It was 2 o’clock on New Year’s morning of 2013, and Megan Mejia — exhausted after spending a special Vegas night out with her parents — went to their room to say thanks and goodnight. It’s the last thing she recalls before she went into a grand mal seizure on their bedroom floor. “After that, the next thing I remember is I was being pushed into an ambulance. I was awake, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t do anything at all.” Megan was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The most common form of epilepsy in teens, it’s characterized by three types of seizures that range from episodes of staring into space to full-body convulsions. Seizures are triggered by stress or lack of sleep. The upside: the condition is manageable with medication, and it tends to get better over time.
But Megan, a high school freshman at the time, didn’t hear any of that. She heard this: Your dreams of being a marine biologist are over. Your love of volleyball must end. Your friends are going to abandon you. Megan decided to be completely open about her condition. “I wasn’t trying to get pity, but just to let my friends know in case something happens.” It didn’t exactly spark an inspiring moment of love and acceptance. “Ninety-nine percent of them left,” she says. “Some people left slowly, kind of inched away, some left 100 percent. One friend left because they considered my condition taboo, and they didn’t want to be associated with me because I was apparently weird. Other people at school, they just sort of inched away because they were more afraid of what they didn’t know. They didn’t want to seem offensive if they asked questions because they thought they would offend me. I became really angry and depressed, anxious and sad.”
This is the inspiring part. Modern medicine and modern therapy did their part to put Megan’s epilepsy into perspective, but Megan discovered a powerful form of self-medication as well: social media. Instead of letting epilepsy isolate her, she used it connect with others who might be feeling as frightened and confused as she had been. With a series of simple YouTube videos, Megan discussed her diagnosis, her struggles and her progress. She repurposed her Instagram account to promote epilepsy awareness. And then a rare opportunity came along to give her an even bigger podium. Medikidz, a health education company based in London, was holding a contest to find the star of the next comic book in its series. Megan entered by uploading a video and won. The result: “Medikidz Explain Living With Epilepsy,” a recently published comic book starring one Megan Mejia. (You can get one free at advancingepilepsycare.com). Since then, she’s also fielded offers to appear on national TV shows to talk about epilepsy awareness. “This whole year has been like a whirlwind coming my way, and I’m definitely grateful for it. It’s like a reward for getting through that first hard year.”
She’s had to make compromises on her career goals and pastimes — she can’t become a marine biologist, and she had to drop out of volleyball — but her talent for inspiring others has opened up new prospects: teaching, public speaking, activism. Her message to other teens struggling with epilepsy: “It’s bad at first, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but don’t sit in a puddle of self-pity. Set your sights on a goal. Get out there and do something. Try to be happy.”