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 https://theepilepsyblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/interviews/). 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!

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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.

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Interviews

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

About Me…

My Background

I know that there is a profile box, but I felt that that wasn’t enough. This is my first blogpost, and I wanted to start the blog to help people with epilepsy. You may be wondering if you’re normal, be feeling low, or just have got the diagnosis – but whatever the reason, you need to know my background.

I had febrile convulsions when I was a baby up until I was five (you know, the seizures babies when their temperature gets too high). Looking back now, maybe it was epilepsy starting – who knows? Anyway, they were shrugged off. One day I was at nursery, and I started singing ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ with all the words in the wrong order. The teacher thought it a little strange so she called my mum (who was also a teacher at the school), and said she wasn’t sure if was because I was little or because something was up… My mum said I definitely knew the words so something was definitely up! We just didn’t know what was to come…

Before the diagnosis!

Before the diagnosis!

Epilepsy Begins

When I was 11, I began getting very bad headaches and nausea. I saw my GP but he said it was probably just a childhood migraine.  However, they continued (nothing would get rid of them) and a few months later something big happened. I woke up early to go on holiday to Portugal. I’d never been before and was excited to go. I was going with my mum and some family friends (my dad doesn’t like flying). I was sat in the airport and reached into my mum’s bag to get a chocolate muffin out and wham… I tumbled over onto the floor, and had my first ever tonic-clonic seizure. If you don’t know your types of seizure (I didn’t back then), these are your stereotypical seizures that you’re likely to see on TV if somebody has epilepsy. Needless to say, I was taken to hospital and didn’t end up going on holiday. I’ve still never been to Portugal.

I soon saw my local neurologist, had an EEG and got diagnosed with epilepsy – nothing more specific than that. Being 11, I was quite proud of the fact that I had something different. It wasn’t noticeable to people from the outside, and people would say, “really?!” when I told them. When I showed them the tablets I took twice a day, they were amazed (because they were huge) – oh, and I got days off school for my hospital appointments – always a bonus. I was put on Epilim which controlled my epilepsy pretty perfectly throughout my teenage years. Once the doctor tried to take me off medication completely, hoping I may have grown out of it – no such luck, I began getting the bad headaches again, went back to GP (who again shrugged it off as nothing) and soon had a tonic-clonic seizure. I was quickly put back on the Epilim once that happened! I was a bit stupid as I did stop taking the medication myself once, too – and the headaches and seizures returned. I learned my lesson.

Epilim has a lot of side effects, and the neurologist made me aware of these from day 1. “You might put on weight” and “you might have to change when you’re older because you can’t get pregnant on them – they cause complications for the baby”. Well, they can cause complications (I’ve heard plenty of success stories as well as one very tragic one). My weight was constantly monitored but I don’t think that I did put on weight; if I did, it was not noticeable. I left school with straight As and got ABB in my A-Levels (but with depression and anxiety as well – I do blame the epilepsy a bit for that). My education

As I got older, the neurologist realised that I would, one day, like to have a family – and so, when I was about 18, he tried to change my medication. He exhausted all the anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) that he knew about, but none of them controlled my epilepsy like the Epilim had. He ended up referring me to the best neurologist in the country… in London. I’m still under his care now, and my medication still isn’t sorted. I am currently on clonazepam, Keppra and zonisamide. I’ve also been on Lamictal (the generic version of lamotrigine gave me a rash) and Topamax.

My London Neurologist

So, what difference did seeing a specialist neurologist in London make? A massive difference – that’s what!

Firstly, until I went to London, I just knew I had “epilepsy”. That was it. I was asked in London what type I had, but I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know what triggered my seizures either. I felt a stupid, if truth be told. They did a 24 hour EEG this time and I was given a proper diagnosis – juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. They explained this to me and it is usually diagnosed in the early teenage years. As I started my periods when I was 11, this made total sense.

They then went on to explain that the type of epilepsy I have meant I would be susceptible to three types of seizures: tonic-clonic seizures, absences  and jerks. Suddenly I realised that I had been having absences too – but I can’t pinpoint how often or when they first started. I just thought being away with the fairies were normal (I still find it hard to notice when I am having an absence sometimes). I don’t get the jerks – or I don’t think I do. I felt that at last I had names for all these things which made me feel a bit weird.

My local neurologist had used up all the options that he had known to treat my epilepsy – and nothing had worked. When I was referred to London, my eyes were opened to a whole range of new possibilities – and there was hope. I’ve been on quite a few cocktails (mainly the most pregnancy safe drugs in preparation for the future). At my worst, I was having a tonic-clonic seizure once a week (in my third year of uni!!!). I’m the best I have been in a long time, having a tonic-clonic about once a year and an absence seizure once every few months (meaning I’m unable to drive). I’ve learnt what my trigger is: tiredness – and also what can contribute to this (stress, drinking alcohol and not eating properly). I believe that  having adapted my lifestyle has made a huge difference – though it’s very hard for others to understand how important it is.

My neurologist also talked through the side effects more thoroughly, and did the right blood tests. It turned out that I was deficient in vitamin D – which many people on AEDs are – and so I was prescribed a supplement. When I researched the symptoms, I found I must have been deficient for a long time. I’d been waking up in the night with leg cramps for ages, and since taking the vitamin D, I haven’t had it. My face is very pale most days so I’m still not sure I’m taking enough – but it’s better than nothing. Even on epilepsy forum sites most people do not realise the importance of vitamin D and how AEDs impact on it.

Me Now

I have my good days and my bad days – but no matter what – I always take my tablets (even my vitamin D). I’m also on folic acid – again, to prepare my body for pregnancy, but I feel we’ve got a long way to go. I still think I need more vitamin D or the tablets have affected my body somehow!

I was going to go into teaching but decided not to due to the stress (I have come to realise that I’ve got to put my health first). People might look at my grades and my job and call me a failure but I’m still here, with my epilepsy relatively controlled, and that is all that matters. I’m happy. It’s difficult for anybody to understand unless they have been there themselves.

With my current job, my epilepsy is more controlled than it has been in a long time. It is mentally challenging yet I don’t have to go home and stress over it. I have a loving husband (having a seizure in front of someone really shows whether they care or not!!!) and most of my friends understand why I can’t do late nights. I still find this part difficult – the ones without kids tend to arrange late night meet-ups which I simply can’t risk. Instead, I go to the family friendly occasions. I hardly ever drink either, so only going to family friendly occasions removes that social pressure too! I still think they seem I’m kind of uncooperative, or just awkward… but you really don’t understand life with epilepsy until you have lived it.

Because of everything I’ve gone through – I’ve gone through all the usual teenage struggles with epilepsy – and then had to face leaving uni with only a 2:2 when I’d been pretty much near top of the class my whole life – due to epilepsy. I hadn’t known that I was entitled to extra time and received no support from the university that I went to. I even had a seizure on the day I went in to hand in my dissertation, and had to go in and explain why it was late (to avoid the penalties). Luckily, there were okay. I now ask for extra time in all the tests that I do, whether I feel I need them or not. You just don’t know how you will be feeling on the day, plus your the medication means your brain is slowed down in general anyway.

I have so much to say so I am sure that I will be doing lots of blogposts. I had no idea when I was diagnosed just how much it would affect every area of my life as an adult (even more so than when I was a teenager). I’ve come to accept it now (on most days!) but I’m not sure that others around me realise the huge consequences of both epilepsy and the medication.

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