Driverless Cars


Driverless cars: are they a thing of the future?

I recently stumbled across an article on the BBC that suggested what the city of 2050 may look like. Amongst the farmscapes, smart buildings and delivery drones were driverless cars. Out of every feature the city of 2050 offered, these caught my eye the most.

Currently, we rely on people to drive cars manually, with other people choosing to walk, take public transport (usually the bus, the tube or a tram) or cycle. In the UK, it may be argued that the transport system is “car-centric”: cars generally have priority in road systems, and the system is somewhat biased towards cars.  Public transport in the UK is not as cost-effective or as reliable as our European counterparts’.  The lack of funds (and seemingly respect) that it has received from politicians appears to have been passed onto members of the public. This has left us using dirty buses that leak when it rains, often needing to catch two or more to reach our destination. Buses are considered a method of transport for those too young to drive or banned because they have committed a crime; you wouldn’t even consider getting one out of choice. If your car goes in for an MOT, your colleagues rally round to offer you a lift.

For many people with epilepsy, however, driving is a luxury. They rely upon public transport not because they are too young or because they have committed a crime – they were simply born with an unseen disability.  Most are respectable, decent citizens and many are able to work. Going to work in a suit on a dirty bus? That’s the reality, and yes, it does happen. It may take an hour to get there by bus when it takes just 20 minutes by car, but there is simply no alternative.

But the future may hold more equality with regards to transport. Driverless cars rely on sensors and cameras to guide them around the roads – the BBC have called them “robo-taxis”. The really great news is that they have already been tested and in the very near future will be used on rural roads.  They are safer as they rule out the possibility of human error (and driving currently relies heavily upon humans). With such obvious advantages, it would make sense to have the road system made up of self-driving cars. What they will look like remains a mystery – perhaps like the cars of today, or perhaps more like the cars from a monorail system. We already have cars with in-built parking sensors, and features such as automatic gear change and autopilot have been around for a long time, so perhaps it could be here long before 2050?

If this works, there would be no need for traffic lights. Public and private transport would merge, with everyone potentially being able to drive. They would just get in a car and it would drive itself. Accidents would be reduced (not eliminated altogether – computers can fail – but most accidents are caused by human error).

So, don’t give up hope if you can’t drive or if you’ve had your licence taken from you… In the not too distant future, you may not need one at all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sodium Valproate (Epilim)

This post is dedicated to the memories of Daniel and Aimee.

I felt it was about time I did a post on sodium valproate (Epilim), as my brain is in two minds about it. Additionally, everyone needs to be aware of its risks.

Are you fully aware of the risks?

Are you fully aware of the risks?

What is sodium valproate?

Sodium valproate is more commonly known by its brand name, Epilim, and was pretty much the only drug used to treat epilepsy from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. During that time, many people didn’t see themselves as having an alternative, and so went about their lives as normal – doing their job, having a family, and so on.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s been known for a while that, should a woman on sodium valproate become pregnant, they faced risks.  However, it’s been recently reported by the BBC and the Guardian (amongst others) that pregnant women on Epilim actually face risks six times those of a woman on no anti-epileptic drugs. Additionally, many women were not told of the possible risks that they faced.  The risks vary from mental defects such as autism, to physical defects such as spina bifida – and smaller mental and physical defects as well. As a woman of child-bearing age, I would want to know if I was on such a drug that dramatically increased my chances of having a child with mental and/or physical defects, so that I could find an alternative (if possible).

My Experience

I was put on Epilim when it was pretty much the ‘only’ drug used in 1995, when I was 11 – and as I wasn’t sexually active then, the neurologist saw it as okay. I was on a relatively small dose and it controlled my epilepsy perfectly. I only had seizures when my teenage hormones got the better of me and I stopped taking the medication (stupid, I know) or the doctor thought I might’ve grown out of it and tried to take me off it himself (he was wrong). The rest of the time, I was fine. I didn’t even know what my ‘trigger’ was as I wasn’t having seizures regularly enough to know!

But when I was about 18, I visited my neurologist for a regular appointment and started discussing potentially having a family at some point in the future (this is all very vague – but is how the conversation went as I didn’t want children until I was around 30). The neurologist then explained that Epilim wasn’t really a good drug for “young ladies” because you cannot be on it if you get pregnant (he then went on to explain about the spina bifida risk), and one of the side effects of Epilim is weight gain (although this hadn’t really affected me, it still wasn’t good for young women). And so we waved goodbye to the Epilim, and hello to a life of turmoil (hence my mixed emotions).

I was put on 5mg of folic acid – to prepare my body and as a precaution – and I have tried pretty much every pregnancy-safe anti-epilepsy drug since. I have yet to find something ‘pregnancy-safe’ that controls my epilepsy, and I am almost 29. Eeek. I’m currently trying to head towards monotherapy on an unresearched drug. Again, eeek. Plus, it might not even work.

If you’re still not sure – read this

Having epilepsy has got me talking to people on forums and Facebook (I only have one friend in the ‘real world’ with epilepsy). One of these friends was on sodium valproate thinking it was safe when she got pregnant. Unlike me, she hadn’t been made aware of the risks. She was told she would never get pregnant and so she was overjoyed when she found out she was expecting. She wasn’t told of any problems but was induced when she was five months pregnant. Unfortunately the baby, Aimee, had Edwards Syndrome, and she lived just a few hours before passing away.

