My name is Denise L. Pease. I am a woman who lives every day with the challenge of having epilepsy. Twelve years ago, on March 30th 1995, my world came crashing down when I suffered what I first thought was a minor head injury as a result of a car accident. My doctor initially diagnosed post-traumatic shock. But in the weeks and months to follow, I lost my ability to speak effectively. Then my ability to read and write left me. Suddenly I, who dealt with the titans of industry and often discussed complex banking issues with world leaders, was unable to make change at the corner store. To be real about it—as the younger generation would say—I often could not find my way from my childhood home to the corner store and back without assistance.
Before the accident, I was recognized as one of the innovative leaders in regulatory banking. I went from being a vibrant woman with a bright future to being a candidate for an extended adult care facility. The world had once been my oyster, and the oyster just closed right up.
My neurologist never mentioned seizures or epilepsy. I told him that I would lose track of time; I was confused.
It took a while for the final diagnosis of epilepsy, it took even longer—an additional five years—to find the right medication. In retrospect, some of the medications might have been more effective if I did not have the problems with my memory and cognition. There were many months, or should I say, in the middle of a month, where I could have none of one medication and the full regiment of another. Then there were side effects—the weight gain that was coupled with the lethargy, the depression and the fear.
I underwent extensive therapy to become the semblance of the woman I am today. I was not well-coiffed. I would show up at the doctor's office looking more like someone who was homeless instead of a homeowner.
It was difficult.
When I was at my worst, to be honest, I don't think it was as disturbing as when my skills and sense of self slowly began to return. It was then that I remembered being at the White House for a holiday celebration and the life I had led. In addition to the medical and formal therapies, I used to watch and mimic Oprah Winfrey to regain my speaking skills. I watched public television's Learn to Read several times a day to re-learn to read. I desperately wanted to return to a fully productive life. It was then that I found the Epilepsy Foundation.
Today, I still must take anti seizure medication. I have not had a seizure in several months. Unfortunately, the more I meet people and speak about epilepsy, the more I realize that my experience with the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy is not unique. However, the opportunity to return to work still eludes so many people who struggle with seizures. I am grateful to be one of the few who has gone from a person receiving disability benefits to a proud citizen who contributes substantially to the revenue stream of my city and state and our federal government.
Still, while I am really blessed, the stigma of having epilepsy is present. With continued research into new treatment options, my blessings will be a reality for so many others. It is my hope and prayer that continued research will one day get us to our end goal—a cure. If not a cure, then the ability for the millions of us to live a life that is seizure-free, side-effects free and without stigma.