Jennifer Bell, our Youth and Wellbeing Assistant, shares her experiences of further education, exploring how she managed and overcame the challenges of her epilepsy to achieve her goals.
I was diagnosed with epilepsy at 14 years old. I struggled to accept my condition and didn’t like to talk about it, so only my close friends knew.
This reluctance carried to when I went to university, but as I settled into student life, I began to realise the importance of recognising and embracing my condition.
I did not let my epilepsy stop my ambitions to pursue further education and applied for the International Christian College based in Glasgow due to my love for religious studies and was accepted to their theology degree.
At the time, my epilepsy was not well controlled and my seizures led to several hospital visits.
Reluctant to share my epilepsy diagnosis
At first, despite my uncontrolled epilepsy, I was reluctant to share my condition with my friends at university. This changed after a night out where I took a seizure.
Since my friends were not aware of my epilepsy, they thought I was drunk. They tried to take me back to campus but soon realised I was ill so called an ambulance.
The experience taught me I needed to speak up about my condition. If my friends had not have been there, I could have ended up in a potentially dangerous situation.
At the end of my first year, the university announced they were closing and that I could transfer to the University of Aberdeen to complete my degree. I was terrified at the thought of moving away from my hometown and support network.
My new university was amazing. I was put in touch with the disability team who helped me apply for funding towards my accommodation and for support such as a laptop and extra time for assessments and exams.
Due to the class size being very small, I was able to get to know the lecturers. They were very understanding if I was unwell or needed extra time and support.
As the years went on, my epilepsy became more controlled. During exam times I saw it worsen but I learned ways to better control my epilepsy.
The techniques which worked for me were maintaining a good sleep routine, avoiding certain food and drinks, ensuring I had a cut-off time in the evening to relax, exercise, and, importantly, taking my medication on time.
I struggled with my mental health during this time but am proud to say that I got through it with the help and support of my family.
In 2017, I graduated with an honours degree in theology which was the proudest day of my life.
Being away from home for the first time, forced me to face new challenges, accept my epilepsy, and ask for help. It is possible to achieve your dreams and goals in life.
There is support and help out there, you just have to ask, don’t let epilepsy stop you. Epilepsy won’t stop you; you just need to find a way to work with it. You are always in control, not the condition! Never think otherwise!