My friend got pregnant again, still on sodium valproate, and still unaware of any problems it may cause. After the loss of her baby, she was over the moon to find out she was expecting again. Scans revealed that the baby had a heart problem but that an operation in the first 24 hours after he was born, but other than that she was having a healthy baby boy. She had to be induced after six months of pregnancy this time. The baby, Daniel, was born with Fetal Valproate Syndrome and just like Aimee, lived for just a few hours before peacefully passing away.

My friend was expecting, on both occasions, to go home with a beautiful little baby. She has said it was especially hard being on the labour ward. I can’t even imagine what it was like to go home with an empty cot and to have a pram which was never used. This is a heartbreaking story but one that needs to be told.

After hearing such a personal and tragic story, I understand why I was taken off Epilim, why I have been on folic acid from such a young age and now I know that I will never go back onto Epilim unless I am 100% certain I will never have any more children.

Posted in Epilepsy Awareness, General Epilepsy Information, Ladies' Stuff!, Living with Epilepsy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GP/Neurologist Discrepancies

Before you start reading this post, please bear in find that I think the vast majority of people who work in the NHS do a fantastic job, often under difficult circumstances. If it wasn’t for them, I certainly wouldn’t be able to walk and probably wouldn’t even be alive, so I am very thankful to each and every one of them. The NHS is most certainly the best thing that the UK has, and I would never want to see it become privatised.

I’m a member of an epilepsy forum, and I’ve found that there are frequently discrepancies between what GPs say, what neurologists say, and that often GPs simply don’t read the neurologist’s letter. When you are either immobile or work 9-5, this can cause many problems trying to sort out you the prescription.

I didn’t really have any problems until this week. I’m treated by a fantastic neurologist in London (after we had exhausted my local neurologist’s expertise), which my GP can’t seem to comprehend. That’s fine – he’ll get over it. My GP won’t change my prescription until they receive the letter from London advising a change in my medication – again, I can put up with that – but last week they told me they hadn’t received the letter when actually, they had.

So why the big problem? Well, I’m on three different meds for epilepsy currently, and I was attempting to come off one (Zonisamide) when I had a seizure. So, I rang my epilepsy nurse (who is great) and we agreed to go back onto the full dose of Zonisamide and try coming off the Keppra instead. I’m on only a small dose of Clonazepam but I suspect that will be next, if the Keppra is successful!

So I waited until I got my letter from the hospital and rang my GP. They said they hadn’t received the letter *rolls eyes* and so I had to book half a day off work to book an appointment. Luckily my appointment was with the best GP in the surgery (he once spent an hour with my husband!) and actually, the letter had arrived. I managed to get a prescription to reduce my Keppra – which I’ve started, and no problems thus far (touch wood).

You may be wondering why I’m so keen to get off the meds when my epilepsy isn’t even fully controlled. Well, I will go into more detail in another post, but basically, I’ve always wanted a family and ever since I’ve been of child-bearing age (well, since I was about 18), my medication has been geared around that. I came off Epilim and have pretty much tried everything under the Sun to try and control my epilepsy – without success.

My neurologist said that if I was to get pregnant, to call them immediately and they would change my medication – perhaps using a very small dose of Epilim and a safer drug (though they’re not really sure yet). However, now I am changing meds, my epilepsy nurse said that it’s best to wait until I’ve changed over until trying for a baby. When I saw my GP, however, he looked at the tablets and said, “You’ve got to wait – you can’t have a baby with the tablets that you’re on.” Ha! In a way, I’m lucky that he knows that there ARE risks – I am fully aware of those risks (and I’ve heard of people who have had it’s safe to have babies on Epilim, even in recent years!). However, I don’t think he realises quite how London would get me down there straight away if I was to get pregnant and try to get me onto a safer concoction!

At the moment though, I’m not pregnant and am unlikely to get pregnant in the near future at least – I will write a separate post on that!

Posted in Living with Epilepsy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I’ve been wanting to get fit for a while now, but the idea of having to actually exercise has filled me with dread. I always hated PE at school. I was one of those kids who was good at the academic subjects but wasn’t competitive and pretty useless at sports. Thus, I didn’t even put in any effort when it came to PE – I just wanted those two hours to be over.

For those of you who looked forward to those two hours that I dreaded, here is why I hated it so much. Firstly, there was the changing rooms. I developed somewhat ‘earlier’ than the other girls… And though other girls may have worn push-up bras in an effort to enhance their assets, I was keen to look ‘normal’ – ie, flat. There was no privacy – I was expected to show my entire body to a room full of girls, who were inevitably comparing both themselves and each other’s bodies. I shied away from all this. If I wanted them all to see me naked, then I’d make some money out of it and become a page three girl. This wasn’t my chosen career path and so I soon developed a sneaky way of using my school uniform to cover my bits whilst I changed… Plus, there’s the old monthly visitor. They also started early with me. PE teachers have no sympathy for the huge amount of pain they cause, instead expecting you to be an Olympic sprinter. And then there’s swimming, and when you’re ‘on’, you have to quickly make up an excuse as to why you aren’t swimming that week. A sudden onset of the flu, sickness, diarrhoea, ANYTHING but the truth!!!

