A festive nightmare

by Meryl Hanmer

In 2014, I suffered my first epileptic seizure whilst sat at home watching a movie with my parents. I stood up to go get a glass of water when I suddenly lost consciousness, my body became rigid and my entire body was convulsing uncontrollably. My parents rang 999 immediately but in a matter of seconds my breathing stopped; the 999 call operator talked my father through CPR and shortly after, the ambulance crew arrived who were able to resuscitate me and stop the convulsions.

From a young age, Christmas has always been my favourite time of year; there was nothing I loved more than watching Christmas movies, going Christmas shopping and of course eating extortionate amounts of chocolate. Most especially though, I have always adored the shining beauty of Christmas decorations that adorn our homes, shops and streets every year in the build up to ‘the big day’. As a child, I eagerly awaited the day that mum and dad would say it’s time to put up the tree and decorate the entire house with tinsel, baubles and twinkling fairy lights. At the age of nineteen, this blissful adoration of all that is bright and sparkly crumbled away, and I am now filled with resentment and fear for this season.

Since that first epileptic episode, I have suffered hundreds of seizures and although none have been as dramatic as the first, each one still has the potential to end my life. There are many triggers for me; low blood sugar levels, loud noises, my period, illnesses and flashing lights. It is the latter of course that makes the Christmas period so frightful and potentially deadly for me. What was once a joyful time now renders me almost housebound for fear of the endless array of fairy lights that cover every inch of all public places. With each seizure there is the risk that I could stop breathing or cause severe brain damage/injury, and to live with this knowledge is something unimaginable for those who do not carry this burden.

In the UK today, over 500,000 people have epilepsy. That’s around one in every one hundred people, yet come Christmas time I cannot even go for a meal with friends without the worry that it may result in me having a seizure/ hospitalise me. The desire to put up decorations and create a festive atmosphere is something I completely understand, but to do so, are bright, flashing lights necessary? Every day more and more people are diagnosed with epilepsy, and while I appreciate we are a minority, it would be nice for people at Christmas to consider the potentially harmful or even deadly effects that their festive flashing lights could have on people who like me suffer with this torturous condition.

If you are ever in the situation where you need to help someone who is having a seizure, remember:


A – Assess – Assess the situation, are they in any danger of injuring themselves? Remove any objects that they may hit themselves against or cause them any injury.

C – Cushion – Cushion their head to protect them from head injury.

T – Time – Check the time. If the seizure last for longer than five minutes then you should call an ambulance.

I – Identity – Look for a medical bracelet or ID card, it may give you information about the person’s seizures and what to do.

O – Over – Once the seizure is over turn the person onto their side (into the recovery position) and stay with them and reassure them as they regain consciousness.

N – Never – Never ever restrain the person, put something in their mouth or try to give them food or drink.

For more information and advice
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