June 19, 2020
By April Huynh
2020 is a year like no other for all of us. Who could have foreseen COVID-19 throwing our economy upside down and turning our lives inside out? Aside from the economic wreckage, the death toll and the human suffering for over 8,000,000 people that have had the sickness as of this writing have been huge.
While neither me nor my family have had the virus, I thought I would share with you what medical condition I do have and how it’s affected my work.
With this blog, I wanted to share with my readers something very personal about me that is truly difficult for me to deal with and be open about. I envisioned this blog to be primarily about real estate but I also wanted to make sure that you get to know me as a person and can potentially connect with me as well. At the end of the day, I am just another of some 9 billion human beings on this planet, and if I have the opportunity to work with you on your real estate needs, I felt that you should know me a bit more.
It Runs in the Family
My father is the first one I know of in my family that has had seizures but he had his after I had mine. My first seizure occurred at 18 years old, shortly after my graduation. I was immediately put on medications to combat them and, for the most part, life went on pretty normal for me for the next 30 years or so. Once in a while, if I was sick and dehydrated, ultra-tired, or missed my meds, I would have a seizure. I married at 20 years of age and only suffered a half dozen episodes once every few years.
I’ve now been married for 29 years and have two grown children, one of whom is also on meds for a seizure disorder. The other one is seizure-free. (Let’s hope he never has to deal with it.) So, while I’ve had to live with it for a long time, it hasn’t disrupted my life greatly...until last year. We’ll get to that later.
What It’s Like
When I say that I had a “seizure,” I’m referring to what they call tonic clonic seizures (formerly called grand mal seizures), in which I lose consciousness, seize up, and mildly convulse for a few minutes. While these are major events in my life, as I said earlier, they only happened once every few years throughout my 20-s and 30’s, even to mid 40’s. But what I am troubled by the most, something that even my medical doctors or neurologists can’t specifically diagnose for me, are the constant mental blocks that last a few seconds to even a minute or two. During these episodes, which are completely unpredictable and occur even when I am regular with my meds, strike me sometimes throughout the day, and the severe ones, make me feel really tired. Therefore, the best way that I can deal with them is to get a couple of hours of sleep. These are the ones that cause much difficulty in my life, possibly even more than having the tonic clonics!
It is these absence seizures (formerly called petit mal seizures) that cause me the most trouble. They can occur right in the middle of a conversation with a client and I can’t understand the client or get words out to let them know that I am having some trouble at the moment. I find it very embarrassing and most of the time, just pretend to my clients that I got distracted by something or I awkwardly make up some stupid excuse for an interruption. I have a hard time trying to explain what these episodes feel like to my family but I am not even sure that they completely get it. It is a huge frustration for me to live with it, especially feeling that nobody around me truly understands what it feels like. And, since I know of no one else dealing with this, I felt really alone and defeated.
About two years ago, I finally learned what these episodes are. Turns out it is a condition called aphasia, defined as a “loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage.” I saw an online video of a news reporter having an aphasia episode on air. I saw the frightened look on her face as she spat out garbled speech while trying to do her report and I immediately recognized that THIS was what I was experiencing.
Digging further I found another female reporter suffering a similar thing who recognized what the first reporter experienced! (If you want to know what that looks like, you can google “Reporter suffers black out on air” or something similar and you can see these YouTube clips that have gone viral.) These are different women who suffered aphasia on air and obviously caused a lot of concern for them all over the Internet. People suggested possible strokes, migraines, seizures, etc.
You cannot believe the relief I experienced when I first saw these clips. While I recognized that it must have been humiliating for these women to have had to go through this live and on air, I was so excited to finally show my family members that I was not the only one afflicted with this and so relieved to learn that there was such a condition!
These women, it turns out, have what I have. They appear to be seizures but not the full tonic clonics that cause us to lose consciousness. These aphasia episodes cause us to not be able to talk so that our speech comes out garbled and we apparently form new words. The women looked frightened and completely helpless.
Regrettably, my medical professionals have not been able to assist me at all with these aphasia episodes, and even worse for me, they have increased as I have aged. In the last 10 years or so, the frequency and length of these episodes have occurred more and more. Doctors say that stress and the approach of perimenopause are the probable causes of this.
What Work is Like Now
So while all of this is increasing, major seizures were still infrequent and occasional in between several years until 2019. That was a life changing year. In that year alone, I had at least five major seizure episodes that I can recall. My neurologist switched meds for me twice and, while in the process of waiting to see if these would work,they may have contributed to some of these seizures, as the drugs take a while to work.
Thus, for the last one and a half years, these tonic clonics have disrupted my real estate work majorly because, after each major seizure, I cannot drive for at least three months. Can you imagine being a real estate agent and not being able to drive? Ridiculous, right!?! This has added a layer of difficulty to an already complex and challenging career.
In addition, they sapped my strength, so I ended up having to take some time off to recuperate. As I started to gain strength after each event, I turned to my family and they drove me around to my showings, listing appointments, property management work at my rental properties, etc.
I didn’t tell you about my sickness to gain your sympathy or to complain. I’ve been a full time in real estate agent or in property management for seven years now, working the whole time while dealing with aphasia and seizures almost on a daily basis. Yet I’ve never shared what I am sharing now with the majority of my clients. I just didn’t want them to view me differently or that I wasn’t capable of handling their real estate needs. I feel comfortable and safe enough within this medium of my own blog, that I am now willing to share this personal side of me for a couple of reasons:
1. I would like you to know me as a person better
2. While in conversation with me, if one of these aphasia episodes hit me, please don’t be alarmed. I am aware that I am going through one and will do my best to give you heads up by gesturing “Give me a second…” It will pass momentarily and I will be back in conversation with you.
3. Please do not fear that I will have a tonic clonic while working with you. I vigilantly stay on my meds. Also, my seizures have occurred only late at night within the last two years. And, if I am not feeling well enough, I know enough to not be out working face to face with clients.
Now you know my deep, dark secret. I’m glad I finally am able to disclose my situation to you. I sincerely hope this doesn’t freak you out but, rather, promote a better understanding of my situation.
Despite all the above, though, I have found strength and resilience in me that I didn’t know I had. Currently I am not driving again, as my last seizure was just a month ago after having had a break from them for almost six months. Yet, It has not slowed me down any. Instead, I am proud to say that my business has even grown during this time because I’ve been able to persevere through these challenges and conduct my business while carefully monitoring my health.
What I want to convey now most is to reassure you that I am committed to working with you to the best of my ability. I can do this because I refuse to allow seizures to dictate the career and life I want to have, because I have the support of my family and friends, and because I have my team that continues to rise to the occasion to assist me. I won’t let this health problem of mine interfere with doing my best for you -- my clients. I am grateful for the business that comes my way because it brings me great satisfaction to do a good job for you in order that you can accomplish your real estate goals. I welcome your comments as to how you overcome your health challenges.