Fast-forward 13 years and you get to today. I realise I haven’t done exercise since, erm, I left school in 2000… My epilepsy tablets keep me thin (there is something good about having epilepsy!) but I thought I’d better get fit…

First of all I tried Zumba with a friend. The first time I went, I couldn’t keep up and was having lots of absence seizures. I kept on taking breaks and drinking loads. After that first time, things got much better. I actually began to enjoy it, even though I looked like a complete fool with two left feet… But then my friend couldn’t go anymore. That was the end of Zumba.

I was a bit concerned about my blood circulation and the fat in my blood (which led to my grandmother getting dementia and subsequently having mini-strokes and a brain haemorrhage, from which she died). Having seen what she went through, I was keen to avoid it for the sake of myself and my husband. I’d read that Pilates was good for blood circulation but I wasn’t brave enough to attend a class, so I bought a DVD. I found the breathing hard to get used to at first but then it was ok – and I could certainly feel it working on all areas of my body.

My husband then tried to persuade me to join a gym. I was reluctant at first but then I thought it was something we could do together. So I signed up, gathered my gym stuff and went for my first ever session after work one night.


I think the above image sums up my feelings of the gym well: I do like an idiot the entire time I’m at the gym. I got there, and it wasn’t a good start. I struggled for about half an hour with the locker. In the end, I ad to get someone to help me. Once I got over that obstacle, I walked around this room like a lost sheep looking for the allocated spaces to change. As I walked to the showers, the toilets, and back to the showers again a scary realisation dawned over me: such allocated spaces of privacy existed merely in my imagination. Just like school, I was expected to bare all to every woman in there, who no doubt had perfect bodies. I took my gym clothes and my body issues and crammed myself into one of the tiny toilets. Being careful to avoid the tissue on the floor, I got changed and made a mental note to think of a strategy in future that would mean I wouldn’t have to change in the toilet (eg wearing an appropriate top under my work shirt… I’m still working on the trousers…).

Another hurdle leaped over. Now I look the part. Sort of. My husband introduced me to the equipment and I was impressed that it was so much more than an exercise bike and a running machine (though they were still the most popular). I could set it at my level, or have rolling hills, and there were even fans in the equipment. Wow.

I started off walking on the treadmill, then used the stepper, then used the bike. And I have to say, my husband was verrrrry impressed with the latter. I lasted longer and rode further. I was always out on my bike as a kid, but I don’t remember the seat hurting my bum quite so much. I’ve now got a triangle firmly printed in my rear end. Nice.

Then I tried some weights. That room was full of ‘strong men’ who appeared rather daunting and weren’t in the least bit attractive. I have no idea why girls like that, but that’s for another day! I tried to scurry away, back to something safer, but my husband reassured me that it was ok… And it was…

But then the problems started. I had an absence. And another. And another, and another, and another… We stopped everything and went home. As soon as I stopped, I started feeling a bit better and I didn’t have a tonic clinic seizure.

When I got home, I researched whether exercise could induce seizures and I found some interesting results. Although there has been no research into it, and I know that technically anything can cause a seizure, many people have had experiences similar to mine (or had other types of seizures brought on by exercise). This is because your blood sugar level lowers when you exercise, making you more susceptible. I hadn’t known about this restionship before, but it was one I needed to be aware of. One neurologist advised eating something sugary half an hour before exercising and taking it easy.

So on my second visit, I ate a Twirl an hour before (too early) and forgot about everyone else – I just took it easy. I only had two absences and next time I will eat the Twirl nearer the time and hopefully have no seizures!

Posted in Living with Epilepsy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Easter!

First of all, Happy Easter everyone! I hope you all had an enjoyable and relaxing break, and didn’t eat too much chocolate…

My Easter eggs :-)

My Easter eggs 🙂

Easter was great for me – up until last night…

Routine is vitally important. I have to have three regular meals and my tablets taken at normal(ish) times. Plus it helps my epilepsy if I get up at the same time every day, and go to bed at the same time every night. But it’s Easter! That means four days off work. So guess what? That all went a teeny bit out of sync.

We decided to go to my in-laws on Saturday and stay over until Sunday morning, when we’d come back and go my parents’ for lunch. I was fine on Saturday. I went to bed a bit late but I didn’t feel any problems. The clocks went forward Saturday night, of course, so I woke up at half 8, thought I slept well, but didn’t have any breakfast (whoops). I didn’t feel hungry but that doesn’t normally stop me. I guess I just got complacent in being more ‘normal’.

I had a good lunch at my parents’ and everything was fine. My husband had been planning to go out with the lads for some drinks and he did so. Because I’d had a big lunch, I didn’t eat any dinner until quite late – perhaps too late. I stayed up a bit later than I would had I been working today (again, whoops), and I started feeling a bit “wobbly” about 11pm. I sent a text to my husband just in case, and quickly tried to get to sleep.

I didn’t get to sleep in time and had a tonic-clonic seizure.

