'When you tell people you have epilepsy it's radio silence'

Eve Dowling

The general population might be streets ahead of where it once was when it comes to attitudes towards epilepsy, but the condition is still riven with misconceptions.

Like so many of her fellow Kerry people living with the condition, Tralee native Kate Muller is hoping next Monday will help clear a few of them up as we mark International Epilepsy Day.  "There are a few stigmas that need to be cleared up when it comes to epilepsy," Kate said. 

Kate (60) was diagnosed with 'photosensitive' epilepsy when she was just 10. 

"We didn't have a TV until I was 10 and when we got one every time I went near it something happened."

Kate says that while a lot more people are aware of everything that comes along with epilepsy, there are still many who believe some of the stigmas obstinately associated with it.

"What people need to realise is that there are 40 different types of seizures that someone can have," Kate continues. "There are the "Hollywood" ones that are the kind of ones that you see in movies that are very big and damaging. Then you have smaller ones where someone might seem like they've unfocused or kind of logged off for 10-20 seconds. It all depends on the person and what they're surrounded by."  Kate says that she has lived a pretty normal life despite the condition.

"I'm a mother, I worked. There are some things I can't do but I try not to dwell on them. It's all about perspective."

The thing that Kate thinks is most important is to talk about it. "When you tell someone that you have the flu or the shingles they ask about it. They ask 'oh are you ok? what medication are you on?', but when you tell someone you have epilepsy it's radio silence. It's like the conversation suddenly stops. That shouldn't happen. People should be able to talk about it without it being awkward," Kate stressed. Epilepsy Ireland provides courses and counselling for people diagnosed with epilepsy.

The association advises people on when it is appropriate to inform their employer about their condition.  International Epilepsy Day is highlighting the work of such organisations and how important the work they do in the community is.  "They really are a great support for people. They provide so many courses and people to talk to. It is hard when you are being interviewed for a new job and you don't know when it is appropriate to mention your condition.

Epilepsy Ireland really helps clear that up for you," Kate said.  While Kate always tends to look on the bright side of life, she does stress that there is fear. "There is a fear. There always will be a fear 'ok when will it happen next? Will I be alone?'.

"It's a fear but you can't let it run your life. You sometimes just need to park the fear," she said.  Kate says there are a few misconceptions that still need to be cleared up. "When it does happen to someone, please don't put anything in their mouth. You could break their teeth. Also, if someone tells you that they have epilepsy don't not talk about it. It makes everyone uncomfortable when it shouldn't. It's not a friend for us, but it is a life companion. We manage it, it doesn't faze us too much, so it shouldn't faze you," Kate finishes.