Jonty, Vusi and me

2010-06-23 00:00

THERE are some things in life that define you regardless of whether you believe that they do: your appearance, your voice, your degree, your eating habits or your religion. The list is endless. One of the things that define me is that I am epileptic.

I was first diagnosed with epilepsy two days before entering high school. In fact, I almost missed my first day at school due to an EEG (electroencephalograph). I thought nothing of it until the first time I had a seizure in class — guidance: a discussion on how the female genitalia expand to allow a baby to pop out.

In my first year of high school, I had almost no friends. I let my epilepsy define me. I was different. I analysed every thought that I had, every side effect that the pills I was on had and every action of mine that even slightly corresponded with the list of side effects. A headache and lack of concentration in class seemed like a plausible brain tumour, tremors and pins and needles seemed like a nerve problem, and any hint of vertigo seemed like an approaching seizure. I walked out of classes, assemblies and movies (horror movies were a definite no no since my first actual seizure happened during Stigmata, the scene in the bathroom when a bird screeches).

Thinking about something constantly makes you go crazy. It can be anything — your appearance, that guy you have a crush on or even an obsession with germs. Thinking about being epileptic made me crazy. My life changed. I had to stop swimming and I had to be aware constantly of how I felt and where I was, plus I had to try to remain sane.

Eventually, I erased everything that I knew about it and pretended it never happened. I attempted to live normally by driving, swimming and never talking about it. I even stopped taking my pills for a while to prove that I didn’t need them. Sometimes it takes a while to come to terms with reality but once I did my life normalised as long as I took various precautions.

Recently, my friend told me that her father, who had epilepsy as a child and stopped taking his pills years ago when his brain activity had normalised, suddenly had a seizure. He was alone by a pool. It scared me. Driving scared me. Swimming scared me. Living scared me.

In the end, the only way to stay sane is to accept things. Accept the way you look or talk, accept that the boy you like doesn’t like you, accept that there are germs everywhere and you can’t constantly disinfect yourself and accept that you have a long-term illness and have to take care of yourself. Live life to the fullest and whatever happens happens.

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition that is often misunderstood. It has many stigmas and myths attached to it and is often labelled as a disability. According to Epilepsy South Africa, for most epileptics, the hardest thing to deal with is people’s perceptions of the condition. However, it is not debilitating in any way, Jonty Rhodes, Vusi Mahlasela and Agatha Christie have proven this. Epilepsy can affect anyone at any age: 80% of people with the condition will be controlled with medication and most children diagnosed with the condition will outgrow it.

• For more information visit Epilepsy South Africa: www.epilepsy.org.za

About epilepsy

EPILEPSY is a neurological condition that involves a tendency to have recurrent seizures. These occur when there is abnormal electrical discharge in the brain that may be triggered by a chemical imbalance or a structural abnormality. There are many different types of seizures. Some are mild and involve a person staring blankly and some may be more aggressive, causing a person to lose consciousness and “fit” uncontrollably.

Concrete diagnoses can be determined by CAT scans (computerised tomography), EEGs and blood tests.

— Epilepsy South Africa.

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