I was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) when I aged 16. I was in the army at the time, about three-quarters of the way through basic training, and was discharged immediately.
I’d always had nocturnal seizures before, but then I started having unexplained daytime ones. 2013 was a very black year, I had multiple seizures and lost my driving licence. But I’ve now been seizure-free for 18 months.
Initially my GP, my neurologist and my wife all asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to get on a bike?’ because at the time the possibility of having a seizure on two wheels was very real. But I was determined not to lose my independence, so I strapped on my helmet. Cycling was my escape. I know that fitness is a contributory factor to my continued stability - I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight too. Stress and fatigue are also two of my biggest seizure triggers but cycling also really helps to keep those at bay.
The Epilepsy Action branch in Harrogate has been brilliant. Knowing that you’re not on your own, that you’ve got help and support, is vital for people with epilepsy. We’ve had lots of advice over the years and I’ve learnt so much from people.
Myth-busting is really important. There have been times in the past when I’ve told people I have epilepsy and almost had to reassure them that I still only have one head. The public need to realise that this condition is something that many people live with on a daily basis.
Ironically, it was only earlier this year, when I became seizure-free and got my licence back, that I really pulled my finger out. It was brilliant, I did 17 laps in an hour [at Big Bike Bash in Harrogate] and was so pleased.
[Andy is taking part in the Harrogate Sportive on Sunday 19 July, with two courses of 30 miles or 72 miles.]