KATHY Lehman has seen a shift in the public perception of epilepsy over the course of her 57 years, but believes the battle to reduce the stigma is far from won.
The Lithgow woman was diagnosed with epilepsy at eight months of age, has experienced seizures on and off throughout her life and faced an ongoing battle to find the right medications.
But Kathy – who was regularly teased for “chucking fits” in school – said confronting public perceptions had presented a number of challenges of its own.
“Nobody talks about chucking strokes or chucking heart attacks,” she said. “There have been changes and improvements, but we still have a lot further to go.”
Kathy has experienced all types of fear since being diagnosed, from some people believing seizures were connected to demonic possession, to others not knowing how to respond to someone having a seizure on the street.
“I’d like people to not be so frightened of it,” she said.
“A lot of people just don’t know what to do if they see someone having a seizure in the street.”
Kathy, who spent most of her working life at Australia Post prior to taking voluntary redundancy in 1998, would like to see more done to reduce barriers for people with epilepsy seeking employment.
While dealing with social stigma has presented its challenges, tangible effects on Kathy’s health have provided their own challenges.
She was prescribed many different anticonvulsant medications to try to control her seizures, which she said are now under control.
Sometimes she experienced seizures up to once a month, even more frequently in her childhood.
Effects have included memory loss and a number of concussions suffered due to falling on her head or neck, blurred vision and headaches.
Kathy continues to take on new challenges, including public speaking.
She recently won a Toastmasters International Speech and Evaluation Contest in Lithgow for her speech on the abilities of the disabled and went on to compete in the area competition at Dubbo.
- Purple Day on March 26 aims to raise awareness about epilepsy. Epilepsy Action Australia (1300-374-537) is calling on people to help raise awareness throughout the month. Fundraising groups can register events – from barbecues to bake sales – throughout the month. To register an event, donate or find out more, epilepsy.org.au/fundraise/purple-day