Perth is a beautiful city. Clean, well-constructed, multi-cultural and very friendly. It’s so much more relaxed than say London, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo or Hong Kong! I have struggled to find cafés with Wi-Fi late in the evening or at the weekend – because the culture is so much more chilled! It has really gotten me thinking: it’s essential to for everyone to regularly experience calm and to have a work-life balance. But for those of us with epilepsy, it’s even more important.
Today, I received a note from a professional acquaintance regarding an upcoming conference, stating his “understanding” that epilepsy was a mental illness. This made me sigh. Even within the corporate world, amongst the millions of employees – many of whom are highly “educated” - the misbelief that epilepsy is a psychiatric health issue is prevalent. I have encountered this misbelief a fair few times over the years, but the lack of understanding of such a common condition continues to surprise me. I have met people who state, with a tone of conviction, that they “know” epilepsy is a psychiatric health condition. And then the conversation really begins.
Misunderstandings and misbeliefs are two of the key reasons for my work. It’s why publicly speaking regarding epilepsy and disability as a whole provide me with such a sense of fulfilment. The look of shock on many members of the audience’s faces continue to prove our necessity to continuously learn and not trust information from unreliable sources. Through ongoing research, our medical understandings and treatments for neurological conditions are constantly evolving – just as they are for psychiatric and physical illnesses.
Psychiatric health conditions are of a common occurrence amongst those with epilepsy. It is understandable. Imagine your brain recurrently “zapping itself” with ridiculous charges of electricity, that seizures that are causing your body to tense its muscles (leaving aches like those you may feel after a marathon or 5), that you are just “not there”, that you have “accidents” with your bodily functions, that you fall on a railway line, that you’re prevented from driving, that your seizures stop you from breathing, etc.. Or even that you’re constantly tired just because of the drugs that you take and that you have to work extra-hard to remember information*. Suffering from epilepsy in any of these ways can be rather depressing and anxiety-inducing (to say the least). The seizures, the medications, their effects on your life, and then the negative reactions of others can be traumatic.
People here in Perth are affected by epilepsy, as they are in Melbourne, New York, Cape Town, Zurich, Delhi...it's a condition affecting those from all nations. May employers and other institutions bring employees together through communication and education.
To end on a positive note, Perth people and indeed the gorgeous wildlife (!) have been very welcoming. I look forward to presenting to firms in Melbourne – my next stop in Australia.
*Not everyone with epilepsy experiences these symptoms and the list does not cover all side-effects of seizures, medication or societal misunderstandings