Claire Nolan’s response to confirmation of a diagnosis of epilepsy was a little surprising, even to her.

Recalling the meeting with her neurologist, she said: “We sat down and he said ‘we know what is wrong now — it’s epilepsy’. The first words out of my mouth were: ‘Oh, thank God.’

“It was the relief of finally finding out after months of testing that it was something I had heard of before.”

The moment of clarity came after a long period of uncertainty and worry over what was causing“blurry moments” of intense fear, and seizures which were becoming more common.

It also came ahead of years of difficulty during which she battled to complete her third-level studies and embark on her dream career.

The good news is that it has all worked out. Claire, who works as an architect at a major Dublin-based firm, has been free of seizures for 15 months and counting.

Today is International Epilepsy Day and Epilepsy Ireland is focusing on awareness of the condition in the workplace. Given the obvious love she has for her job, Claire is well-placed to advise on this, although the 29-year-old from Kildare believes epilepsy was never going to hold her back from pursuing her dreams.

Claire Nolan.
Claire Nolan.

In her Leaving Certificate year, she noticed she had started to get these “strange sensations”, which then became more common as she moved to college.

She describes these feelings as “a sense of deja vu that advanced very fast to this overwhelming sense of fear. It was like my thoughts were on a slide reel, I had no control over what I was thinking of and anything that was running through my mind would scare me.”

She brought it to the attention of a nurse at university, who suggested it might be panic attacks, but Claire was certain it couldn’t be.

She recalls that , at their worst, these blurry momentsmeant she lost the ability to speak.

Once these sensations began occurring a few times a month, she raised the problem with her parents.

It took three months before a diagnosis of epilepsy was delivered.

Joy at a diagnosis was shortlived — Claire was told she might have to drop out of college and her high-pressure, high workload course.

One of the reasons medics had advised she drop out was due to the intense nature of the course.

“I was only one in my course who didn’t pull an all-nighter [of study] — it was just not an option for me,” said Claire. “It gave me really good time management, it turned out as a plus thing for me.”

She went to Beaumont Hospital for a week, an experience she says was “absolutely riveting” and where she was monitored closely and hooked up to an EEG (electroencephalogram) machine while being encouraged to bring on seizures. Those in charge were her “guardian angels” she says.

Claire Nolan rides the tram in San Francisco in 2014.
Claire Nolan rides the tram in San Francisco in 2014.

The process worked and it allowed her to arrive on a programme of medication that has increased her periods of time without seizures to her current 15 months.

Meanwhile, she landed an internship and then subsequent jobs in architecture and decided she would not volunteer information about her epilepsy at interview stage.

Her motto is to never judge yourself on the basis of someone else’s preconceptions.

“It’s a learn by doing process,” she said. “You are ultimately going to fail a couple of times like anything in life. Get up and go again.”


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