Sam was a quiet,  hardworking, 35-year-old cabinetmaker from Narara who loved crafting beautiful furniture. Life seemed ordinary for Sam, but something peculiar had been happening to him for as long as he could remember.

Sam would occasionally experience moments of ‘spacing out.’ During these episodes, he would lose track of time and his surroundings.

Sometimes, Sam found himself in a completely different part of Gosford, unable to remember how he got there. At first, he dismissed these as mere absentmindedness or daydreaming.

As the years went by, the episodes became more frequent, but Sam didn’t think much of it. He attributed it to stress or exhaustion from his demanding job. His friends and family, however, started to notice and grew increasingly concerned. They often found him standing still, unresponsive, with a vacant look in his eyes.

One sunny afternoon, Sam suddenly dropped his tools and began shaking uncontrollably. His co-worker, Mark, rushed to his side and called an ambulance. 

In the hospital, Sam was examined by a team of doctors who conducted a series of tests, including an EEG to monitor his brain activity. 

It turned out that the moments of ‘spacing out’ throughout his life were actually absence seizures, a type of epilepsy that had gone undiagnosed for years.

Overview of epilepsy

Epilepsy affects around 50 million people around the world. Epilepsy is one of the world’s oldest recognised conditions. Written records exist as far back as 4000 BCE.

Epilepsy can develop at any stage of life. It is not contagious.

Epilepsy is a medical condition that affects the brain and causes recurring seizures. Seizures are like sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain, and they can lead to various symptoms, like shaking, confusion, or loss of consciousness.

The seizures can vary based on which part of the brain is affected and how far the electrical activity spreads.

Types of Epilepsy

There are many types of epilepsy.

  • Focal Epilepsy: Seizures start in one specific part of the brain
  • Generalized Epilepsy: Seizures affect the entire brain
  • Absence Seizures: (also known as petit mal) Brief lapses in consciousness, often seen in children
  • Tonic-clonic seizures: (also called grand mal) are the most known type, with body stiffening and shaking
  • Complex Partial Seizures: Altered consciousness and unusual behaviors
  • Myoclonic Seizures: Quick, jerky movements or twitches

In Australia, it’s estimated that around 250,000 people have epilepsy. Internationally, millions of people have epilepsy. It affects people of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

The causes of epilepsy

There are several underlying disease mechanisms that can lead to epilepsy, however, in about half of all cases, the cause is unknown.

The causes of epilepsy are divided into the following categories: structural, genetic, infectious, metabolic, immune, and unknown. Below are a few examples of known causes.

  • brain damage (e.g. a loss of oxygen or trauma during birth, low birth weight)
  • congenital abnormalities or genetic conditions
  • a severe head injury
  • a stroke that restricts the amount of oxygen to the brain
  • an infection of the brain such as meningitis, encephalitis, or neurocysticercosis
  • certain genetic syndromes
  • a brain tumour

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Diagnosing epilepsy often involves a combination of medical history, physical exams, and tests like EEG (electroencephalogram) to measure brain activity during a seizure. Doctors may also use imaging scans like MRI or CT to look for any issues in the brain that could be causing the seizures.

It’s important to note that a single seizure does not signify that a person has epilepsy. It is thought that around 10 percent of people have a single seizure in their life.

How is epilepsy treated?

The main goal of treating epilepsy is to control or reduce the frequency of seizures.

According to the World Health Organisation, up to 70% of people with epilepsy stop having seizures with appropriate antiseizure medication.

Epilepsy is a manageable condition, and most people with epilepsy lead full and productive lives with the right treatment and support.

Famous people with epilepsy

If you have epilepsy, you’re in good company.

Gifted writers like Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe had epilepsy. So did musicians Elton John, Prince, and Neil Young, and actors Hugo Weaving and Danny Glover.

Politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt and Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, and Julius Caesar (whose statue is pictured) were believed to have seizures. The artists Van Gogh and Michaelangelo have also been affected by epilepsy. See more famous people with epilepsy

Indeed, the condition has a long history. There were many misunderstandings along the way from mysticism to science.

Sam began taking antiepileptic medications as prescribed by his neurologist. With the proper treatment, his seizures became less frequent, and his life slowly regained some semblance of normalcy. 

He learned to take precautions in the workshop, such as avoiding potentially dangerous tools during his vulnerable moments. He also educated his friends and family about epilepsy, helping them understand how to provide support.

Sam’s life had changed, but he realised that epilepsy didn’t define him. He continued to craft beautiful pieces of furniture, proving that with the right treatment and support, he could still live a fantastic life.

Have a morning tea for Epilepsy awareness

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. To celebrate this significant month, Epilepsy Action Australia invites you to participate in CommuniTea.

You create your own morning tea, picnic, or workplace gathering on any day in November. Register your event and a kit will be supplied.

Read more and register for CommuniTea

Useful Links

National Epilepsy Helpline: 1300 37 4537

Book a phone or video call appointment with an Epilepsy Nurse

This article is general information only and doesn’t take into account your personal medical health and shouldn’t be considered as medical advice. For medical advice, nothing beats a consultation with a good doctor. Make an appointment with your doctor at Narara Valley Medical by calling 02 4328 2811