We fight to improve the lives
of everyone affected by epilepsy

Ally Cross

I never thought I would have a medical condition which made such an impact on my life. You see, to the naked eye, I am your normal 22 year old girl. The thing is, I have to take 6 tablets a day to be normal. I have epilepsy.

Before being diagnosed, I used to have 'dizzy spells'. I would need to sit down as my body would be taken over by a sudden feeling of the room spinning... similar to being drunk. My head would go so heavy that it hurt to keep my eyes open. Boom boom boom goes my pounding head. Being told that I was being a drama queen or that I was simply over tired didn't help. I knew something was wrong but nobody believed me. The first time my dizzy spells were taken seriously was when I started to black out. Why is my body doing this? I don't understand.

I would be in the gym working out and the next thing I knew, people were surrounding me asking if I was hurt. What has happened now? I'd come flying off the end of the treadmill. The humiliation was worse than the actual bruises. My dizzy spells had gotten worse over night for no reason. However, I carried on with my life by continuing college and learning to drive. Dealing with the occasional dizzy spell became second nature and I'd learnt coping mechanisms. Dehydration and not sleeping enough were the two main things at the root of the problem....so it seemed.

Things stepped up a notch in 2010. My black outs picked up pace and before I had a chance to recognise my dizzy spell, I was being walked to an ambulance. I had had a black out whilst driving home from college. At some speed, I crashed my car and wrote it off. Luckily nobody was hurt, including myself, purely because my body had relaxed so much. My black outs were then renamed 'flops' as that's literally what happens to me, my body loses its strength and turns into a dead weight. That wasn't my only flop though. I would be sat on the side in the kitchen, talking to my mum, when without warning I would have a flop. Running became a clear trigger as I flopped yet again on a treadmill and whilst out on a run. It's safe to say that somebody is definitely looking down on me, keeping me safe. Without that person, I would probably be dead right now. Even though I continued to black out, I wasn't letting whatever this thing was get in my way of living a normal life. I would get through college to successfully gain a place at university to train in my dream profession...to become a primary school teacher.

As my dizzy spells, now known as tingles, and flops continued to pick up pace, it was time to see a specialist. After some testing, I was diagnosed with right temporal lobe epilepsy in 2010. I went fit free for 9 months on my first medication which felt amazing. We all thought I had struck gold and that my luck had changed. Unfortunately it didn't last long. My flops and tingles were back in full swing.

After maxing out on my medication, I had to try a new drug. The side effects of these tablets are bad enough so dealing with seizures at the same time was simply awful. Not being able to walk anywhere on my own in case I had a fit made me feel like a child. 'Where are you going? I'll take you! You can have a bath when someone gets home but you must leave the door slightly open so I can make sure you're okay' are just some example of how my life was changing. I wouldn't change my family's support for anything but I wanted just two things...my fits to be controlled and my independence back. Let’s not forget my desire to drive again. I had the license and money for a car, but lacked that medical note confirming my fitness to drive after being 12 months fit free. Was it ever going to happen??

I'm starting to feel dizzy and sick again. I need to sit down and stay calm but I don't have a chance. As I slowly open my eyes, I realise I have a pounding headache and that I'm in bed. Oh for goodness sake, what's happened this time?! I've been asleep for 2 hours which means only one thing...I've flopped again. Where was I when I went down? In the car? At work? During my lecture? Walking home? The list of places where I've had seizures is getting long. It's okay though as I've completed college now, having passed everything, and I start university in September (2010). The excitement is overwhelming but I best not go out to celebrate...epilepsy + alcohol = disaster.

I'm careful during Fresher’s week because I don't want to make a scene or ruin my spell of no seizures. 'Just pretend like nothing is wrong. It is an invisible condition after all'. Even though my original plan of driving to University each day has already gone out the window because I have only been 8 months clear of tingles and flops, there's not long to go until I reach that year milestone. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. I would be lying if I said ‘it’s nice to see you back epilepsy’. My medication keeps increasing alongside my fits. Let the countdown begin again. At least the DSA are going to pay for me to travel by taxi each day so I'm safe and warm! Oh my driver, Darling, does put a smile on my face every morning...even though I'm silently wishing that I could be keeping myself company in my own car.

Being a young university student, I wanted to make the most of it so I joined the hockey team. I went on tour with the guys and girls in 2011 to Rimini but it turned into a disaster. The alcohol and lack of sleep took a toll on my body, resulting in one giant cluster of flops and tingles. Luckily I had a hockey mum whilst my real mum was at home, fretting over my safety. After speculation of me not being allowed to travel home due to my health, I got home safe and sound. Shame I couldn't say the same for my phone bill!!

2012 was a write off, with me having fits left right and centre. In November, I was having 5 fits a day, 3 times a week. The time had come to introduce another tablet to take alongside my high dose of anti-convulsions drugs in the hope that it might help sort things out. I would also start the process of being considered for brain surgery with involved lots more tests and meetings. This new medication was doing the trick. It was amazing that one more tablet, twice a day, was helping me to lead that normal life again. Because of that tablet working well with my other medication, I finally met my milestone of being a year fit free on 22nd November, 2013. Tiredness was still an overwhelming side effect on my body but if it was keeping me fit free, early nights and taking it easy was an easy decision. I was also offered the chance to have the brain surgery which could offer positive long term effects. I soldiered on through university, making good friends and memories whilst getting closer to becoming the teacher I have always wanted to be. I graduated from St Mary's university in July 2013 and wore that robe with pride.

On 19th November 2013, I had successful brain surgery and I'm recovering amazingly. Only time will tell if it has been effective in reducing my epilepsy. I am teaching full time in a local primary school with the responsibility of having my own class of 30 8 year olds. The stress and tiredness that comes with the job has tested my health but so far, I have avoided having any fits. It is April 2014 and I have now been 17 months fit free. Despite everything, I still feel like the luckiest girl alive because the support my family has given me has been out of this world. My parents have been my rock, with my mum taking me to all the hospital appoints and talking on my behalf whilst I’m too emotional to explain what has been happening. My fiancé promotes Epilepsy Action whenever he can by completing charity runs and he is about to put himself through ‘Tough Mudder’ obstacle course for Epilepsy Action. If you have a dream, believe and follow it because you will be able to achieve it. Here's to the future.

Ally Cross
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