I didn’t think it was a good idea to be alone, so I tried to ring my husband but couldn’t get hold of him. I texted my mum but she was asleep by then. I went on Facebook (it is good for some things) and his brother was still awake. I told him what had happened and he somehow managed to get hold of him. My husband came back straight away, even though he had no money for a taxi and had drunk too much to drive. I told him not to drive because he wouldn’t get home alive! And so he ran all the way home from the other side of the city. He kept on saying that he shouldn’t have gone out – but he wasn’t to know. I couldn’t even tell myself. I hadn’t had any absences the whole day, which normally precede my tonic-clonics. This was just different in some ways.

I woke up and as usual, I had the worst headache ever and my right arm ached. Usually all my muscles hurt, so I’m guessing it couldn’t have been that bad. I also wet myself. Luckily I was wearing PJs so I could just change them… That wouldn’t have been nice had I not been at home!

It’s times like these that you realise how much other people care about you. My mum made sure I called her once I woke up and my in-laws were all so willing to do anything as well. And my husband is amazing ❤

So it may have disturbance in routine that triggered this seizure but my medication has changed too. You see, I am 0.5mg of clonazepam once a day to control the absences, 1000mg twice a day to control all seizures, and I was on 200mg twice a day to help both. However, when I went to see my neurologist, she suggested I try coming off one of the main two and asked me which one I thought was controlling my seizures better. I told her that I had no idea (the truth – I’ve been on that many different combinations) but I did know that I’ve tried Keppra alone and for whatever reason it wasn’t controlling my seizures fully. Saying that, my seizures still aren’t fully controlled… So I chose to come off the Keppra and stay on the zonisamide.

Then a few days later, I researched birth defects in both medications (in case I have a family) and although both are new and little research has been done, Keppra is regarded as safer. I called my epilepsy nurse and he said it was fine for me to change – but just decrease the 2oomg to 100mg before my neurologist appointment in August.

Now I think this was pretty stupid of me, but I found some 50mg tablets in the house and my manager wasn’t in last week – so I didn’t want to just go wandering off to my GP’s. So I thought I’d reduce my morning dose to 150mg for one week and keep on the 200mg at night, reducing it gradually, as you are supposed to. I probably could’ve done it using 25mg tablets if I’d gone to my GP which would explain the seizure… Apparently, zonisamide isn’t even meant to control tonic-clonic seizures (though I vaguely remember my neurologist saying he had seen “some” success in it – he is the top guy in the country so he knows his stuff!).

So now I’ve got to decide whether to give it another try, go to my GP (well, I’ve got to do that anyway I do believe) and phone my epilepsy nurse for advice (again, I believe I have to do that).

I just wish I could get it fully under control.

Posted in Living with Epilepsy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epilepsy Awareness Day: Purple Day

There is not enough awareness of epilepsy out there – but Tuesday was Epilepsy Awareness Day. To raise awareness of the condition, people were encouraged to wear purple, and the Blackpool Tower was lit up purple in support of the day:

The Blackpool Tower Lit Up Purple For Epilepsy Awareness Day

And I think it looks great. Thanks to everyone at Blackpool Tower for supporting us on that day, and everyone else who took part.

Coincidentally, on that same day, a friend was asking some questions which I’m sure had been eating away at him for ages. He’s very much into his organic foods and we began talking (via email) about how so many more children are being diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD and autism nowadays – they used to just be ‘naughty children’.

I very much believe that autism is a condition, rather than just a label, and that it has been around for many years (having trained to be a teacher and worked with children, I can tell an autistic child and an autistic adult from miles off). ADHD seems to be a new condition, and I’m not sure whether it is triggered by additives put in our food (as he seems to think) or something else. Or whether it has been around for years. Or whether we are ‘over-diagnosing’.

But this brings me onto my main point – the lack of awareness of epilepsy. My friend then went on to say that he knows more people with epilepsy than he did years ago, and perhaps this is similar to ADHD and autism. He went on to say that it could be triggered by additives in food also – this being what causes epilepsy rather than seizures themselves. And my friend is a very intelligent, well-educated person. I was in shock.

I explained to him that it must just be coincidence that he knows more people with it now – and that diagnosis is getting better (like autism). But many people inherit epilepsy, so there is no way that food can be the cause. In my cause, my late grandma was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 89 so I am unsure whether it is genetic. However, you can also get epilepsy as the result of a head injury – which again, is nothing to do with food.

For the rest of us, epilepsy is as yet unexplained. But my parents didn’t eat chicken nuggets and chips constantly (though they didn’t eat organic food constantly either, since it wasn’t available in 1984) – but why doesn’t everyone have it, if this is the cause? What we do know is that epilepsy is located in the brain, and when the signals aren’t properly sent, then you have a seizure. Everyone has a seizure threshold, and if you have epilepsy then your threshold is lower than most, making you more susceptible than most to seizures.

Saying that, I know that some childhood epilepsies are treated with a strict diet – and so perhaps food can trigger seizures themselves in certain cases. However, I don’t believe that the food we eat does cause epilepsy – and that people need to be made more aware of what does cause epilepsy, and the different types of seizure.

