When I Had a Seizure in the Middle of a Sporting Goods Store

I can’t believe I made it this long. About three years ago (1,045 days to be exact), I had my last seizure. In the middle of a sporting goods store. So embarrassing.

I can say this because I kind of remember it. Parts of it, anyway. It wasn’t one of the kind where you’re on the ground shaking (grand mal). It’s actually much more terrifying.

It was Thanksgiving weekend 2012, I was shopping in my neighborhood in Chicago, where I lived at the time. My mom and my aunt were with me. I remember being stressed out about having to take my part-time hostessing gig again at age 28. Life was definitely not going as planned.

They were in town visiting after the holiday. For some reason I had gone off on my own. Quite some time went by before my phone rang. My mom called to see where I was. It was only then that I realized a great deal of time had gone by and I couldn’t recall any of it.

The jamais vous was setting in. When you have a seizure and experience jamais vous, everything around you suddenly becomes strange and totally unfamiliar. I was shopping in a neighborhood where I had lived for six months, in a city where I had lived for almost six years… yet I was completely lost standing on that street corner.

I can’t even begin to describe the terror that spread through me at that moment and the anxiety that fills me typing this story. But I want to share it with you so you can understand what so many are still going through.

Many are under the impression that grand mal seizures are the only kind people have. That’s far from the truth. I’ve had only  — I hate to use the word “only,” but you get what I’m saying —  one grand mal seizure. The rest were partial seizures of some sort.

Check out this page for an explanation of each type. I’m not going to explain them here because I don’t fully understand all of them, even the ones I’ve experienced.

Back to the street corner  — there I was, trying to figure out where in the hell I had wandered off to and how I was going to find my family. Luckily they had spent enough time in the city and could find me before I wandered into traffic. We met up in a sporting goods store nearby.

At first I didn’t tell them what was happening. Typically my mom’s first reaction is to freak out. Being a nurse, it happens. (OK, that’s a lie. She’s an O’Malley and that’s just what we do.)

My aunt was trying to find a coat for my cousin, Matt, for Christmas. She kept asking me questions, and all I wanted to do was run away. But she kept insisting I look at this damn coat. She was making me so nervous. If she had any idea what was happening, she would’ve felt awful, but I was hoping it would go away and I wouldn’t have to tell them.

It seemed like I was in danger, but I didn’t know how. It seemed like everyone was standing so close and talking so loudly. I was becoming more and more terrified. They both kept asking questions and showing me things, and I just couldn’t take it.

It was weird to feel like I was alone in a strange place even though my family was there with me.

Apparently I looked like hell because my mom eventually asked if I was OK. I thought I might pass out, so I had to tell her that I thought I was having a seizure.

What do you do in that situation? In the middle of a store with all these people around?

Given the fact that my first seizure happened here:

Michigan sports stadium

I was really hoping to keep this one as low-key as possible. So, they walked me over to the lawn chairs and I sat down. The guy working there, who hadn’t bothered to help my aunt find a coat for Matt, came over to help at that point. I don’t know what happened then; all I know is that they needed to make sure he didn’t call an ambulance. I was fine.

The last thing I needed was for him to think I was drunk or something. I don’t even know what he could’ve been thinking. But eventually I started to come around and was able to walk out of the store.

I have no idea how long it lasted or what I may or may not have said to my mom or aunt. But I’m so glad they were there. That happened more times than I could count while I was living in Chicago, and I’m so glad it hasn’t happened since.

If you made it to the end, please know that I appreciate your attention and your support. I apologize for the rambling and any errors I may have made. But this story is important. Not for me but for the many people out there who don’t even get to experience one day seizure-free.

We need to change that.

There are so many people out there who don’t have the support system I have. There are times when I’ve been an ungrateful you-know-what, and I’m sorry. But you know who you are, and I’m so blessed to have you in my life.

I love you.


And Matt  —  I’m sorry you never got that coat.

College graduate with Parents
Katie at her graduation for her Master’s degree

A version of this article was originally published on Medium.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Seizure Disorder

When My Child Couldn’t Handle Formula, a Nurse Offered Her Own Breast Milk

My daughter Casey was born in 2006 with many medical issues, including no ability to gag, suck or swallow. Not being able to use her mouth to eat, she had a G-tube placed shortly after she was born. Although I was never able to breastfeed in the traditional sense, I knew how beneficial breast milk can [...]

When Your Life Before Chronic Illness Is Like an Ex-Lover

Three years ago, I left work early due to intense back and abdominal pain — the type of pain that makes simply lying down difficult. The emergency room doctors informed me that a bladder infection (which I was unaware of) turned into a severe kidney infection. My kidneys were not working properly, and a strong [...]

11 People With Autism Explain What Stimming Feels Like

Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviors, are behaviors people with autism may exhibit to counteract an overwhelming sensory environment or alleviate the high levels of internal anxiety, according to Temple Grandin’s post in Autism Digest. Some examples of stimming are rocking, spinning, pacing, repeating words or flapping of arms or hands. Autistic people aren’t the only ones who [...]

My Son With Down Syndrome Inspires Me to Be a Better Mother

You know you’ve got a time management problem when you have three toothbrushes dotted around the house because when that five-minute window opens, you want to be ready, baby. You tug on mismatched socks because your dryer is a power eater and the actual pairs are all buried somewhere in those overflowing laundry baskets teetering [...]