65 million people suffer with epilepsy, a third of whom live with uncontrollable seizures because no available treatment works for them.
Ithabeleng remembers clearly the first time she suffered a seizure, recalling the life-changing moment with a bewildered clarity, saying, “The first time I fell I saw darkness and never knew what happened next until I woke up in hospital.”
She underwent numerous tests and scans to find out what had caused the blackout but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her. Mystified but determined to help, a doctor referred Ithabeleng to Gaborone Private Hospital as it was suggested she might be epileptic.
“The results came back positive for epilepsy and my life changed forever,” recalls Ithabeleng, in a voice that, despite it’s steel, is barely more than a whisper.
Entering teenage hood is a scary, confusing enough time for young girls as it is – and that’s without the added trauma of epilepsy.
However, the early teenage years are also a time of great excitement and hope, alive with possibility and potential. Ithabeleng was no different. She dreamt of becoming a model – the nightmare of epilepsy put paid to those dreams.
Before the diagnosis Ithabeleng was extremely active, an accomplished all-round athlete who thrived at basketball, netball, softball and rugby.
However, due to the convulsive, unpredictable nature of her seizures she was forced to stop playing sport altogether – a hugely depressing and difficult transformation for the previously sporty teenager to undergo.
Ithabeleng’s schoolwork also suffered as her memory struggled to adapt to the strain of repeated epileptic fits.“I had to miss lessons which resulted in receiving lower grades than I used to get. I forgot easily due to the frequent attacks,” she says.
Indeed, school soon became unbearable, as Ithabeleng’s peers, quick to pick on anyone they perceive as different, began to bully her. Eventually, as her condition and grades continued to deteriorate, she was withdrawn from Rainbow and home-schooled instead.
Those were dark days for Ithabeleng and life is still far from perfect. Members of her family, afraid that she might suffer a fit in their presence, avoid her, ruining the close relationships that they once shared. Boyfriends, too, have been hard to come by, explains Ithabeleng ruefully, as they get embarrassed when she falls over in public places.
However, whilst she still experiences seizures – some so severe they cause her to bite her tongue – thanks to her Epitec and Tegretol medication, her condition has improved.
Self-conscious boyfriends, lacking in chivalry, could also be a thing of the past as Ithabeleng has recently found love. “I am never alone which helps to avoid injuries as attacks happen randomly,” says the young woman coyly, with the faintest hint of a smile that suggests brighter times could finally be ahead.