Injuries are the place where the worlds of athletics and epilepsy collide (ha, get it? “collide”). Both sets of experiences are fraught with risk. One is by choice, one is not. I’ve had some pretty good injuries over the years.
The worst athletic injury I’ve had was during a roller derby practice. I was just skating and completely wiped out. I can’t even say it was during a practice rally or I was going backwards or something super cool. I was just not paying attention and my feet went out from under me and I landed hard on my backside. I bruised my tailbone and pulled a lot of muscles in my lower back. I spent a few weeks in a “robaxa-coma”, where I spent my time lying on the floor of my apartment because walking hurt and pain meds made me sleep. This was more than six years ago but it’s easy for me to pull those muscles. I have to be careful even when I’m doing yoga, because even stretching can hurt my back. During my first half-marathon I got a hairline fracture in my right foot. Following that, while trying to take it easy and keep the weight off my right side, I chafed the knee joints on my left side.
The worst epileptic injury I’ve had was a few weeks before my 30th birthday when I knocked out some teeth. I was just hanging out with a friend chatting before we parted ways in the parking lot of a restaurant and I fell forward and smushed my face on a concrete parking block. I needed stitches in my chin, tore up my cheek and earned a pretty good shiner to boot. In other circumstances, I fell down stairs and got black eyes, fell outside and tore up my knees and smoked my head on any number of bathroom counters.
There have been subsidiary injuries, not related to a specific athletic activity or being epileptic. One of the side effects of the epilepsy medication is that I have vertigo. It’s the most obvious to me when I’m running, because sometimes I will stumble or trip.
Sometimes injuries just happen. One time I fell off a treadmill because I wasn’t paying attention. One time I landed on my backside hard because I slipped on ice outside my house. I’ve hurt my back vacuuming. Last year I was running a race and I slipped on loose gravel. I didn’t pull anything, or twist anything, I just slipped. Because I was bleeding, the medical team wouldn’t let me finish the race. I tried to explain to them that it was just a topical scratch, and not unusual and that I only had a couple more kilometres to go. No dice. I’m actually registered for the same race coming up, and I am doggedly determined that I will finish it. That includes wearing black running crops that cover my knees, so if I do fall and am bleeding, it’s not visible. If it happens again and I can’t finish the race, I will get myself a pair of red running tights, in the style of Deadpool.
I can’t just choose to stop getting injured because of my epilepsy, or because of the side effects of medications. I can choose to stop getting injured running or skating or stretching but to do so successfully would mean a complete cessation of those activities. Instead, I can stretch carefully before running. I can stretch carefully before skating. I can attend beginner hot yoga sessions, because I find that even after all the years I’ve been practicing, I just want a basic stretch. I don’t need to do headstands. I have to pay attention when I’m skating, or running (especially trail running). A little bit of environmental awareness is not difficult.
The world is not an injury-free place. Unless someone is willing to envelop themselves up in bubble wrap and stay away from every possible foreseeable incident, there’s no way to entirely avoid it. I can slip on the ice outside just as easily as I can slip in the shower. I can trip walking up the stairs in my house as easily as I can on a flight of stairs in a park. There are so many experiences that could be missed by not going outside and not experiencing things (athletic or otherwise).
When I was playing roller derby, I got to see my friends a couple times a week at practice. I still have my skates and equipment and still go skating for fun with them. I would completely consider that worth the risk of another tailbone incident. I would risk the face smushing incident again too, if it meant the difference between socializing with friends and only staying home alone. I would still pick all of the things I do knowing that there is the risk of injury. So even though being an epileptic is out of my control, the way I choose to live is within my control, risks and all. I love everything I’ve done, because I’ve seen what I can handle, and I know that in every one of those circumstances, I made it through.