Posted in Epilepsy Awareness, General Epilepsy Information | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Epilepsy and Employment

Many people have asked me questions regarding employment recently, and I have also found this to be a frequently discussed topic on forums.  I believe this is because the government are declaring an increasing number of people eligible for work, many of whom had previously relied upon benefits.  This change has affected many people with epilepsy.  One lady I know was having 25-30 seizures a week, is currently waiting for an operation on her brain, yet the Job Centre have declared her “fit to work”.  Obviously I think this decision was ludicrous, and I am fortunate to only have a tonic-clonic seizure once a year with absences every few months.  However, I have found my experiences with employers to be very mixed indeed.

I left school with good GCSEs – 3 A*s and 7 As – and from there went on to do my A-Levels. Again, I got good results: ABB (oh, and I was in the first year that was ‘forced’ to do AS-Levels – I got CC in these subjects, but I never wanted to do them in the first place and didn’t do either of them as a GCSE!). Out of the three subjects, I got 100% in the coursework for two of them. Not bad really.

So then comes uni. I go to a good uni, do a good course, and epilepsy hits. I start having a tonic-clonic every week, get no support and leave with just a 2:2. The last thing I was interested in was looking for a graduate job – and I doubt anybody would have taken me on anyway, so I moved back home for a few months following my graduation (which I didn’t attend).

After this few months, my parents told me “to get a job or start paying rent”. This kicked my butt into searching for a job, and I found an administration job for a major global bank. It was working evenings and my dad agreed to give me lifts there and back (with me obviously being unable to drive). This was to be my first full-time job, I would stay there for five years and also meet my husband (on the first day – ha!).

But how did they deal with my epilepsy? Because working evenings and epilepsy aren’t a great combination for me, I had quite a few seizures – both absences and tonic-clonics.  I didn’t tell them in the interview because I didn’t think it was important, but I got the job anyway.  Saying that, I don’t think their standards were particularly high.  I proved myself in terms of my working ability and was given additional responsibilities, even taking on a role above my own for several months.  However, I was not paid for this and when I applied for the same role (several times), I did not succeed in achieving promotion.  I now believe that this may have been due to the side effects of my tablets affecting my interview performance.

My now husband pushed me to claim back the time that I had been working above my role, which I did, and they agreed to pay me.  However, I was then moved department.  Following this, the department I was moved to was reviewed, which resulted in me gaining promotion without an interview. Yeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssss… It felt like they did not want to get promoted, but they knew I had the skills and after that review, they had no choice but to promote me.

When I had seizures, it was quite easy because my husband also worked there.  Although there were first-aiders around, they always called him over because he knew what was normal and what wasn’t.  I know the first time I had one people were looking at me (even though they were told not to), but after the first few times they got used to it and carried on with their work!  There was one time when I had three consecutive seizures and so my husband thought it best to call an ambulance as that wasn’t normal for me.  Although I do feel that my promotion prospects were very limited, I also feel that it was the culture of the banking world back then.

I left that employer in 2010 to train to teach.  I had to pass a “fit to teach” test (ironically).  They said I was okay, but now I wish they’d failed me – they never took into consideration the side effects of the medication, and it was these that have prevented me from going into teaching.  Saying that, I did all the academic stuff okay, and the first two placements – but the last placement, in Key Stage 1, I really struggled with.  I also had a lot going on personally at that time which meant my confidence was on my floor and I had bigger things to worry about.  However, I found it virtually impossible to remember a whole lesson plan with my memory problems – no matter how hard I tried! I used all the memory techniques I could think of, to no avail.  It was also now that the slight slur in my speech became apparent – I needed to sound eloquent and confident (something else which epilepsy affects).  In addition to this, I was working from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed, I was stressed and I knew that at some point it would take a toll on my health.  I loved working with children, but I really wished to go back to my 9-5 job for the sake of my health. People kept on saying, “but you’ve got just 6 weeks left!” and I did try… I just couldn’t do it.  Having seen my parents go through the turmoils of teaching, I believe it was a blessing in disguise…

So then I was left with nothing.  I worked briefly in a call centre (no epilepsy problems there, but I can’t imagine them being too accommodating had I have had any issues).  Then I went searching for job agencies.  This is where I urge you all to tread with caution!  Some are great – but some are rubbish…

I had uploaded my CVs onto websites, as you do.  An agency said they had a job suitable for me. I asked for details about the job – they said it was shifts (8am – 8pm).  I said that I have epilepsy so have to do set shifts and would the employer be able to make a reasonable adjustment to accommodate this, preferably 9am-5pm so that I can get the buses okay? The guy said yes.  I’d got my call centre through an agency and that was fine, I was desperate, so I went and met them.  Their office was tiny, I hadn’t heard of them, and I was the only person in there (apart from the people who worked there) who spoke English.  It all seemed very disorganised which is worrying when they’re dealing with your confidential documents.  Anyway, I went through to this teeny tiny room and had a meeting with a guy who looked about 15 in a scruffy suit and a chubby, hairy man who was dressed casually.  He started talking about the job, and I again explained about the epilepsy, and the importance of routine, and how I’d been told they would be able to make reasonable adjustments.  The older man proceeded to tell the young lad off in front of my face, saying, “Don’t you dare say anything like that again, understand?” I felt so sorry for him!!! I wanted to tell him to LEAVE!

