Student life and seizures
23 September 2013
When Alan Kirton moved 200 miles away from home to go to university, he did his best to ignore his epilepsy. But here he explains how seizures kept catching him out and how ultimately, the only way to deal with them was to confront them.
Although I'd already had some issues with epilepsy, it was only after moving away from home to go to university that I started to have real problems.
I started to have what I now know were seizures when I first got up in the morning - usually (but not always) after a night out when I'd drunk too much and not had enough sleep - basically not looking after myself properly. I guess a common enough problem with freshers, but while I was enjoying being a student I did my best to ignore it all.
The best way I could describe the seizures would be like getting an electric shock, and in the split second it happened anything I was holding would be dropped. Within no time at all I'd managed to break all the bowls and mugs I'd taken with me, and only just escaped scalding myself with hot drinks on more than one occasion.
After having what I generally say was my first 'proper' seizure I was scared enough to get something done about it.
Rather than do the sensible thing and go and see a GP, the first thing I did was to go and buy some plastic kitchenware that wouldn't break if I dropped it - just one example of me trying to deal with the consequences rather than the cause. The other things I started to notice were that I'd sometimes wake up aching in the morning, often with some nasty bruises, and when I felt well enough to go I'd turn up at lectures not being able to talk properly as I'd bitten my tongue.
Even most of this I managed to pass off without too much worry, but after having what I generally say was my first 'proper' seizure I was scared enough to get something done about it. I woke up one morning to find myself covered in blood (although unable to work out how much was from a large bite in my tongue or from the cut on my head). My muscles ached so much I could barely get out of bed and I had the beginnings of a black eye. And on top of all, that the most worrying thing was that my mind was blank - I had no idea where I was or what day it was. Everything started coming back to me after a few minutes, but it was enough of a shock to finally make me go and see a doctor.
After a short wait while I managed to get myself registered with the campus GP (a useful hint - it may seem obvious, but get registered at the doctors as soon as you move rather than waiting until you are unwell). After talking everything through he said his initial diagnosis was epilepsy. It was the first time it had been mentioned and came as a shock. Looking back now it seems pretty obvious (especially as there is history of epilepsy in the family), but I think I'd managed to put it at the back of my mind and ignore it as a possibility. I was hoping I'd just be told to look after myself a bit more and everything would be fine.
Even after taking this all in, it still took time to get to grips with everything. I didn't want to miss out on things so kept going out (and having seizures) and it took a while to get used to taking medication regularly. There were a number of times I made last minute dashes to the pharmacy when I ran out of tablets.
A major fall out from these problems were that I failed my first year of study. That was a bit of a shock too as I'd got through school and college without any problems and wrongly thought that I'd be able to do the same at university despite missing so many lectures. Thankfully the university was willing to let me start over again the next year. Yet another bit of advice - speak to your tutor if you are having problems - it gives everyone more time to sort things out and give you support.
Impact of epilepsy
Being a student when I was diagnosed with epilepsy definitely had an impact on how I coped with it, and it would have been much easier if I'd still been living at home and had my parents around. However, one of the main reasons in going was to get some independence and as with everything else you do at that age, you aren't always going to get everything right first time. Add to that the usual teenage stubbornness and even if someone had given me sensible advice I may well have ignored it. One benefit I had was that I was fortunate enough to have a supportive group of friends around me - something I'll always be hugely grateful for.
Thankfully after a while my epilepsy was fully under control and I managed to graduate and leave university for the real world!