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'I didn't have a clue what to do. All we were told is that my life would change' Almost one in every 100 people suffer from epilepsy and as Julia McWatt discovered, it can by very frightening for those who do.

Byline: Julia McWatt

WHEN Anna Morelle-Grey started collapsing shortly after her 15th birthday, she didn't suspect epilepsy. After regular fainting episodes, she visited her doctor to undergo a number of tests before she was told that she had the neurological condition.

Epilepsy results in fits or seizures, caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, creating a temporary disruption in the normal messages passing between brain cells.

Having no knowledge of any family history of the condition and no experience or understanding of what epilepsy was, the news left her shocked and unsure about how it would impact her life.

She said: "They initially thought I was just fainting, I had no idea what it was at that time. Because it kept happening I went for some tests and they told me what it was. It came as a total surprise.

"I didn't have a clue what to do. I was living in Hertfordshire at the time and there was nobody at school with it and I didn't have any friends with epilepsy, so it was hard.

"When I was diagnosed I was not really told anything. My mum went with me to the consultation and all we were told was that my life would change and I would never be able to drive or fly an aeroplane and I could not swim or join the armed forces. As a 15-year-old female, it was not very helpful at all."

Although she had been collapsing prior to her diagnosis, it was only when she was 16 that she had her first big seizure.

She said: "I was on holiday in Tunisia and I had a heavy day of travelling with aeroplane delays and things and it triggered it. As soon as I got to the hotel I started having a massive seizure. My friend managed to make sure I was safe and the hotel called a doctor.

"It was a really frightening experience, not just for me, but for the people I was with. I remember I could feel myself going into a seizure. I remember sort of jumping and feeling my body jerking then I blanked out. I had bitten my tongue to shreds.

"That was probably the first and last massive convulsive seizure I had. Most of them since then have been myoclonic seizures where you are still awake but you can feel your body jerking. I have partial seizures where I don't lose consciousness, but my sense of awareness is altered and I become confused about my surroundings. "They make people feel as they are drunk - they are there and awake but they cannot get their mind to stay with their body."

The 37-year-old from Penylan, Cardiff, can still have between 20 and 40 partial seizures a day and has had to learn how to cope with the effect that epilepsy has on her life.

She said: "It was only when I came to Cardiff to go to university that I went to the University Hospital of Wales and they were wonderful.

I found I had juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, which typically starts with having a history of migraines, which I did, and then the sufferer starts collapsing in puberty, then having seizures. "There are certain triggers that can cause seizures. Fluorescent lighting is one. I am also photosensitive so if I am shopping or spending a lot of time under fluorescent light then it can be set off. "It comes and goes in various degrees and it is just a case of getting out of that situation. Sometimes I need a bit of encouragement to do that, it's almost like a moth drawn to a flame.

"A lot of it comes down to personal responsibility. I have always been very careful with managing my own treatment and I always take my drugs when I need them."

The condition can be treated with anti-epileptic drugs which act on the brain and try to reduce seizures or stop them from happening.

However, Anna has also had to deal with the side-effects of the medication, which include polycystic ovarian syndrome. She said: "I take quite a lot of medication which helps to prevent the full convulsive seizures. I take tablets but they have one major side-effect which is polycystic ovarian syndrome. It's something they always make women aware of as it can cause weight gain and infertility. I am infertile, but it was never really an issue for me personally as I never wanted children."

However, Anna, who works as a psychotherapist, says that, despite her symptoms, she has managed to continue with life as normally as possible.

She said: "It's about being sensible and not doing things like going out and getting drunk. At university it was harder as there was always the temptation to go out and go to nightclubs and things and I couldn't go out as much as everyone else. But it was about finding a happy medium.

"Because I have photosensitive epilepsy, there were places I couldn't go which was unfortunate. But you just have to be sensible, it can be boring but you just have to think of your own health.

"When I had the convulsive seizures I was quite young and naive and I was doing things like swimming during the day which I probably shouldn't have been doing.

"The little seizures also have an effect and you do find yourself more tired than other people normally would be but you just pace yourself and do not do too much.

"I have learnt to live with the condition and have adjusted to things. It can be really hard finding a job with something like epilepsy but I have been lucky enough to find my own way of working that suits me." * For advice and information about epilepsy contact Epilepsy Action Cymru on 0808 800 5050 or visit


* Anna Morelle-Grey, of Penylan, Cardiff who suffers up to to 20-40 minor seizures a day. Anna was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 15 after fainting a lot. Above, Anna, the day after her first seizure when on holiday, aged 16 MAIN PICTURE: Peter Bolter [umlaut]
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 7, 2012
Previous Article:HEALTH OUR expert.

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