I used to wake up every morning, and by reflex, stretch out my left arm to the night stand and grab a delicate silver bracelet. I’d clasp it to my wrist, annoyed that I had to do so, but so terrified I’d forget it.
I have epilepsy, and though I am heavily medicated, I still have seizures that can come at any time. Though that silver bracelet is actually pretty, it’s not a fashion statement. That circle of dainty silver around my wrist lets people know about my disability, in case I am unable to verbalize it myself. Seizures come in many forms: sometimes I can just be “spacing out”, or occasionally I will fall to the floor and do the “traditional” twitch all over shake rattle & roll. I got bullied something awful in high school for having a grand mal seizure and peeing on myself. It’s always fun to be different in high school. I carry an extra pair of pants and underwear in my bag, just in case. My high school advisor asked me weekly what kind of drugs I was on- even though I had on that medic alert silver bracelet (hello?!), and she had my files. It was a tough time for me. But I’ve had 15 years to figure out how to live with epilepsy: the no driving, the no children (many epileptics can have children- for various reasons, I can’t), taking 13 pills a day, the side effects of these pills on my kidneys, the liver, the aphasia… I could go on, but the point is, I’ve kicked living with epilepsy’s ass. I’m proud of it. I volunteer. I educate people on the condition, and do what I can to raise money toward research.
I’ve worn that silver bracelet since I was 15 years old. It had an almost hypnotic hold on me, and I got anxiety to the point of panic if I forgot to put it on. What if I was walking home, had a seizure on the side of the road, and didn’t have it on? Not only would people not know what was wrong with me, EMTs wouldn’t know what cocktail of anti-epileptics were in my system, and drug interactions are a scary thing. So are medical bills. My medications alone already ninja kick my bank accounts on a regular basis. I could end up shelling out for heart tests, drug abuse screenings, and a number of unnecessary things- all because I forgot this little piece of jewelry. It wouldn’t be the first time. This bracelet had me in a chokehold.
I needed a solution. There is not currently a cure for epilepsy, and research doesn’t look like it’s going to find one any time soon. I am 30 years old. I don’t want to be under the spell of a silver bracelet- besides, I have some amazing gold vintage jewelry (like my wedding ring) that really clashes with silver, and I hate mixing my metals.
I took my silver medic alert bracelet to a tattoo artist. He created a rendering of the red 6-pointed cross, with the staff and serpent for me (Rod of Asclepius), which looked great- simple, basic and clear, with the word “EPILEPSY” in clean black letters (which I obsessively checked the spelling on- how cute would it be to have that spelled wrong?). I looked at that temporary rendering, and knew this was what I wanted. I smiled at the tattoo artist and told him to forward march. We put it on the inside of my left wrist, where an EMT friend of mine says they check for pulse. As the tattoo artist was working, he barraged me with questions about epilepsy, and why I was doing this- he had never done a medic alert tattoo before. As I explained my motives to him, he understood, but had a question for me. Was I afraid I may be discriminated against because people will now know I had epilepsy? Well, it’s a good question. I’ve been fired twice from pretty good jobs, for having seizures at work (not the reason they gave, but the timing speaks otherwise, and I know I scared them). But to me, the more vocal people are about epilepsy, and other disabilities, the more easily people will accept differences. One in 26 people will have a seizure in their lifetime. One in 100 have epilepsy. It’s not an unheard of condition, but it is shunned. Once upon a time in the United States, we burned epileptics as witches. Thankfully, times have changed, but I hope it will get even better. If this tattoo causes people to ask me questions, I’ll be happy to answer. If it makes people judge me, well, that seems to be their problem, and not really mine. As Wayne Dyer wrote, “Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” A bit hokey- but truth lies in those words.
The tattoo has changed me. I am much less anxious. You cannot forget to put on a tattoo in the morning. It is there, and always will be. It is my security. It’s not so much a fashion statement, but it is a statement. It tells the story of my life, but better than that, it could save my life one day.