Students navigate through life with unseen disabilities

Some people face obstacles that others do not notice or see. These obstacles are caused by unseen disabilities. Three Georgia State students express how their unseen disabilities both challenge and shape them. 

Those who meet senior Stephen Ford describe him as a happy and energetic person. He also lives with an unseen disability.

When he was six years old, Ford’s teacher noticed that he couldn’t sit still. Most children are active, but this was something different. Ford would wiggle side-to-side during storytime, couldn’t sleep during nap time and would randomly start jumping around. 

His teacher suggested that his mother take him to see a professional, and he was later diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Sitting still and staying put for a long period of time is difficult for me, and I sometimes get the urge to move around,” he said. “I can’t be confined to one area for too long, and my attention span is extremely short.”  

When other people noticed that he had ADHD, Ford promised himself that he wouldn’t let this be a defining attribute. 

“I used to hide the fact that I had ADHD,” he said. “I didn’t want others to think that I was using it as an excuse when I found something difficult. I would rather use it to my advantage rather than letting it be my downfall.”

At 25, Ford has started embracing his diagnosis rather than hiding it. Over time, he has developed different coping mechanisms to help overcome his difficulties with ADHD. 

“I’ve learned to embrace having hyper energy because it allows me to be more outgoing and the life of the party,” Ford said. 

Senior Anya Morrison was 14 when she had her first seizure. Her parents were extremely worried because they didn’t know what caused the seizure. She was rushed to the hospital and underwent multiple tests before being diagnosed with epilepsy.

“When I was first diagnosed with epilepsy, I remember having about three seizures a day,” Morrison said. “Once I got regulated on my medicine, the seizures slowed down.” 

Her doctors told her to avoid alcohol, flashing lights and stress, all known triggers for seizures. 

Morrison was unable to attend her sophomore year of high school because her parents feared she would undergo another seizure. Despite her illness, Morrison participated in sporting activities such as cheerleading and track and field once she returned to school.

The seizures slowed down for about three years, with roughly one per year. In Morrison’s sophomore year of college, they came back full force.

“One time, I had a seizure so bad that I had a brief memory loss, and my professors had to catch me up on all the things that I had forgotten in their classes,” Morrison said.

Her seizures have since slowed down, but she still fears many daily activities. The activity that scares her the most is driving. 

“When I drive, I find it difficult and even nerve-wracking because I just don’t know when I am going to have another seizure,” she said. 

Morrison uses things like meditation, yoga and workouts to help her cope with her illness. 

Morrison wants to go into nursing, and she uses her illness to motivate her to pursue her career.

“I want to be able to help other adults and children with epilepsy because I know firsthand about it,” she said. “This illness causes depression in a lot of people, and I want to be the person that helps them.” 

Morrison has a message for anyone else who is battling epilepsy. 

When he was only eight years old, senior Anthony Slay’s parents noticed something strange was going on with him.

Slay thought he was just sick, but his parents noticed a lot more than he did. They saw that he had excessive weight loss, dehydration, enuresis, extreme fatigue and irritability. 

He was then diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. Doctors recommend that Slay avoid any trans fats, sodas and processed sugars. 

When he was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, he experienced many common side effects, including hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Hyperglycemia occurs when a person has high blood sugar, causing fatigue, tiredness and dehydration. Hypoglycemia occurs when one has low blood sugar, and Slay experienced sporadic sweats, headaches, delusion and sometimes even jitters. 

When he was first diagnosed, Slay admits that Type 1 diabetes was a challenge for him. But since his freshman year of high school, he has done a good job of managing it. 

“Diabetes doesn’t really put a strain on my ability to do certain things anymore,” Slay said. “Since my blood sugars levels are pretty stable, I don’t really experience any changes in my daily life.”

Slay is open about his illness with the people around him. He sometimes has to inform his peers about Type 1 diabetes and break the common misconceptions about it.

Although Type 1 diabetes makes it hard to eat certain foods, Slay has learned to make a healthy, enjoyable diet and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.     

“Finding new recipes that can give me the same flavor as the sugary foods that I’m not allowed to eat makes me so happy,” he said. “Knowing that I can still eat good without my blood sugars skyrocketing in the process has really helped me.” 

Slay has advice for all those struggling with Type 1 diabetes. 

“The key to this illness is eating right, and once you find the diet right for you, your blood sugar levels will be regulated,” he said.

Each of these students have dealt with their disabilities in different ways.

Ford has learned to embrace his ADHD because it allows him to be more outgoing. While Morrison still struggles while epilepsy, she has learned different mechanisms to deal with it. Slay has mastered controlling his Type 1 diabetes by controlling his diet. 

Morrison has a message for people with unseen disabilities.

“Do not let it define you and [do] not let it defeat you,” she said. “Keep accomplishing your goals. You might have to work harder for it, but you will feel great once you do it.”