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Diet & Nutrition

Yes, I have epilepsy – but I'm still me

One day on my way to school I felt a strange rush. An intense feeling of déjà vu swept over me: first rendering me cold, and then hitting me with a searing hot flush.
The entire episode lasted just half a minute, but left me feeling weak and nauseous.
I was 17 at the time, and booked a doctor’s appointment as soon as I could, frightened the sensation would return.
The doctor I saw dismissed my concerns, and when I asked for a CT scan he laughed, calling it a "waste of taxpayer’s money".
I felt ridiculed, and was scared the feeling would return again.
As my studies intensified (I was in my last year of high school), I started suffering these déjà vu attacks more and more frequently. Sometimes I would have as many as 50 in just 3 days, leaving me exhausted and finding it hard to concentrate on my work.
Three more doctors over the next five years dismissed my concerns, until I was finally (mis)diagnosed with migraines, and put on preventative aspirin and the contraceptive pill.
The attacks continued, and made studying at university impossible– so reluctantly I pulled out of my Education degree in third year.
Finally, fed up with a lack of answers from the medical fraternity, my Mum did an online search of my symptoms.
The results suggested I had epilepsy, and the next day she rushed me to a doctor, demanding a brain scan (medically known as an EEG or Electroencephalogram).
Finally I had a proper diagnosis. At 22 years of age, with no previous medical issues, I had epilepsy.
According to Epilepsy Action Australia, around 225,000 Australians are currently living with epilepsy, and an estimated 2.4 million new cases are diagnosed around the world each year.
Since my diagnosis, I have been on rollercoaster of medications – six in total – one caused me to put on 15 kilos, another made me depressed.
When I was weaned off one drug to go to another, I had my first major seizure, called a "tonic clonic". I was at work at the time, and while I don’t remember it I know everyone was horrified, and I stopped receiving shifts.
I feel embarrassed, stigmatised, and have lost a lot of friends who just don’t understand my condition. On the flipside, I have had incredible love and support from my Mum, brother and partner.
Because of the medication, I have heightened risk of birth defects and as my seizures aren’t regulated yet, it would be devastating to fall pregnant right now.
My current doctors and neurologist are still working out exactly what type of epilepsy I have. They think I have at least two types, one that causes the déjà vu episodes – and another that causes me to have the more dramatic seizures.
Despite epilepsy being the most common brain disorder in the world, most Aussies don’t know about it, which is why I want to tell my story.
I want people to know that there are many types of epilepsy – over 40 – and varying degrees of severity in each case.
For me: I can work, I can socialise, I can study… but I need people to be understanding of my condition, and know what to do if I do have a seizure.
I have normal dreams: I want to marry my fiancée, I want a house of my own, I want to finish my degree.
I want my epilepsy medication to be worked out so I can drive a car for the first time in my life.
Most of all, I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an "epileptic". I am Lauren, a 24-year-old from Queensland, and I want to be known as me.
For more information about epilepsy, visit Epilepsy Action Australia's website.

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