After that awkwardness, we discussed the job.  Firstly, the recruiter had never heard of the DDA or reasonable adjustments – I had to explain them both. The job was working for Barclays (a different bank to who I worked for previously).  I’m naming them because I’m disgusted.  They said (again) it was shifts and that they doubt they would make reasonable adjustments; however, they would ring them. So, they called them. The conversation went as follows:

Recruiter: “I’ve got this woman here. She wants to work 9-5 because she has epilepsy. You wouldn’t be willing to do that would you?”

Barclays: “No, we’ve got someone who works here with epilepsy and they do shifts so I don’t see why we should do anything different for her.”

(Or something like that.)

The guy then told me that Barclays already have someone with epilepsy who does the shifts fine so they’re not willing to make the adjustments.  I have also since found out that Barclays are sexist, which is no surprise.  I would advise anyone who is female, has a disability, or has morals, not to work for Barclays.  There are much better employers out there.

I walked out of the recruitment agency crying, demanded that they destroy all details that they held of me, and knowing that I would never work for Barclays.

However, I then came across a much more supportive recruitment agency.  They looked at what I could do, got me a 9 to 5 job, and I was working there for six months.  I only left because I wanted something more permanent.

I’m now working for a very supportive employer, but I have yet to have a seizure.  I have already had a number of interviews for other jobs, and in all of them I have made sure that the employer knows that I have epilepsy so that I have the extra time in the skills test.  I also make sure I am prepared in the interviews – and it was this which made my initial temporary job permanent.  I believe that my employers are more understanding as my senior manager’s sister has epilepsy, and so she can understand more than most the side effects of my medication.  However, I know that my skills have been recognised and now that I have found a supportive employer, I look to remain with them for the foreseeable future.

Having epilepsy, I would say that working for a supportive employer is worth more than all the money in the world.

Posted in Epilepsy Awareness, Living with Epilepsy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Interviews: The Results

The week before last was a big week for me. I am currently on a temporary contract, and with a mortgage to pay etc, I am keen to get a permanent job. But that week, I had two important dates in my diary: firstly, a series of tests to find out if I’m the best candidate for a permanent position for the job I’m already doing (I’ve already passed the interview stage), and two days later, and two days later an interview for a totally different job (yeah, I know, it sounds pretty complicated – see my previous post at Now I know what the results were.

Interview 1: The Tests

I am always more confident in tests than in an oral interview situation. It gives me time to think about my answer, and retract any mistakes. Plus, it’s just me so I feel less pressure. Due to the epilepsy, I was entitled to 25% extra time (I would urge everyone who is entitled to this time to make sure you get it – you just don’t know how your brain will be working on the day).

I had a series of tests: to write a letter, a proof-reading exercise and a scenarios based exercise. I’d been doing my research on the scenarios (as I’m pretty okay with the other two) – but I was thrown when I went in. I thought my letter was ok, but I knew I didn’t get 100% on the proof-reading – maybe one error? I was counting on getting 100% so that I didn’t have to do so well in other areas(!). The scenarios was totally different to what I’d been preparing for so that totally threw me. I interpreted one of the questions wrong but I think I did okay with the others – I was just honest. I went out feeling a little dejected and told my colleagues (who I was competing against) that I’d messed up.

Interview 2: The Verbal Interview

Now, I knew I’d passed my previous interview, but this one was for a different business area – one I’d spent only six months working in previously – so I had to change all my prepared answers to the role I was applying for (NB: I take answers in for all the possible competency based questions they could ask, as I know that I will babble on and not answer the question without the support of these notes!). This is how I’ve adjusted to support my disability and I don’t have a choice BUT to take these extra measures.

I wasn’t sure how the interview went. It was a mixture of competency and non-competency – which made me feel more relaxed, but wasn’t what I was expected.

The Results

I found about both of my jobs on Monday morning of this week.

Firstly, I had a phone call from the Manager who conducted the verbal interview. She said I hadn’t got through to the next stage because I hadn’t used enough specific examples from that business area (other people used more) – but I was very close. That’s far enough – I used all the ones that I had!!! Six months isn’t long… I probably wasn’t the most experienced candidate. I wasn’t too disappointed.

About an hour later, I received an email from my own Manager asking for me to go into the office. There were both Managers who interviewed me for the permanent position that I am currently doing. They advised me that I had been successful (wooohoooooooooooooo!!!!!!!) but I had to keep it hush hush until it was officially announced. I’d just like to reiterate that I was going up against my colleagues for this job so hopefully they see my potential and hard-working ability – not the epilepsy = and that the notes were there to support me during the interview.

So, I now have a permanent job.

But it wasn’t that easy. Apparently the unsuccessful candidates got told the same day, and whispers were going around. I could cut the tension with a knife. Only one person asked – I think he knew that I had got it – but I couldn’t say anything.

