As an academic advisor, I think it’s important to be open and authentic with the students I work with about my experiences so that they know that they are not alone in whatever it is that they are up against. This will be the first time I have ever written anything publicly about my diagnosis of epilepsy, but as Robin Roberts says, “Make your mess your message.”
So here it goes . . .
My diagnosis of epilepsy has greatly influenced my life – both good and bad. You are probably sitting there wondering, how can having epilepsy be a good thing? The truth is, I’ve learned a lot in the (almost) 10 years of living with this chronic health issue. For starters, though under great control (insert: knocks on wood, bites tongue, counts blessings etc…), I know that it is never going away, and that it is highly unpredictable. Learning to live with something that is never going away and that is highly unpredictable also means learning how to not worry about when you are not going to feel well, or when you are going to have to change your medication dosage, or when something bad is going to happen next. It means learning to live more fully in the moment – NOW. I can’t say that I’m perfect at this by any means, but I have become a lot better at it over the years.
Though having epilepsy is not my whole life, it certainly has played a role in who I am today and the student affairs professional I strive to be. As a student, I at time periods experienced pre-seizure spells, multiple seizures per day, and severe side effects from medication, which often felt like the most grueling time of life.
I know what it feels like to want to give up, and then to have one educator, at just the right moment, come up to you and tell you a joke, or just simply listen when everything feels like it is going wrong. I have had several educators throughout high school and college that have had this very special way of helping me cope with everything I have been forced to endure when it comes to living with an unpredictable chronic health issue. It is because of these few special people, and their ability to see me, as a person and a student, and not just a disability and a label, that set me on the path I am today. And it is because of their consistency and support that I was able to reach my goals and achieve success.
My personal and academic challenges with epilepsy put me in a unique place where I am able to empathize with struggling students that I work with. I understand what it is like to be a student who needs extra assistance with learning and overcoming academic hurdles because of a disability. I understand what it feels like to feel as though a million eyes are judging you when really they are only your own eyes. I realize that by working in the higher education profession, I have chosen a field where it is easy to judge students and label them. I vow never to be the person who judges students for what they cannot do. As student affairs professionals, we have so many opportunities to positively or negatively impact the students we interact with. It is my hope that I can be a mentor for the students that I work with because I believe that every student deserves to have someone to turn to for guidance, support, and advice. I only hope that I can be as helpful as my mentors who have been there for me.
Having epilepsy has in some ways been a blessing in disguise for me. This diagnosis has given me so many precious life lessons along the way. Epilepsy has taught me that everyone has a story and everyone is different. I have learned that I must always keep the person and the story separate. I carry this understanding with me everyday, the knowledge that we are all facing individual battles which help shape us as people. Those battles make us stronger, more empathetic, and more compassionate.
Epilepsy may be my mess, but I will continue to make it my message.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Anne Scheideler Sweet on Academic Advising