Conceal, Don’t Feel (Part One of Two)

I think everyone has something they keep to themselves. Or at least, at some point in their lives had the experience of secrecy. Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let it show.

Early 2000’s. After the first few years adjusting to my new reality of being epileptic, I graduated high school. I still kept my condition to myself and I resented it. People knew I was epileptic. In university, every semester I went to the centre for students with disabilities (or whatever name based on the institution), and filled out the medical form that identified that I had epilepsy. I provided the information to each professor every semester just in case of the circumstance that I had a seizure and fell behind or missed an exam. I hated doing it. Loathed it. I hated having to approach the centre or the professors in a context that started with “here’s why I’m different”. I didn’t want to be different that way. I have no idea what the professors thought about it, and I attended three different universities over my academic career so I never built the relationship where I would have asked. In my head, at the time, what I visualized them thinking though, was that I was just some average student trying to preemptively get out of having to work for my degree.

As a result of this misconception (because my professors were always lovely people and never actually said anything that should have led to that thought process), I was a very ambitious student. I HAD to do everything that I could. I volunteered on campus. I had two part time jobs, one on campus and one at a mall. I was part of the executive council for academic clubs and the debate team (and went to Nationals). I studied abroad and did courses through the spring and summer semesters. Most semesters I obtained permission to have an overload class, exceeding the usual “five classes a semester” limit. During my undergraduate degree, I earned experience as a TA, which is usually for Masters students. I went to the gym in my “free time”.

I lived away from home for four of the six years I attended university. In my fourth year, I moved cities. I moved away from my parents, close family and all my friends. I moved for a relationship with someone I barely knew. When that relationship didn’t work out (mutually and amicably), I chose not to move home. I hadn’t even been in Calgary for a whole year yet and hadn’t really made any friends. Add in that most friends in university rotate as the semesters changed, the decision didn’t make logical sense. I was just so determined to stay and succeed, like anyone else without a disability would be able to do. Part of that came from people saying “I told you so” and me not wanting to admit they were right.

Soooooo….. I partied too much. I stayed up too late. I would drink coffee until 2:00 in the morning while working on assignments. My diet was atrocious, just coffee, alcohol, rice cakes and peanut butter. When I pushed myself too hard, I had seizures. Even though I had roommates, it was usually in apartments so I could have my seizures in the privacy of my room.

Conceal, don’t feel. That concept made so much sense to me at that time. How could anyone possibly respect me (or love me, but that’s an entirely different issue) when I had THIS medical condition? I was 20 years old.

I began considering doing a Masters degree in Political Science. I should have taken more from this, but at the time I was still trying to hide my condition. A professor was willing to supervise my thesis, the impact of the coffee industry on the socio-economic development of the Cote D’ivoire. That professor travelled to Africa regularly for his own research and understood that I would be joining for my own research. He knew I had epilepsy and didn’t see (or didn’t express to me) any doubt of my ability to produce successful academic research results. I didn’t do it, for a lot of reasons, but epilepsy was definitely one of them. I was afraid of myself.

I did the absolute bare minimum relating to my condition and if I could have avoided that, I would have. I chose to ignore it as much as possible, or completely denied the significance. At that time, I didn’t respect my body. I didn’t respect my condition. I was so consumed by my fear of not being treated what I thought would be “normally” and respected, that I failed to respect myself. But I kept it to myself, so I felt like I was in control. I was still having seizures but I kept it literally hidden. That’s so dangerous. That’s dangerous physically (obviously) but the emotional toll…part of me “wasn’t acceptable” (within my mindset) and I let that dictate my actions and feelings.

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