Keep Your Eyes on the Stars, and Your Feet on the Ground – Wendy

Keep Your Eyes on the Stars, and Your Feet on the Ground – Wendy

I was diagnosed with Epilepsy at the age of 13, Tonic Clonic (Grand Mal) seizures. Despite many brain scans they couldn’t find any injury related cause, and even charting my menstrual cycle yielded no explanation. A pattern started to show however, in that the seizures only occurred on a weekend and in the first few hours of me waking up. But how does your body know the weekly routine? It was only when I told the neurologist my story that they deemed it was due to stress. Although this scary seizure was happening every week, I found a silver lining. Epilepsy was the reason my story came out, and the thing that caused the stress was reduced so much so that I began to lead a much less stressful life. From that day on I promised myself that I would not let it limit me in any way, that I would do everything everyone said I couldn’t. That leads me to the stars.

I was a relatively ‘normal’ teenager, and didn’t let the epilepsy restrict me. I still stayed over at friends houses, which led to at least 4 of my friends seeing me have a seizure. Although it was scary for them, and slightly frustrating and embarrassing for me, they loved me all the same. We even joked about it because I couldn’t remember my own name or what a pencil was for a good half an hour when I came round. I even shouted abuse at a paramedic once, and my sister burst out laughing, I don’t remember it of course and if he ever reads this then I am really sorry Mr Ambulance Man in the Lancashire region!

When I reached 18 I moved out and started University in a completely different city. I lived with strangers who became friends, telling them pretty much straight away that I had epilepsy and what would happen. I had a seizure before one of my exams actually and didn’t even know I’d had one until my housemate told me afterwards. That was the moment I realised I sometimes have night seizures too. But that didn’t stop me doing anything, except maybe focussing too well on that exam. In my third year I realised alcohol was a trigger, as such I stopped drinking because I wanted to learn to drive. I stayed completely sober for a whole year at university, but I was still invited to every party and instead got merry off the likes of red bull. I was seizure free for a whole year! I then took a crash course in driving, I passed first time on my theory and practical out of sheer determination, it took me 3 months. Even though I had a seizure 2 months later, I had a pink license which meant I could drive once I was seizure free again for another year without having to redo my test!

That didn’t matter though, because I decided to go travelling. My family weren’t too keen on the idea, but they knew they wouldn’t be able to change my mind. In the Spring of 2012 I set off to New Zealand, my favourite place on the planet. I was alone in a strange town (Queenstown) about to start a job as a Kitchen Assistant for a Ski Resort. Free season pass, free food, free rentals on ski gear and lots of friends, it was incredible. I learned how to snowboard, and figured if I had a seizure it would be a soft landing (snow!). Two seizures happened in Queenstown, but these strangers took care of me, and to this day I don’t know what they look like or who they were but they probably saved me from serious injury. It’s a scary thought that you could seriously harm yourself, but I had faith in mankind and they have never failed to keep me safe.

After Queenstown I travelled by coach up through Kaikoura, Wellington, Rotorua, Taupo and then landed in Paihia. I lived in Paihia for about 4 months, on the beach, working as a waitress. Living there and working in hospitality meant I got free activities, including swimming with dolphins (which I did 4 times) and exploring the Bay of Islands. Probably my favourite town on the planet and it only had 1 clothes shop. I actually don’t think I had a seizure there, but that may be due to the fact I had the easiest life humanly possible. My year visa however ended and I was set again for England.

I had every intention to stay in England, my family were relieved and even thought I would move back to my home town. It was only when I found myself in STA Travel booking a flight to Australia that I realised I wasn’t finished exploring this big wide world. I left England exactly one month after I had returned from New Zealand. I met a friend out in Melbourne first and stayed with her for 2 weeks before moving into a hostel. It was there that I had my first double seizure. I remember sitting watching the TV and waking up to people around me fussing over me as I was used to by this point. But then, an hour later it happened again. It felt like all of my energy had been sucked out of my body and I could sleep for a year. Which is pretty much what I attempted at that point. I think I went to bed at 1pm and woke up the following morning. Lesson learnt was to always take my tablets, another trigger it seemed. If I missed one it was a pretty big risk factor for me having a seizure. Australia was fun though, I was even a Banana farmer for a while, always a quirky fact to tell friends.

Once I returned home another year later I settled back in to work life, which was Health focussed with my degree being in Psychology. A healthcare assistant in fact. After a year of being in this working role however I got slightly bored. I rang my friend who I had come to know in Australia, and it turns out she was in China and wanting a friendly face. Low and behold 2 weeks later I was on a 2 week vacation to Wuhan. This is where my life got really interesting! After swearing off men, as we ladies all do at some point I think, I stood in the queue for check in in-front of a gorgeous looking guy. However he had a face that fathomed he’d been slapped with a wet fish. I decided instead to talk to the couple in front of me. However, fate had other things in mind. I got onto the plane and this guy was in the seat next to me! Turns out he wasn’t moody, he was going to work in the merchant navy out in the Netherlands (the first stop of my 3 stop plane journey). That explained the face. I now own a house with him, he is now a quantity surveyor, and we are very much in love. Needless to say that on my connecting flight to China I couldn’t stop thinking about him, which led to a lack of sleep which was probably the cause of the seizure I had in Beijing airport. Not fun. The airport guy retrieved my suitcase of my supposed flight and popped me on the one an hour later. Somehow I managed to ring my friend to let her know of the delay (which I don’t remember) and I came to on the next plane. Not going to lie either, it was pretty bad. I had bitten my tongue and wet myself. Thank god I had packed spare clothes.

On my return to England I started the course of a career in research, looking into why things happen. I started off as a Clinical Trials Assistant in an Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research Department. It was incredible! I was able to measure little babies when they were first born, I remember the first time I did it I shook from head to toe. This little innocent creature only hours old sat in my arms, and I felt love for a job I never knew could exist. However, I had to move on. I became part of a network helping to organise research in the NHS, working with some of the best minds I will probably ever know. In fact, it was through those incredible people and that insanely interesting job that led me to where I am now… a fully fledged PhD student. My career has flourished, despite the epilepsy, the seizures, the fear we all know. I am going to be a Doctor.

I live my life by inspirational quotes, and my most recent is to “keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground”. In other words, always aspire for more, but never lose track of who you are throughout your journey. I like to think I’ve demonstrated this here, in my life and my story. If you’re ever low, or feeling upset or angry, whether epilepsy related or not, listen to a song called “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen”, you’ll see why when you listen to it.