When Epilepsy Makes Me Tongue-Tied


Language comprehension, naming, and word recall are cognitive functions regulated by the temporal lobe. I have temporal lobe epilepsy. The result is I suck at verbal articulation. I forget words. I say things backwards. Things get stuck on the tip of my tongue. I botch sentences. I often sound clueless even though I am actually quite smart.

I chose to tell my employer about my condition, mostly because I break the stereotype. I want everyone to know that epileptics can leave the house, drive cars, and tolerate blinking halogen bulbs. I made it through college and even graduate school. I’m a normal human being. I also disclosed so I can explain how to respond to seizures, which is protect my head and keep your damn fingers out of my mouth.

But how do you explain to your co-workers that your speech fluency does not reflect your intelligence?

Fortunately, the majority of my team members work remotely. Most communication is through email. I am a clear and concise writer, but get me on the phone and it all goes to s***. I stumble through weekly project update calls. I ramble and use wrong words. I once said congress of the cow instead of conference call. Oops. Silence follows my updates. I can hear my teammates’ poker faces. Thankfully, my boss and I are in sync. “Suzzanne, anything you want to add?” She articulates what I cannot without embarrassing me. We’ve been doing this for years. She gets it.

I recently told her to enjoy “hot gods and manburgers” over the holiday weekend. We had a good laugh.

I acknowledge this is inappropriate self-criticism. Co-workers do not judge me. I judge myself. Some say they have never noticed my verbal stumbles (so why the poker-face reaction)? They treat me with respect and make me feel valued. Yet I still want to end every call with “I’m not a fool, I just have epilepsy.” I’d probably fumble that too. An email broadcast would be kind of desperate, so I just endure my anxieties.

People with epilepsy exist along the same intelligence continuum as everyone else. Some are clueless, some are brilliant but most of us fall somewhere in between.

Getty image by LuckyTD.


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