Personal Stories

Don’t be ‘stumped’ by your Epilepsy

25 February 2011
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One of the proudest moments of my life is when I received my first cap playing cricket for Ireland. It was against Holland in 2004 in the World Cup Qualifiers, a tournament we went on later to win, ensuring our spot in the World Cup.

I was initially diagnosed with Epilepsy when I was 14, while at boarding school in Kings Hospital. My family were in the middle of a move to England and I was in my Junior Cert year. They believed it was triggered by stress and tiredness as all the scans, MRI; ECG; etc. were normal. There didn't appear to be a reason for it.

It was a scary time - I didn't understand what was going on. My parents were obviously upset but fortunately when I was put on medication it seemed to control the seizures. Truthfully I don't remember much about the first few years of my epilepsy. I was fortunate that it didn't impact greatly on my life. I continued to do everything I wanted to do.

Sport has always been a huge part of my life and when we moved to England I played hockey for Surrey U18, cricket for Surrey at all age groups and even got selected for the England U17 team as a reserve, which is also when I came back to the attention of the Ireland set-up. I began to travel back and forth to Ireland for training during University - tiring, but well worth it! After University I went to
Australia to play cricket for a season just before the Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2005. The World Cup was an unforgettable experience. The highs for me were opening the batting against Australia and New Zealand, two of the best women's teams in the world. Cricket has allowed me to
travel all over the world - with the Marylebone Cricket Club I've been on tours to Sri Lanka, Holland
and Luxembourg. I went to Exeter University to study English Literature and had a ball there. It was a fantastic university and I was able to while away my time playing sports 24/7. I joined in every aspect of university life including the social side, I mean it would have been rude not to!

Coming to terms and living with my Epilepsy didn't happen overnight. As I found out (often the hard way), epilepsy doesn't always follow rules. There were times where I'd had enough and decided that I didn't want to take my medication any more. Not surprisingly, I never won that battle. My body wasn't having any of it and of course I would have another seizure. I learnt to manage it and to respect it (well... at times!). I didn't really think about my epilepsy for several years. It was under control and didn't say 'boo!' That all changed in November 2006, when after 7 years of having no seizures, I had one while driving home from work. I had been very stressed in my job and we believe that this possibly could have been one of the triggers. After consulting with my doctors we took this opportunity to change my medication as I had always been fairly tired on the Epilim. We thought this was an ideal time to try other options.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and as I found out, this was not my best move. I continued to have seizures; my body just didn't like the options it was being given. I've always had a fairly funny sense of humour as regards my seizures. I could never do things by halves. I would always have to find that hard shelf/ step/ pavement to hit my head off. I've had some corkers of headaches. But my pièce de résistance was when I decided to outdo even myself and fall onto a table and knock my front tooth out! (Luckily I was unconscious at the time so I felt nothing). I was disgusted to find that there was not even a scratch on the table, good solid oak that it was. Now I looked like a pirate and with my big Cheshire Cat grin, there was just no hiding it.

I'm not going to lie to you - I acted a bit of a maggot with my tooth. I did take great enjoyment grinning at friends who didn't hear of what happened. The look on their face as they tried to hide their shock was priceless. People are funny - they're never sure if it's impolite to ask what happened or more polite to look away. I'd a great giggle though. Not to mention when I got a false tooth for a while, the damn thing was always hiding on me, and my poor mum would find it about the kitchen, or my friends would find it on the table, hee hee. Mind you, the only downside is that a new tooth is costly, I owe a huge thank you to my parents on that point.

Changing medication and having your seizures recurring hits your confidence like a sledgehammer and it does tend to throw you about the place. However, I was determined to continue to play sport, so I did. I needed to keep focused on something.

It would have been too easy to sit back and feel sorry for myself. I took a year off international cricket, but kept playing club hockey and cricket. I wasn't able to drive for a while of course which was really difficult. It's frustrating losing your independence. I found myself relying a lot on my parents. I felt like a little kid again. But over the last two years I could not have done without them, my brothers and my friends without them my world would have been very small. However, the one person who was delighted was Murphy (the dog) as now he got to benefit from lots of walks!

For some reason, I found it harder to cope with the seizures the second time around, particularly since the doctors can still find no reason for my epilepsy. When you're a child, you accept everything but now that I'm an adult I question everything. Not diving for a catch against South Africa having an answer or a reason for my epilepsy is something that I've had to work hard at accepting. This time around I've had to change my entire lifestyle, from diet to sleep and everything in between. In the beginning I found it hard to accept that I couldn't do the things I used to do. To be honest, you need to get over that and focus on what you can do. I suppose its how you look at it. My view is that if I play by the rules I give myself the best chance of keeping my independence. Independence is something you don't appreciate until you lose it, and after that you fight damn hard to keep it!

I'm back playing cricket for Ireland since last year where we played South Africa and the West Indies. This year we have the Europeans, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I also work full time with GlaxoSmithKline, a company which has been fantastic in understanding my condition and supporting me through it over the last while.

Support is something which I've found priceless. The last few years would have been very different without it. My family, friends and boyfriend have been amazing. They're the people who listen to you when you're frustrated, give you a kick up the backside when you're feeling sorry for yourself and the people who help you cause all sorts of mischief! My epilepsy has never stopped me achieving anything in my life; it just makes you work a little harder for it sometimes. As a smart man once said 'There is no glory without hard work!'

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