I’ve travelled to some far-flung places in my life so far. I’ve seen a lot, done a lot and met a host of superb people. All while living with epilepsy.I’ve never had a seizure while I’ve been travelling. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I think it’s because I’m happy. I’m not the most confident of people, but I push myself out of my comfort zone so that I can experience the incredible. Having epilepsy doesn’t have to mean giving up on life. Having epilepsy doesn’t have to mean shelving all hopes and dreams. For me, experiencing the incredible is made all the sweeter because it means my epilepsy hasn’t beaten me down and taken over my life.
My life. My choices. My decisions. My brain. My body. My hopes. My dreams.
In a way, epilepsy has made me a stronger person. I could have chosen to let it be the major deciding factor in all my options, but instead it’s a consideration and no more. Yes, of course there are days, sometimes longer, when I’m scared. I don’t love having epilepsy. The scars I have are real and some are a bit more than just skin deep. Sometimes the fear is overwhelming. Sometimes I’m scared to leave my house. But in the years that I have lived with this life-altering condition, I can honestly say that the good times have far far outweighed the bad. It isn’t always easy to face your fears, swallow the panic and put a smile on your face, but it is worthwhile.
Gansbaai. I’m living my dream. I’m about to go cage diving with Great White sharks. Sharks have fascinated me since I was little. I don’t really know why and I guess it doesn’t really matter, but for as long as I can remember I wanted to dive with them. Having epilepsy meant that it was not really going to be a viable option to deep sea dive, I wasn’t able to find a dive centre that would take me and my epilepsy on. It’s dangerous for multiple reasons. I could have lied in order to get my PADI, but I won’t put someone else’s life in danger just so I can get my own way. But, as it turned out, I was able to do a surface-cage dive.
The water was murky, the weather, moody. The perfect day, in my opinion, to be in the domain of an apex predator and the subject of years of fascination. I was not disappointed. Steel grey body, white underbelly and coal black eyes. The first of the Great Whites was gliding past the cage, idly eyeing us behind our bars. Sleek, graceful and 4 metres of pure power. I was barely able to contain my excitement at being within inches of a shark in his natural habitat. My attempts at underwater photography were woeful, but in my mind I can still see every detail. Was I thinking about epilepsy? Hell no.
I’ve just returned from 5 days in Moscow. Five wonderful days. I’ve seen some of the sights I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to see in person. St Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square to put a name to just two. I saw them with some of the fantastic people I met in Moscow, who gave up their personal time so I could experience just a smidgen of the city. Was I thinking about epilepsy as I wandered the streets with my new friends? Hell no. I was immersing myself in the sights and sounds of a vibrant, pulsating city of contradictions. The magnificent architecture of Lenin’s Library just along the road from the huge, gaudy, glass-fronted modern hotels. The fairytale splendour of St Basil’s opposite the massive, modern, GUM shopping centre. Did I think about my epilepsy whilst marvelling at what I’m seeing? Hell no.
Having epilepsy and travelling are not mutually exclusive. In the same way as having epilepsy doesn’t exclude a person from being a productive member of society. One life is given to us and it is up to us what we choose to do with it. I live alongside my epilepsy every single day. Sometimes it taunts and torments me. Sometimes it beats me up and leaves me bruised and bleeding. Often, it lies dormant. I’m lucky. I’m going to suffer seizures my whole life, whether I live with that or whether I just exist, is my choice.
I choose life. I choose the incredible. I choose experiences. I choose vibrancy. I choose laughter. I choose joy. I choose.