The next day, it was announced. I was flooded with “Congratulations!” emails, but many of my colleagues who work in the same room as me have not even mentioned it. Ah, they’ll get over it. Out of everyone, I was the only one who did not have a job to go back to – so I was the happiest, and I was the most relieved!!! I also strongly believe that I was the best candidate and that the recruitment process was fair. I just know that I would have been very happy for whoever got it if it wasn’t me… but they obviously can’t be. On the other hand, I do understand their disappointment. It’s never good getting told you haven’t been successful. I’ve also got a feeling they said to each other (during the whispers) that I had an unfair advantage to the extra time blah-de-blah – which is unfair – it just brings me onto an even playing field.

Hopefully by Monday things will be better – but I’m happy. I know I can pay the mortgage and bills for as long as I want, and I know that I am going on holiday in September!

Posted in Living with Epilepsy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Vitamin D – The Underrated Vitamin!

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of vitamin D, and many of my blog posts are likely to mention it.

Before you read this, please be aware of the following:

Evidence suggests that the vast majority of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D.

Now you know that, you might want to read up on exactly what you’re missing out…

Vitamin D

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a group of vitamins that you can get through exposure to the sun, eating vitamin D-rich foods, or taking supplements.  The easiest way for most people to get their dose of vitamin D is from the sun, as foods tend not to contain enough vitamin D for a person’s daily recommended allowance (no more than 25 micrograms for most people).

Vitamin D is important because it is needed to help the body absorb calcium: without it, calcium is pretty much useless. Not many people realise this, but they do tend to understand the importance of calcium.  However, because the two are linked, vitamin D is also important to help maintain healthy bones.

But that’s not all. Vitamin D has added extra benefits! It also regulates the immune system – and if you’re wondering why you get so many colds, it may be because you’re vitamin D deficient.  It also reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis, with those located nearer the Tropics much less likely to develop the condition.  Vitamin D may also help when you’re that bit older, keeping your brain functioning.  But it doesn’t end there – this magic vitamin helps to maintain a healthy body weight.

Now, I always knew that vitamin D was amazing and very much underrated – but having researched the benefits, I had not realised until now that it may also help asthma sufferers.  It reduces the severity of the symptoms and the frequency of attacks.  This is a subject close to my heart, since my brother-in-law died from an asthma attack in 2011 aged just 34.  Asthma isn’t just a childhood illness and I would advise every asthma sufferer to consider taking these supplements. (From research done at Harvard Medical School)

Perhaps not surprisingly, vitamin D reduces the chance of women developing rheumatoid arthritis, but, more surprisingly, Cancer Treatment Centers of America conducted a study which showed that people with sufficient levels of vitamin D in their bodies also had a lower chance of developing cancer. Wow!

And it doesn’t end there either. If you’ve got tuberculosis, you might want to get some vitamin D down you quick – since it helps you recover quicker – and a study in 2012 showed that low levels of vitamin D may increase the chances of you having a heart attack and dying early!!!

Oh, and that’s just the serious medical stuff. Vitamin D is also a mood-booster if you’re feeling down and has a load more other health benefits too.

Phew!!! So many benefits!!!

How Do I Know If I’m Vitamin D Deficient?

If you’re in certain groups, you’re more likely to be vitamin D deficient.  This includes people who don’t get enough exposure to the sun (which is most of the UK!), people on certain diets and those whose calcium intake is limited due to other factors (such as medication).  Unfortunately, there is a link between most AEDs and a vitamin D deficiency…

If you don’t have any of the above diseases, and haven’t any blood tests, how do you know if you’re deficient of vitamin D? Well, seeing as vitamin D helps absorb calcium, it is likely that you will be experiencing some of the following symptoms:

  • Bone pain;
  • Low energy/fatigue;
  • Muscle cramps;
  • Weak immune system;
  • Depression symptoms/mood swings;
  • Problems sleeping.

Because those symptoms are quite vague, you might not even notice them yourself – and if you do, you might shrug it off as something else. Your GP or another doctor might do the same. I noticed my symptoms but I shrugged mine off. So, when you have a blood test, it might be worth asking if you can have your vitamin levels checked too – just in case… Alternatively, you can always buy the supplement from a pharmacy such as Boots,or start eating foods containing vitamin D (eg Actimel) and see if you notice a difference.

My Experience of Vitamin D

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 11 and been on various AEDs since then (my very first blog post contains a more detailed breakdown of my life – which makes interesting reading to other epilepsy sufferers or relatives of those with epilepsy). I started off being treated by my local neurologist and each time I saw him, we would discuss the side effects of the medication (in particular weight changes and the possibilities things could go wrong if I got pregnant on that drug – even during my teenage years, to prepare me for the future!). I’d be weighed and have my bloods checked each time (which always came back fine). Strangely enough, vitamin D was never mentioned…

I was referred to a neurologist in London when my local neurologist tried to change my medication and things didn’t work out. After a few visits, he looked at my records and said, “Hmmm, you haven’t actually had your blood tests done here. I think it’s about time we did them.” And so my blood tests were taken there and then. I was expecting them to come back fine, as they always had done in London, but it came back that I had a calcium and vitamin D deficiency – which confused me. I drink loads of milk and eat loads of cheese – how could I possibly have a calcium deficiency? When I looked it up, I realised that vitamin D was needed to absorb the calcium, and so no matter how much calcium I had through my diet, I would always be deficient. I hadn’t heard of vitamin D so did a bit of Googling and was a bit shocked by what I found… Howcome this hadn’t been found out before?! I was given supplements with my prescription which I started taking immediately.

