Tales of Epilepsy: Refusing Treatment

For a long time, I refused any kind of treatment for my epilepsy. For a period of my life, I hated any kind of drug, even aspirin or acetaminophen, and refused to take anything. And I got endless harassment for it. It was my decision. It was my body, and my choice whether or not to pump chemicals into it, and I chose not to. I knew well the consequences of my decision—I knew that it left me open to seizures, should the circumstances, and my body’s reactions to them, be the right combination, and I chose not to take medication anyway.

I was foolish, people said. I wasn’t taking care of myself. Didn’t I know all of the bad things that could happen to me if I had a seizure at the wrong moment? I was being immature, people said. I should take medication. I didn’t like drugs? Well, I should suck it up and take them anyway. I was being selfish. How dare I!

I quickly saw it wasn’t about me for these people. It was about them. They would worry about me going away to college with untreated epilepsy. I inflicted my epilepsy upon others. My body, my neurological disorder, my choice to reject medication, and my seizures were mine. I made my decision, and I had to live with it. I had to live with my epilepsy every day. Not them.

Every partial, every seizure was an opportunity for friends, family, EMTs, ER staff, and random strangers to lecture me on my choice, and to attempt to cajole me into taking medication. I was already struggling with the loss of control over my own body. I was struggling with memory loss. I struggled with the injuries I’d gotten from falling down stairs, knocking my head on the concrete, the soreness from my body tensing up and then jerking about. I struggled with the indignity of pissing myself. I struggled with the humiliation of the lonely walk from the cab, the ambulance, to my bed, knowing I looked like hell, wasn’t quite fully aware yet, and very few actually cared enough about me and my well-being, to actually ensure I was alright. I struggled with the knowledge that I could not ever fulfill my dream of being an officer in the United States military because I had abnormal brain waves on an EEG, and these people were taking advantage of all of that to get me to do something I did not want to do, had chosen not to do, because they wanted me to do it, so I would not inconvenience them.

Sure, there were some good arguments. I could hurt someone else. My life would be much easier if I took medication. I—can’t actually think of anymore than that. But what no one considered is that I considered all of that already, and I still did not want medication. I had my reasons. They were even more intimate. Sometimes, I would get so frustrated I would blurt it out, in a desperate attempt to shut them up. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes I got, “So? Get over it already.”

My professors were outraged that I hadn’t told them while on a study abroad trip. So much so, in fact, that when I had one, they threatened to send me home if I didn’t take medication. I had very little choice. So I did. I took medication that had just been released in Europe, that hadn’t even been considered by the FDA in America, which I knew nothing about. When I forgot to bring the medication on a weekend trip, I was lectured, reduced to tears, forced to remain on the bus while the rest of my classmates toured a chateau, and forced to take a Xanax. I wouldn’t be allowed to join our group on our next stop, Auschwitz, if I didn’t take the Xanax. What choice did I have? None. So I did. I took a drug that I didn’t, and still don’t, even know the name of. I took a pill that I knew would do nothing for me because my professor thought it might, and that was all that mattered. My knowledge of my own disorder, my own body, didn’t matter.

When I got home from the trip, and that new drug ran out, I got on medication. Once I started, I couldn’t easily stop—my body adjusting to the lack of drugs would mean more partials and more seizures while the drug was purged from my body. I’ve been on medication ever since. It’s been a year and a half since my person was disregarded, my choice disrespected, and my agency taken from me. Everyone is happy I’m taking medication. They’re so pleased that I got a little keychain pillholder for emergencies. They’re satisfied that I’m being the Responsible Broken Body. Everyone is happy, but me.