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Nicki Bradley

Curveballs

My autobiography is called 'Wanting to be Anyone but Me.' It took me several years to write and I finished it just before my fortieth birthday. I'm now forty one.  And the epilepsy, well it's just become an 'it'.

It hasn't been easy to get though. During my early childhood I had an imaginary friend. Only he wasn't a mate. He was someone I needed to kill. So I'd walk into school everyday with a gun pointed at my head, two fingers ready to shoot, my thumb ready to pull the trigger if he threw a bomb at me. Of course, it was all in my mind, no one knew, not even my best friends, who knew that if I blocked my ears, I would be having an ice (what I call my complex partial seizures) and that I needed to be left alone. Friends that I still have and who have supported me through many tough times. I feel very lucky.

School was always tough, trials on different drugs - Side effects seemed to love me! I was in and out of hospital to weaned off them and life became very scary. I didn't just have ices, I had generalised seizures too and my warning for those were awful, a flashing light in my right eye, a pinprick which slowly became a monster whose hand was strong enough to force my head to one side and keep it there until I collapsed. God I hated that bit, nothing can explain losing control like that. Funny, I didn't think I would be sitting here writing about it and feeling sick, but I guess some things never leave you.

Anyway when I was eleven there was a glimmer of hope. My Mother received a letter from The Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery offering the possiblity of brainsurgey. I was obviously elated, the thought of not having the little man in my head was beyond my wildest dreams.

I spent a whole summer in hospital, undergoing various tests, I do remember it being a rare scorching hot summer and being desperate to be outside. The one day I was allowed out, I had my first ever drop fit (I've only ever had five) in Paperchase in Sloane Square and two things will always stay with me, that I couldn't find Mum while I was having an ice, and then when I was down, I was watching a shopful of feet walk past me and not stop. I couldn't stop wondering, in my semi-conscious state, how cruel people could be.

In the end, all the tests were for nothing, surgery wasn't for me the risks turned out to to be to great. It was probrably the hardest thing I ever faced. Mum and I spoke briefly about it, and then just tried get on with life.

For me though, the next two years were hell. I was fighting a brick wall and sinking. By that time I was being badly bullied at school because of my cerebal palsy which made my seizures worse and I was absent probably three days out of five. In the summer of 1987, just before my 14th birthday it all culminated in one huge cry for help. I took an overdose of my prescribed diazapem tablets. Twice. I just couldn't cope with life anymore.

Thankfully I didn't take quite enough to do any damage....

Fast forward to my eighteenth birthday. A big party and I'm about to start the second year of my A level. I had already acheived GCSE's with the help of Treloars College, although back then it was known as Lord Mayor Treloar College. A year later, I gained a place at a London College to do a HND in Business Studies and Publishing. Completing in it 1994 with Distinctions, I was immensly proud of myself, having previously coming through school with very little support from teachers. Walking on to the graduation stage in Westminster, I couldn't help smiling for I had already applied and been accepted into University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

By the end of the first year however, I had accepted that life was never going to stop throwing me curveballs. University wasn't going to be the place where 'you make friends that you will keep for the rest of your life,' as everyone kept telling me. I'd been getting on with all of the girls that I was sharing the flat in halls with, or so I thought. We'd all agreed to rent a house together the following year. I was really happy, they hadn't really wanted to talk about my seizures, even though I'd tried to be open because I thought it was the best way. We seemed to get on well though, so I just hoped for the best.

And as it was 'seemed' was exactly the right word. After half term break, one of those girls came into my room, didn't even sit down. Couldn't even look at me as she told me that they all decided couldn't live with me because I was epileptic. Then ran out of the room as if she was about to be attacked. I sat on my bed, stung by her words and imagining them all huddled together in one of their rooms discussing me, what they were going to do and who was going to tell me.  

It sucked. It was hard to deal with. Yet you have no choice, you have to deal with ignorant attitudes like that.

Coming home from university I got a job in th recruitment industry and was soon working very long hours. I contracted glandular fever. It was very difficult to diagnose in the beginning and by that time had developed into chronic fatigue syndrome. I had been ice free for nine months at that stage. My epilepsy hasn't been the same since and that was fifteen years ago.

But it taught me one very important lesson. To enjoy every moment in life because you never get them back, and to take life by the balls and not fear anything. If I hadn't stopped working, I wouldn't have seen my niece and nephews grew up, and have the treasured memories that I have had with them.

I also wouldn't have discovered a love of travel. The first country I visited was New Zealand, Mum nearly didn't let me get on the plane! I've since seen New Year in Sydney (which was on my bucket list) spent two weeks in Mauritaus and have just been to St Lucia. It's very liberating knowing that I can do it on my own, and a lot of what I've seen will now be used in my writing.

These days, I'm lucky if I have a good week or two. When I do, I spend most of my time dancing. I'm in bed more than I will ever admit to anyone I know, and yes that does include my friends. I don't what them to know about my bad times, I'd rather they saw a happy smiling Nick, not the Nick who's a grump and pumped full of drugs.

And the way my mind works, once a bad patch is over, I throw it over my shoulder and capitalise on the next good patch when I can go out, have lots of fun, and enjoy the things I love doing.

These days, when I meet people, they often say to me that they enjoy being with me because I have such a positive, happy energy. I take it as a great compliment because it was hard to get there. If they ever ask how I did it I always tell them this story.

When I think back to that year at uni now, I always say they crushed my hopes of being accepted at the time, but it became my first tough life lesson. I realised I had to change myself, to present my epilepsy differently so that it wasn't so hard for people to understand and they weren't so scared. Which meant focusing on the positive rather than the negative and needy. Which meant retraining my brain with confidence mantra's every day to make me feel good. I started putting stickers on my mirror and bed, to read morning and night.

It worked. I was surprised. My self esteem rose from zero to ten in the first year and then ten to twenty in the second. By then I was a full believer in mantras. Now I do them everyday sometime without even thinking about it. These days most people think I’m barking mad, because I never stop laughing. Yet I'd much rather laugh, than cry and be miserable.
 
To be honest if anyone had said to me when I was fourteen that I would be feeling this great in my forties, I wouldn't have believed them in a million years.

But more than anything I'm proud of everything I've achieved despite all my curveballs and more than anything I'm proud of being epileptic because it's made me the strong person I am today.


Nicki Bradley
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