I started to notice a difference straight away. Beforehand, I hadn’t really thought there was a problem, but now I realise that my teeth had started to become kind of see-through. Very bad indeed. They were also yellow, no matter how much I brushed. They looked awful. One tooth looked brown, turning black – my mum thought I’d knocked it when I’d had a seizure and that it was dying. When I started taking the vitamin D, there was a visible difference. They’re not perfect (and I’m still reluctant to show my teeth), but they are a lot whiter and thicker than before – which has got to be healthier (and if I’m being honest, looks better – and people do judge you on your appearance!).

I also realised that something else stopped with the vitamin D supplements. Even from my teenage years I used to wake up sometimes in the night with terrible cramps in my leg or foot – they were so bad that they literally woke me up. I never considered them a problem and thought they must be a ‘woman thing’ that everyone had at some point… but then they magically stopped when I started taking the supplements. This was such a relief, I can’t tell you, as they caused me agony (oh, and I’m sure my husband is glad not be woken up in the middle of the night too!).

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was about 19 (though I’m sure I’d had it right through my teen years), and I now wonder whether vitamin D had a role to play. I do still feel low sometimes but not as often as I did before. I think that it has definitely helped. I don’t think that the blood tests I had locally checked for vitamin D! A friend of mine who suffers from depression takes vitamin D specifically for this purpose.

Now, this hasn’t been scientifically proven (or at least, I don’t think it has been) but my AEDs make me very pale, and when I take enough vitamin D I do find that I have more colour in my cheeks (ie am ‘normal’ looking!).

What has been scientifically proven is that vitamin D is a better preventative measure against coughs and colds than vitamin C (which many people take). I, for one, have found that I have had hardly any colds since I’ve been taking the supplements; prior to this, I was catching them all the time (so much that I thought the AEDs had weakened my immune system).

I am also a member of an epilepsy forum, and many members on there now have illnesses such as osteoporosis which are a direct result of being vitamin D deficient because they have been on AEDs for years and their neurologist never said a word… I am lucky in that I have a fantastic neurologist who picks up on everything.

So, I take my prescribed vitamin D every day (it’s not too bad – it’s chewable) but I’m not convinced that it’s enough (my teeth still aren’t great and I still look very pale). So to top it up, I take an Actimel a day – this contains vitamin D – and I’ve found this does the job.

Posted in General Epilepsy Information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Next week is a big week for me.

I’m currently working in a temporary job (I’m sure I’ll do a post about employment later) and I’m desperately trying to get a permanent job. Perhaps I’m trying a little too hard!

My employer has recognised that I work hard (phew) and there is a permanent position on our department up for grabs, but the only thing is, there are people there with more experience than me. Pretty much everyone who was temporary applied for the permanent position, and all of those people got offered an interview. I know interviews are hard, but I believe that they are more difficult for those people with epilepsy than those without.

My interview was the week before last and I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life, because I knew there was a real chance my epilepsy could take over and I could mess up big time – with my interview basically consisting of absences, slurred speech (thanks to my tablets) or forgetting words (thanks to my tablets and the epilepsy). Sometimes, when I have absences, my brain gives an automatic response (not good). When I had an interview for my teacher training course, I was asked if I speak German fluently. I had an absence, but my brain gave an automatic response and said “Yes”. (I don’t speak fluent German – I just have an A-Level in it.) I really did not want this to happen on this occasion. I also would rather not sound like I was drunk.

As I knew there was a good chance of this happening again (I had little sleep the night before, and tiredness is my trigger), I explained to my Manager beforehand about the slurred speech thing and that epilepsy does affect my interviews more than other people. I prepared answers to every possible question they could have asked – it was competency based – and I had prepared answers so thorough that they were pretty much exactly what I was going to say (in case I forgot my words – there was a good chance of this happening). They asked one unexpected question, and I ended up giving the same answer to two questions (not good), but I’d rather that than seeing like I didn’t know what I was about – and my preparation went down well. I also took in my CV, my application form and evidence of changes that I’d made just in case things went wrong! Luckily, the epilepsy stayed away (with my preparation stopping any memory problems) and I got through to the next stage – a series of tests. These are to be this week.

I don’t think I will get the job, but I can only do my best. I know that I can only do so much to prepare for the tests, as most of it is testing the skills I already have anyway. I asked for extra time (though I might not need it) as I am entitled to it – I would encourage anyone else in the same position to do the same. Your employer shouldn’t judge you on this, and if they do, then they aren’t worth working for. You need a good employer if you have epilepsy. I will be taking the tests at a different time to everyone else. I’m hoping that they understand why.

However, I also have another interview on Thursday – two days after the tests. Eek. This is for a very different role, so I’ve prepared a few different answers as well as the ones I took into the previous interview. I’m hoping that will be good enough preparation, to exude confidence and positivity as best I can, and, most of all, that the epilepsy stays away. However, these Managers do not know me, and I can’t explain to them about the epilepsy thing. The best I can do is prepare well, showcase my talents, and hope for the best!

Posted in Living with Epilepsy, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment