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The hand I was dealt

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SEPTEMBER 11, 2015

Some mornings, I wake up happy, ready to see what life has to offer. Other mornings, I wake up bitter, questioning the smiles I see on everyone’s faces.

The entire month of August felt like the latter. But Aug. 11, in particular, sticks out in my memory.

That night, I went to a poker game my friends were holding. We got to the patio where we decided to play, took what seemed like an hour to choose the denomination of each chip and finally started. One hand, I was dealt a jack and four. Not bad so I threw in a few chips and played it.

The dealer flipped the first three cards. Nothing. Everyone checked. Not me, though I raised. The player on my left immediately threw his cards in, while everyone else called my bluff. The dealer flipped the next card and it happened to be an ace — the second one on the table. Every other player checked again. They saw vulnerability; I saw opportunity. I raised again, and two players folded this time. I took a swig of my IPA. I remember it was sweet, like the chips on top of my stack would be. The dealer flipped the last card, and it was a four. I raised again, but I guess I wasn’t bluffing that time. The last player looked down at his chips and threw his cards to the dealer.

“So what did you have?” asked one player. “He doesn’t have to tell if he doesn’t want to,” asserted another. I couldn’t resist though. My pride was screaming at me to flip my cards. I flipped them. “Have a cigarette,” offered the player to the right of me with a smile. I lit it, took a drag and sipped my beer.

I proceeded to lose all my chips in the next three hands, but it was all right. I would always have that hand.

Losing all my chips on the patio was the last moment I remember. When I came to, I was thirsting for water, had a splitting headache and was about to hurl at Alta Bates Medical Center.

It was all too familiar.

I’ve had epilepsy since I was 16. A condition I ignored and thought I would grow out of only worsened when I got to UC Berkeley. I, like everyone else, thought college would be the best four years of my life. I carved out a role at the Daily Californian, made great friends and found a girlfriend who’s better than I deserve. But as my environment continued to change and pressures at UC Berkeley increased, so did the frequency of my seizures.

I’m not so much unhappy as I am frustrated and confused. I’m 20 years old and I feel as if my entire world is crumbling around me. I don’t know how to deal with the likelihood that I may never drive again. I don’t know how to cope with the idea that I may never be able to kick back and have a beer with the homies. I don’t know how to endure cycling between medications with a variety of side effects for possibly the rest of my life. Trying to navigate through life’s inherent complexities is already difficult enough.

What followed Aug. 11 was undoubtedly the hardest, most confusing time of my life. But I realized recently that my confusion stems less from my condition itself and more from the fact that I may miss out on what was supposed to be the prime of my life.

On some days, walking from class to class, I ask myself what I have to look forward to and fixate on that idea. When I fail to think of anything, I lash out at anyone around me, hoping they can share in my misery. There are some really bad days where all I want to do is go home and sleep it off, hoping the next day is different. Not even better — just different.

But this is the hand I was dealt. I could have had better cards. I could have had worse cards. There is, however, no point in imagining all of the cards I could have been dealt. I’ve come to realize that pessimism and bitterness is a disease. It creeps its way into every corner of life and only seeks to make everything and everyone miserable.  I just have to accept it and play on. I remind myself of this every day, and every day it gets easier.

With each seizure, I’ve come more and more to terms with the idea that finding happiness is not an epiphany but rather a long, painstaking process. Everyone will encounter suffering at some point in their life. But I’m learning to appreciate this suffering. It’s shown me that I can’t take my family, friends and experiences for granted. It’s shown me what real happiness feels like.

But just like the jack and four I was dealt that night on the patio, it’s ultimately my decision to fold or try and do something with the cards I have been given. Sometimes I think I’m just seeking meaning in meaningless experiences, like ascribing a deeper significance to a game of poker. But I don’t really care. Today, I’m choosing to be optimistic and have faith that I’ll come out of this happier than ever.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers are chosen. Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015