I Spoke English. I Just Had Epilepsy.

How Prejudice Almost Resulted in Brain Damage.

Lisa Martens
Oct 20, 2020 · 4 min read
Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash

When I was in third grade, I suddenly had trouble focusing.

I had started a new school in Dallas. Everything was new. I had lived in New York and Costa Rica, and Dallas was a completely different place. I was adjusting to my second radical move in one year. It was a lot for a seven-year-old.

And I couldn’t focus for some reason. Time seemed to skip, and I’d have no memory of what happened. We would all stand to say the pledge, and then, I would be the only one standing and the pledge would be over. During gym class, I would suddenly stop moving. I would miss whole chunks of a conversation.

Teachers put me in ESL until my mom came down to the school and screamed at them. I knew English…it was my first language. Why hadn’t they contacted her before putting me in ESL? I remember them stuttering and stammering and flipping through pieces of paper.

I think that was her first time seeing that the world didn’t see her daughter as white, even though she was.

I heard a lot of things in this time. That I was shy. That I was having a hard time adjusting. That I just needed discipline. That I was lazy. That maybe I needed a “buddy” to help me do math.

The one thing nobody did was ask me.

Something was wrong.

So I was punished, I was put into ESL, into classes for people with different learning styles, and still, ultimately, I felt like I wasn’t believed.

And my issue just got worse.

And, for some reason, it was easier to believe I was bad or uneducated than something was wrong.

I was having 100 seizures a day.

But even that felt like some kind of lip service. The school recommended it, but it felt like just a box to check before they officially labeled me a problem child. Only one teacher seemed to genuinely think there was something medically wrong and expressed concern. (Thanks Mrs. White!)

But I wasn’t faking it. I was having about 100 absence seizures a day.

The seizures I had were not violent.

Absence seizures are not like that. It looks just like someone staring into space…like someone daydreaming.

Once I was on medication, my grades immediately improved. My school offered to allow me to skip fourth grade. My mom declined, which I’m grateful for — I was already the youngest in my grade and having a hard time adjusting. Socially, it would have been too much.

I still graduated early and went to college at 16.

I wonder how close I was to being seriously hurt.

While absence seizures sometimes clear up around puberty, grand mal seizures have a much higher tendency to be lifelong. He was worried that once I crossed that threshold, my treatment would need to be more extensive.

I no longer take seizure medication and I haven’t had one since I was a young teen. Still, the fact that I had epilepsy and I was just shoved into public school ESL as a fix is a haunting reminder to me at how easy it is for children, especially children of color, to fall victim to prejudice.

Would I have had to have a grand mal seizure for someone to finally listen to me and realize I wasn’t making it up?

And…most importantly…why? Why was it so easy to shoehorn me into these classes without my mother’s consent? What if my mom wasn’t a white woman? A woman who, for lack of a better phrase, got her Karen on when she realized I was being put into ESL classes?

I can’t help but wonder — If my mom had been a Spanish-speaking Latina, what the hell would have happened to me?

“You seem fine.”

Articles on my mental health journey.

Lisa Martens

Written by

🫀💃🏽🕸 Tip Jar & Books on Amazon: https://linktr.ee/lisathewriter 📚 Collab? lisa.snetram@gmail.com

“You seem fine.”

Articles on my mental health journey. Anxiety. Trauma. Inspiration.

Lisa Martens

Written by

🫀💃🏽🕸 Tip Jar & Books on Amazon: https://linktr.ee/lisathewriter 📚 Collab? lisa.snetram@gmail.com

“You seem fine.”

Articles on my mental health journey. Anxiety. Trauma. Inspiration.

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