I grew up in a household where two of my three brothers had epilepsy. It was a natural part of our lives. I had my first seizure in my early 20's. My required year of not driving taught me it's okay to depend on others. My seizures occurred about every six months. Like all those with tonic-clonic seizures, I slept it off, waited a couple of weeks for my tongue to heal, and prayed for the day a medication to get rid of the atrocious headache after-effects would be developed.
Pre-epilepsy, jobs and recognition came easily to me. Post-epilepsy, little by little, I found myself losing jobs for no real apparent reason. Certainly, becoming a single mom with its accompanying stress caused an increase in seizure frequency. I was not re-hired for a teaching job - no reason was given. I went to grad school so I could re-enter schools at a higher level with the goal of giving my children a life I'd always dreamed for them. Getting the good grades I was accustomed to proved difficult (medication); I completed two internships instead of one (embarrassing). I went to work in north Georgia for an educational co-op to replenish my bank account. My time there was cut short because one of the systems decided to "fund a different position."
During my next school psych job I had a seizure while testing. At year end, one psychological assessment position was eliminated (funding). I had been hired last, so I was fired first. A series of nondescript jobs followed, always ending in termination. Sometimes I left to move to a better-paying job, sometimes I was fired because of seizure issues.
After my children's heartbreaking move to their father's home, I relocated to Connecticut and started afresh. I found a quality job, rented a sweet cottage, and found superior medical care. My position as corporate translator grounded me, leading eventually to owning my own translation service. That said, following a seizure at work, Human Resources called me in immediately and accused me of getting hired under false pretenses. I told them I had clearly stated that I have medically controlled epilepsy during a required company physical The matter was not mentioned again. My position was elevated from non-exempt to exempt but I was never promoted. My salary was always on the low end.
Working at home as a translator proved a good compromise. If I didn't feel well, I could lie down. I did not have to report my condition. My husband was downsized also, so I opened a retail yarn shop. My husband worked with me and the company was instantly successful. I kept epilepsy to myself until an ambulance pulled up to take me to the hospital because I'd had a seizure. I explained what happened to the adjacent concerned shop owners, and I was happy to not have to fire myself!
Business ownership was good for me. Occasional seizures were not a setback. I had been afraid to be in the public eye because I would sometimes say one word while thinking another, which I thought would alienate others. I found that my customers cared more about receiving good service than how I messed up words. Another failed marriage taught me that running my business single-handedly with a broken heart and dwindling finances was too much and I finally closed it. My seizure frequency declined dramatically through the stress of all the changes and was replaced by situational depression. My neurologist altered my medication and I improved. I changed the direction of my life and with my mother's support, I relocated "back home." I now have a part-time professional job with a boss who accommodates my seizures.
These experiences have left me gun-shy and unsure of my actual abilities. They have also taught me to allow others to assist me.
Chattanooga has brought me a group of extraordinarily supportive friends and my loving family. Not knowing what the future holds is exciting. I believe I will see a cure for some forms of epilepsy in my lifetime and many will be freed from seizures.
Janet Williams Kemp grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn. and later moved to Connecticut where she lived for 25 years. In 2011 she moved back to Chattanooga. She currently does psychological assessments for Dr. Justin Huthwaite with the Georgia Department of Disabilities. She also teaches knitting. Through her experiences she has met many adults and children who have epilepsy. She says, "They are bright, funny, articulate and have job problems. I want to advocate for adults with epilepsy regarding job retention."