Now 23 years
old, Mkhwena developed epilepsy at about the age of 13. She says her family
wasted years and money visiting healers and sangomas who promised to cure her
of the condition.
to six years ago when I started treatment, my family wasted time and money
taking me to different sangomas, but still no one seemed to cure me as they all
promised to do,” she says. “Because the healers knew how desperate my family
was, they prayed on my family’s feelings and emotions to make money, but not to
the number of people in South Africa living with epilepsy remains uncertain, a
2009 study found that about one in every 143 people surveyed reported having
the neurological condition that causes recurring seizures.
epilepsy can start at any age, it most often begins during childhood. While it is
not possible to always identify the causes of epilepsy, the condition can be
associated with strokes, sever head injuries or tumours.
up, Mkhwena adds that children teased her relentlessly due to her seizures. A
lack of general awareness about the condition meant that stigma has followed
her from childhood into adulthood, she adds.
Read: The outcome of epilepsy
called me bad names such as ‘mafa avuke,’ meaning die, and ‘wake up’ and
these names are still stuck with me even today,” she remembers as tears well up
in her eyes. “People always advise me not to have a child because they say my
child will for sure born with epilepsy.”
genetics can play a part in epilepsy, there is no guarantee that children born
to people living with epilepsy will inherit the condition.
says she recently began working at a Nelspruit supermarket. She says her new
colleagues have not dealt well with her seizures at work.
A strong woman
have seizures while I am at work,” she says "I am usually (have no
warning) when seizures are going to happen but when I wake up and see people’s
reactions, that’s when I know I was unconscious”.
co-workers) treat me like I don’t exist,” Mkhwena adds. “Believe me, that’s are
worse than living with epilepsy.”
she says that dealing with lifelong discrimination due to her illnesses has
made her into a strong woman, she admits that the comments and stares get to
Read: Causes of epilepsy
matter how strong you think you are, the public comments can destroy your
self-esteem, and make you feel hopeless and useless,” she says. “Being accepted
by your family and friends does not mean the world will accept you as well.”
Mkhwena says she sometimes wishes she could hide her epilepsy, she tries to not
care what other say about her. She does wish however that people would be
taught from an early age what epilepsy is.
least kids with proper guidance and education learn to love respect other
people’s feelings, and accept people with illnesses,” she says. “We’re not
animals or evil people so stop judging us and give us a chance - no one chooses
to be ill."
Types of epilepsy
Recognising the hidden signs of epilepsy
Epilepsy linked to early death
Image: Epileptic attack from Shutterstock