We fight to improve the lives
of everyone affected by epilepsy

 

Robert Wilks

At the age of 70 I am able to look back on an interesting and lively life during which time there has been success and failure, determination and disappointment but above all an ability with support to come to terms with my epilepsy, use it in a positive way and as a result of becoming well educated on the subject of epilepsy, I am able to hold my own in situations that have presented what I view as challenge - something I respond to well.

A diagnosis of epilepsy can be pretty horrible at any time in life but for someone entering puberty just about the time when you change from primary to secondary education it can be even more devastating. Such was the case for me back in the mid 50s when things were far different, so it might come as no surprise that despite having passed the 11+ examination I had to satisfy an educational psychologist that I was suitable for selective education!

I had first noticed something was not quite right several years before whilst at a local Junior School. I was experiencing strange frightening sensations and only when I had a nocturnal major seizure did my G.P. decide that the problem might be epilepsy.

This, at the time came as a bit of a relief for I came from a strong Christian family and the only explanation I had formed was that the sensations were some sort of punishment from God for a childhood misdemeanour I had committed. Despite the sensations continuing I started to feel more at ease. I nevertheless started to feel different to other people and a bit frightened of what might happen next.

To my mother, widowed at an early age, it was terrible news but she was determined that it was not going to make much difference to my life, fortunately it has not for I too wanted to be treated no differently by others. It is perhaps because of that, that I now have no fear of questioning my G.Ps. when they try to talk about epilepsy.

In my first two years at the grammar school, whilst settling into the new regime, I was also wrestling with anti epileptic medication (not to mention drug side effects). I developed poor self esteem and a rather negative view of what I was capable of achieving. This was not helped by the fact that most teachers saw me as a badly behaved child who might be better placed in a special school..

I did however get on well with several teachers and it was not until about 10 years ago when I met a former school prefect, that I discovered the prefects at my grammar school had been told of my epilepsy by a senior teacher (coincidentally one who I had a high degree of respect for) that “they should be nice to me!”

In the event I left school with just English Language at ‘O’ level, undoubtedly because of my respect for the teacher concerned. He seemed to take a personal interest in me and whilst academically I had not done too well, as my fifth form teacher he gave me a glowing end of school report.

I began work at a local printers as an Apprentice Compositor and it proved to be good training in self discipline. Working under a Master Printer, who had trained at the Oxford University Press I started to pass City and Guilds trade examinations which instilled typographical skills which I use to this day.

I eventually gained confidence to study and retake the exams I had failed at the Grammar School in order to train for teaching. It was at that point that I met the girl who I later married and who has been my wife for over 40 years, during which time we have parented two grown up children who are now successfully making their own way in life.

My mother always encouraged me to live life to the full, this must have been difficult for I rode a motor bike for several years (when I perhaps shouldn't have done), as a boy scout I took part in a number of hazardous activities such as rock climbing and hill walking, and it enabled me to gain confidence and eventually gain the Queen's Scout award. Some would now describe me as too confident but that and being fairly articulate sometimes helps when dealing with the NHS, a service that I nevertheless hold in very high regard.

Epilepsy was only a problem once in the classroom for as a schoolteacher I always told children what they should do in the event of a seizure. It was only at the end of the working day, when I was tired that any epileptic activity occurred. Either when the children had departed or on the way home.

One headteacher I worked for described me as “a bit odd - but certainly no risk!” It was one day at story time towards the end of my career that I experienced a complex focal seizure, strangely the children were more intrigued than concerned; for they quickly observed I was behaving a bit oddly and when I looked at them and said "What are you lot doing here" they realised something was up but responded in chorus "the bell's not gone yet" which of course brought me back to reality!

One little girl, aged 9 gave a beautiful description with some encouragement to the whole school (including teachers) the following morning when as a Senior Teacher I had to stand in for the headteacher who was late arriving. I saw my opportunity to do a bit of teaching and reassure children that in the event of an epileptic seizure occurring there was rarely need for them to get alarmed. In my experience children often respond better than adults in such situations.

Good education is very important, as it pays to be well informed whether it be in a formal or informal setting. I belong to several charities and over the years I have learnt a lot about epilepsy and other things, for you never stop learning whatever age you are.

Rob Wilks

Robert Wilks
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