Today is March 1st and you know what that means: the beginning of Women’s History Month! So I thought I’d begin the month by writing about a couple of influential women who also share this neurological disorder with me. One of the largest struggles I’ve found with living with epilepsy is not knowing anyone else who has it. I often talk about it with the people around me and I sometimes hear, “Oh I know a friend who has a cousin who has that.” or “My friend had a seizure one time!”. Which is nice to hear and shows that the people around me aren’t totally unaware of what epilepsy is. But without knowing anyone personally, I often struggle with finding common ground.
So today, while looking more into Women’s History Month, I decided to research celebrities with epilepsy. The usual suspects were shown: Prince, who had childhood epilepsy, Danny Glover, Neil Young, Susan Boyle, Lil Wayne, Vincent Van Gogh, Socrates, Julius Caesar, and George Gershwin (Noting that Socrates, Caesar, and Gershwin were all diagnosed after their death by historians and epilepsy experts).
But I stumbled upon a few surprises that I hadn’t seen before. The first being Harriet Tubman.
It’s said that Harriet Tubman suffered from a brain injury in her teenage years that resulted in life long headaches and seizures. She was never seen by a doctor so there is no official diagnosis. But I found it interesting and exciting to see someone who made such a huge historical impact, developed seizures around the same age as me. Although our lives were over a hundred years apart, although she faced a different world that me, we both faced the challenges of living with headaches and epilepsy. I was also surprised that this fact is so over looked.
I continued to search and found out more about Florence Griffith Joyner, the record-setting Olympic Athlete.
Florence set the world records for both the 100m and 200m in 1988 and to this day, there have been no serious contenders to beat her records. She was famous for being outspoken and incredibly hardworking. She died in her sleep in 1998 at the age of 38 due to an epileptic seizure. She had developed epilepsy in her 30’s. What is most interesting to me about Florence is the fact that she developed epilepsy so late in life. Often, we don’t think about the fact that epilepsy can be onset at any stage of life, to anyone, anywhere. 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime.
Her story is a strong reminder that epilepsy is not the result of poor life choices or social standing, anyone can develop it. Many will never know why. But it is also a reminder that people with epilepsy can and often do incredible things with their lives. During the month of March, let’s look around at the amazing women of our society, past and present. Celebrate the accomplishments of both the neurotypical and disabled. Remember those who fought for us, honor those who still fight for the rights of women (and men and everyone in between) everywhere. Look around at the people in your life who do great things, big and small, and remember to tell them thank you. You never know what struggles they may be hiding.