I was 18 when I was diagnosed with Epilepsy- right in the middle of my freshman year at college. Just like that- woke up one day feeling fine, woke up a second time that day in a hospital, and walked out the next day with a chronic illness. Life is full of surprises.
The next few years of my life were a crash course in medications and side effects. I watched my abilities drop away, one by one. The coordination of a major athlete- gone. The conversation skills of an articulate lover of language- gone. The healthy body of an active 18 year old- gone. The intense focus of a good student- gone. It went on and on, with each change of medication only increasing the struggle. And the changing is the worst. The side effects are bad at any time, but while you are switching- well, you are sicker and more at risk than at any other time.
At the end of my junior year, as I finished transitioning onto my third attempt at finding the right medication, I had reached a point of being…functional. Not good, really, but not getting worse for the first time since that January of my freshman year. I could basically get by, and that was a relief indeed. Still, I felt poisoned, could feel toxins all the way in my fingertips, so we went to a specialist at the CU medical center. It was not long into that appointment when the neurologist looked at me and said, “I can tell that you are not yourself. I can tell that you are brighter, cheerier, livelier than you are now. And I know of a medication that I am almost sure will allow you to get back to that place. But you’ll have to change medications again. And it will get worse- maybe much worse- before it gets better.”
I am glad that some medical students were observing my appointment that day, because they got to see that prescribing meds is not some emotionless task, a matter of business. Because I just sat there and cried. The thought of changing meds one more time, of losing those abilities all over again, of walking into a time of being terrified of seizures at every juncture of my day…I couldn’t even remember what it was like to feel normal. So I wasn’t sure it was worth it. The choice was mine. But as I felt another twinge of that toxic feeling, felt the drowsiness of the drugs sweep over me, I agreed.
It did get worse. I was so sick, and so at risk for seizures, that I was barely allowed to be alone for months. I felt horrible. My emotions were shot. I was half angry with the stupid doctor that wouldn’t just leave well enough alone. Functional was good enough for me. But then months passed, and I felt energy coming back. I could suddenly focus on things in the way I once did. A year later, I graduated magna cum laude and healthy as could be. Now, even after three years, I am still overwhelmed with gratitude when I finish yet another paper on the journey to my master’s degree, when I taste the sweet exhaustion that comes from a day on my mountain bike, when I face a week almost totally free from fear. The choice had been mine. I am so glad that I chose to get worse, trusting that doctor to know how to get me from better to best. From half-well to healthy.
Recently, God asked me to step back into one of the most painful places in my heart. It was an area that I knew was only half-well. But oh, it had felt so good to be functional, to be getting by. Still, I heard him say, “I know you, Katie, because I created you. There is even more life to be found in you. I know how to take you from better to best, from half-well to healthy. But it will have to get worse- perhaps quite painful- before it gets better. The choice to trust me is yours.” So, here I am, changing the meds of my life. There are days when it is overwhelmingly painful. But he is the Great Physician. And I know it’s going to be sweet when I finally taste that place in my heart that is not just better- it’s best. And oh, how I will live!
“Let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:13