Rachel Gingles is proud to say that she is strong and lives a full life despite having epilepsy. She should be. Twenty-five year old Rachel just finished her first year at West Virginia University, where she is getting her PhD in Counseling Psychology.

The road there hasn’t always been easy, though. Rachel began having seizures when she was 13. She had two petit mal seizures and a grand mal seizure before she was diagnosed in the eighth grade. Finding the right medication became a struggle for Rachel and her family.  It took five years and five medications before Rachel and her doctor found one that was successful in controlling her seizures without awful side effects.

Rachel says that it was difficult to adjust to her diagnosis at first. She was a swimmer in high school, so after finding out she was epileptic she had to make sure she was never close to a pool alone. As an active teen, it also wasn’t always easy managing her schoolwork and activities to make sure she was getting enough rest.  For the first few years she felt embarrassed to tell people about her epilepsy for fear of a stigma, but with time that faded and now she has no fear sharing this information.

She credits hope, a good doctor, and a great support system with helping her transition into a happy and fulfilling life with epilepsy.  Rachel is also involved in the Epilepsy Foundation Louisiana, “it’s rewarding to know that you can be helping others like you as well as connecting with people who are going through the very same things,” she says.  Rachel and her family participate in Seize The Day every year as a way to involve friends and family and help raise awareness while raising money for a cause close to their hearts.

Rachel has worked hard through it all, especially in her academic career — she graduated from LSU with a degree in Psychology in 2011, from there she went to Memphis where she earned a Masters in General Psychology in 2013, and now she is not far from earning a PhD. She has an extremely positive outlook on life with epilepsy and she is proud that she has reached a place where she’s comfortable knowing and telling people that she has seizures.

She hopes others who have been diagnosed know that they shouldn’t be ashamed of having epilepsy either, and left some words of encouragement: “It’s not always going to be easy, there will be struggles and hard times, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. It will make you stronger.  You can still have a wonderful life; so don’t let epilepsy hold you back! Stay informed, listen to your doctor, take the precautions to keep yourself safe, and you will go far!”

Rachel is sure to go far.