by the experience of being able to perform it live.

How long have you been a musician?
It feels like I have been a musician my whole life! I was not formally trained in piano or voice but in the school chorus or drama club. Still, I have been a performer and a singer since 8, dabbling in musical theatre, writing my own musicals, and singing at open mic nights/singing competitions.

My first paid music gig was in 2012 for a hefty $50, and I have been able to be a full-time artist since 2018! It wasn't easy, though. I got rejected so many different times. I've been really close to signing record deals, but I never gave up thus far. Luckily, I've still had the freedom to create music regardless of my "rank," which makes me a musician, so I am satisfied with that.

How would you describe your music?
My music is honest, satirical, dramatic, and emotional. I keep within the alternative rock, pop, and folk-pop genres and try to keep the balance between simplistic and poetic lyrics. Many of my songs draw from poems I've written, personal experiences, or stories I've read.

You just dropped a song called "I Woke Up Alive," which was inspired to bring epilepsy awareness. What moment inspired this song?
A series of moments led to the completion of this song. It is both the summation and the introduction to the full record. I was at the end of finishing my record, but it felt incomplete.

I kept writing, and nothing really stuck, but I was growing and healing at a fast rate, so I was doing my best to take it all in and do the best I could. During this time and while I was recovering, I began to make sense of my own experiences through other stories.

I read books, talked to other similar people, and took my daily deep dives on Reddit. I read Kurt Eichenwald's "A Mind Unraveled" – he is a New York Times best-selling author with epilepsy. He writes about his entire personal, medical, and professional journey. It was the first moment I felt seen or understood. He was speaking my (new) language. I also picked up Leslie Gray Streeter's "Black Widow.: She's also a writer who suddenly loses her husband, and she shares every honest moment of the journey in the best way possible.

Eichenwald's book informed me, and Streeter's book healed me. There were many other instances – like learning about epilepsy from Reddit users who had a seizure in the morning and then climbed a mountain the same day. People are amazing in the face of adversity.

Learning about other experiences gave me a sense of clarity that I couldn't find anywhere else, and it was essential to my healing. I thought it would be worth sharing if I could even give one person the clarity or insight that I received from the bravery of others.

What made you vulnerable enough to share your journey through song?
I started writing music to communicate the way I was feeling, whether it was to a loved one, the world, or myself. While I wanted to try and ignore what was going on with me and stick to dramatic ballads or fun pop songs, I began to realize I didn't really know a life without feeling this way anymore.

That reality is often complicated for me to handle, but I felt it necessary to share my story. Finding the right words and music is usually tricky, but I also had to work to regain my speech and communication and re-establish my thought patterns. My brain has totally changed from the physical damage, medications, and trauma, so there was a lot of relearning, reading, practicing, and focusing than ever.

Honestly, I just couldn't not write about it.

Check out more from April Rose Gabrielli on her website.

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