Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Epilepsy and Gymnastics

This one is another "in my experience" one. This is in no way shape or form medical advice, and in fact I have met doctors who think that my choice of sport was evidence of a subconscious deathwish.


I've been participating in some form of gymnastics or another for years. I've had epilepsy for years. Most of these years overlap. I've dealt with medication changes, seizure fallout, side effects, and all the other joys while also enjoying a high-flying sport.

My primary form of gymnastics was tumbling and trampoline. My best event was always tumbling because everything is entirely what I can do with my own power. Sometimes my skills were a bit sluggish, but they weren't ever scary or particularly dangerous. Trampoline was my worst because you have to hit the trampoline 10 times and every change in body position or proprioception is magnified by the elasticity of the trampoline. It's also easy to get a little off if you aren't able to focus. Double mini trampoline is only 2 skills, so it was my best when I was sluggy. The worst I experienced with epilepsy meeting tumbling and trampoline was having a partial complex at a meet. I had to withdraw after my coach realized that everything I was doing during warmup was autopilot. I've never had a tonic-clonic while in the air.

I did artistic gymnastics as well. Floor was my best event for much the same reason tumbling was--it's what you can do under your own power--so even when I was a bit wonky, I could make something work. I was very good at beam in practice. At meets or during a medication change, beam went to hell because it's all about precision and attack, which I do not have when my body feels alien. Postictally I was pretty awful at beam, but nowhere near as bad as I could be on vault. Vault involves running as fast as you can at a stationary object and hitting a springboard exactly correctly so you can fly over it. Speed doesn't happen postictally. Visual perception doesn't happen postictally. I know exactly how hard I can run into a vault, and the answer is rib-dislocation-hard. Uneven bars was the hardest for me because being even a little off makes it hard to muscle through things, and every time my body or brain changed I had to completely adjust the timing of moves. It was never a strength problem, just a consistency issue.

I came mightily close to seizures at a couple of artistic meets because of the techno floor music trend, so I did compete while heavily benzodiazepined a few times. Sluggish gymnastics lead to sluggish scores, but I didn't ever get hurt, fortunately.

There were a few things I needed to do to make taking epilepsy to the gym relatively safe. First, I needed to get very familiar with the difference between "aura" and "I need to eat/I'm working too hard/I'm tired/side effects". Second, I needed to disclose to my coaches that I have seizures, what they look like, and what to do if they occur. We needed to discuss a seizure plan, and for a period of time I kept rescue medication in the gym office. Third, during every medication change I had to chart side effects that might matter & we had to adjust expectations during workouts and competitions. For a while I was playing catch-up with private lessons since a particularly hard period made learning anything impossible.

My coaches ended up learning a few of the subtle signs that indicated a seizure was imminent. We had an agreement that they could send me for a snack & ask me to get off the equipment if I was worrying them. If I needed to take a rescue med, it was fine and I didn't need to announce it. Part of our agreement was that I was to wear medical identification at all times gymnastic & I was to carry a seizure protocol card in case they weren't the very first people around if I seized.

There was a lot of planning involved, but I got to do the sport I love in face of prejudices that say I shouldn't have. I still love gymnastics-it makes me feel invincible, like I can fly, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

1 comment:

thirdglance3 said...

Hi! I know this is a really old post, but I tend to read the whole blog before I subscribe to it, and this post really caught my eye. Also I read an interview with you at Aspitude! and just had to say hi. I too was a gymnast for 15 years (artistic only, no T&T), albeit not a great one - my bars was 2 levels above my floor and I got a double flyaway before a simple roundoff/backhandspring/back-tuck. I loved it and really identified with much of what you had to say in that interview about being Autistic and a gymnast. The two so rarely go hand in hand, but when they do, it's so much fun. I do not have epilepsy, but I definitely resonated with a lot of this post as well. Although I've given up most gymnastics because my body can't handle it anymore, I've become a circus aerialist, and it is so much fun - all the perks of gymnastics (super-hard high-flying skills) with no impact. But anyway, I just wanted to say "hi" to a fellow gymnast.