This entry is really important, because I want to acknowledge the amazing people who made my trip to Anaheim a success. I’m back now in Calgary, and slowly starting to adjust to the winter temperatures.
First of all, I want to say thank you to the organizers of Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland Resort (www.epilepsyawarenessday.org). Even among the magnitude of the event, they were still able to find time to help me get settled and make me feel welcome. They are so dynamic and their energy is completely contagious. Their daughter is the driving force for commencement of the event and for the continuation each year, and she is a sharp, clever and charming young woman. The event had some amazing speakers and the information that was provided there was so encouraging. Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this event.
Second, I want to say thank you to my girlfriends who joined me for the race half of the trip. Three of my friends came down from Canada to be there to cheer me on when I ran the 5k, 10k and half marathon through Disneyland. That meant not only the commitment of the trip, it also meant waking up at 3:30 in the morning to walk with me to the race site. The girls made amazing posters that said “We’re Ravagers!”, “You’re Just Like Kevin Bacon!” and “Just Yondu It!” (all Guardians of the Galaxy references). The posters were fantastic, but it was nothing compared to having those girls there for me. Thank you so much for being so fabulous, fun and wonderful.
Next, I’d like to thank the people I met from different organizations. Most of them had been to events like these before, and I was completely terrified. They helped me feel relaxed and included me in their lunch breaks or pre-event coffees. One in particular was the President of Epilepsy Canada, Gary Collins (www.epilepsy.ca). Gary was informative, charismatic and put up with me for a solid three days (specifically enduring my panic about public speaking). I think that may have been more of an endurance sport than running. Another were the ladies from Epilepsy York, Melodie and Amanda Robar, who came all the way from Canada with their service dog, Kira, and were so encouraging at the event when I was overwhelmed. One of my highlights was seeing Kira meet Pluto one morning. So thank you for that support.
I’d also like to say a quick “Thank You” to someone who I met while I was down there. I won’t name him, but he was one of the attendees at the Epilepsy Awareness Day event. He is also an athlete and could completely relate to what I was trying to explain about epilepsy and athletics. It was unbelievably refreshing to talk to someone who knew what the experience was like. His experiences were different from mine but inspiring, and I consider myself very fortunate to have met him. Thank you for being awesome.
The reason that this entry is so important is because (as I realized over the course of the week in Anaheim), epilepsy can be something that is very isolating. It would be so easy to feel alone and like no one understands. I know that I have felt that way. In my life, with epilepsy, there have been times where I have felt that I had no value, no friends and that there was nothing interesting or worthwhile about me. There have been times where I couldn’t see anything that was worth being proud of. Where no one understood my experiences whatsoever. Where no one would even want to try to know me, or look beyond my medical condition.
What I also learned (or became blatantly clear) in Anaheim, was that while epilepsy can be isolating, it doesn’t have to be. The organizers of the event felt that what I wanted to say had value, which would be why I was able to speak at the event. They made time to talk to me, despite the thousands of other people in attendance. Gary Collins of Epilepsy Canada and Melodie and Amanda Robar of Epilepsy York, who had never met me before, chatted with me for a few days when I was at my absolute worst and most neurotic. My friends came all the way down from Canada to cheer me on at the races. Two of those friends have seen me have the seizures that resulted in the worst injuries I’ve ever had, and those were years ago. Those girls are still my friends. One of the girls has never seen me have a seizure but it didn’t stop her from wanting to be there. The new friend that I made on the trip has had different and similar experiences as an athlete, but he spoke with me…what I was saying had value and beyond that, the person who I am is worth beginning a friendship with. I am not isolated. I am not just my medical condition.
It is unfortunate that it took this trip for me to realize all this. Looking back on the last 18 YEARS, I realize that the way I felt sometimes was not the result of my epilepsy, but the result of my attitude and perspective. I know that there will still be days (weeks even?) where I don’t have the best outlook on it because that’s natural. I can remind myself though that I am not alone. There are people working to promote awareness, I have lots of amazing friends, there are people willing to meet me, there are other athletes with friendship waiting to happen.
Epilepsy Awareness Day at Disneyland Resort was an amazing event, beyond my expectations, and I am 100% sure that there are more people than just me who learned something new and something that will help them. I definitely did.