Push your boundaries, follow your dreams

'Push your boundaries, follow your dreams' image

As I opened my eyes, I saw Mum and Dad but where was I? This was not my bedroom and I felt strange.

I was in fact in The Adelaide Hospital and had been in a coma for a week. I had been admitted in an ambulance after having a "reaction" to a high temperature caused by catching glandular fever and pneumonia. I remained in hospital for a month whilst test upon test was done.

It was a mystery what was wrong. I even remember being a test case for medical students and being wheeled into the lecture theatre in a wheelchair. Eventually "Grand Mal" Epilepsy, which now is known as Generalised Tonic Clonic Seizures, was diagnosed.

I was 14 years old, confused and just wanted to get back to my life. I did not return to school immediately and was horrified when I was not permitted by doctors to play in my hockey team's cup final. Instead Mum brought me to the game and I was the most vocal supporter on the sideline!

I remember my Mum contacting Brainwave for information and meeting other parents whose stories inspired and helped her understand the condition and the way forward for us as a family as I had 2 younger brother's trying to understand also.

I was on heavy medication, twice a day and whilst my school and my friends were told I had epilepsy, I did not want to be treated any differently to the girl before epilepsy.

Having been brought up into a sports-mad family, I was fanatical about sport and was determined that was not going to change. Mum had even told me she had met another parent who was delighted to see a remarkable improvement in her young son who had been having more than 20 seizures a day but thanks to playing snooker, his seizures fell to single figures. The concentration he used seemed to make a positive impact and it was inspiring!

I played hockey, tennis, badminton, cricket, swimming and table-tennis all through school, even playing cricket for South Leinster and Leinster Schools. Throughout my schooldays I would go for monthly blood tests and get EEG tests done to monitor brain activity. I was determined to follow my chosen career path as a Beauty Therapist, even though I was not permitted to do electrolysis training due to the use of electric currents. I also found that epilepsy is contraindicated for a number of treatments and decided to do my thesis on the subject. It was received well and was a great learning curve. It is still something I take pride in 28 years later!

An artistic and creative path followed, having inherited my Mum's great love of craft, colour and imagination. I was keen to work freelance as a make-up artist. Yes, hours were irregular at times; yes, it pushed my boundaries but it was where one of my passions lay.

Another passion was travel and I decided I wanted to go to "God's own country", New Zealand at 22 on my own. My family were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to go. I planned on going for a year so I looked closely at medical issues like how to access medications before leaving and off I went!

This was 1984, long before we had mobile phones and internet. How did I cope!? Somehow I did and I had the most amazing, educational, inspiring time and still have many friends from NZ to this day.

I worked in pharmacy while over there and after completing my year, the travel bug was well and truly sown. I have since travelled far and wide, but more importantly I have taken many trips alone.

My point is that you should not be put off doing something you really want to do, just because of epilepsy. My medication has not really changed since I was 14. I still have to take a high dose twice daily and I have side effects but I've been able to achieve some things many take for granted because I have been determined.

Two of my proudest achievements have been to represent Ireland in cricket and in September 2010, I passed my driver's test. I had done lessons over the years but I had never stayed seizure-free long enough to get a licence. Thanks to the law changing and my wonderfully patient partner, I am now a car owner, enjoying being able to drive to wherever I want!

I wrote this article to help inspire others who may feel they cannot do certain things, that society says you shouldn't or can't. Yes there were times when I was frustrated and frightened but now I have my wonderful partner who encourages me to push the boundaries and knock them down. My next goal is to move abroad with him and start another chapter full of fresh challenges!