In the fall of 2013 when the media was buzzing about University of Minnesota Head Football Coach Jerry Kill’s seizure on the field, Josh Bitney talked about his own epilepsy on the air. Dozens of phone calls and emails immediately flooded EFMN from people saying, “Josh is talking about epilepsy on the air – we are so glad to hear someone talking about it!” Fast forward six months and Josh is in a Dinkytown coffee shop with EFMN staff, sharing his story, completely unaware that he inspired so many people.
Many Minnesotans can thank a Highway Helper for a road rescue. I credit one for being first to identify a repeatedly misdiagnosed neurological disorder. That’s how my epilepsy story began. And a seemingly offhand on-air remark late last year is what brings my epilepsy story here.
In contrast to the nature of my job, and despite my pleasing aesthetics, I’m not comfortable with attention. I also don’t enjoy coffee. Yet after mentioning on 93X that I have epilepsy, I recently found myself at a café with Melissa from EFMN, drinking coffee, embarrassed by becoming the focus of attention. Go figure.
I’ve had seizures my whole life. As a kid they were misdiagnosed dozens of times, erroneously attributed to other things. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I was appropriately diagnosed. And like a radio personality achieving popularity in high school, the circumstances that finally led to my epilepsy diagnosis were unusual, and uncommon.
At 23, I crashed in heavy 394 traffic. The Highway Helper who stopped to assist suspected epilepsy, which at first seemed far-fetched. However after two weeks of follow-up tests, his theory was confirmed. Therefore, where physicians, ER doctors and others had failed - a yellow-vested Highway Helper proved a better diagnostician than the handful of white-coated PhD’s that came before him.
Fortunately my seizures are now controlled effectively with medications. It took three attempts to find one that worked best and about the same for a neurologist. I’ve now been seizure-free since 2007 – also the last year I had a full head of hair and abdominal definition.
Side effects of neurological drugs can be powerful and unnerving. Although not the potent, stimulating types of side effects that sometimes inspire chart-topping rock albums. Rather, a crushing sensation of eternal exhaustion and perpetual slow motion. I work in a career that puts value on thinking quick on your feet, so finding a suitable medication was fundamental. I still feel foggy and a little drugged at times, however I realize that’s status quo for being medicated. Furthermore, I blame an early schedule, three kids, and perhaps most notably - radio station management.
I’m very pleased with the meds I’m on, and the abundance of great neurologists I’ve met. Of course I wish I didn’t need to be on it, but I’m aware some with epilepsy take much longer to get seizures managed, and even some require surgery. So I’m fortunate. Those are the people who justly deserve the attention. As do the families and places of work that show them support and care.
In addition to friends and relatives I find support from my employer, my morning show partners Nick and Ali, and the brotherhood of 93X listeners. Many of which are mindful I have epilepsy, yet refuse to define me by it. For that I’m genuinely grateful. Likewise, I feel privileged to be asked by EFMN to be a part of what I have come to know as an important and worthy organization.
I’m able to live a normal, albeit mostly boring life with epilepsy. Sure, epilepsy is not to be ignored, and can provide certain challenges – but my story demonstrates that it’s in no way a (morning) showstopper.