MARK

Like many people, becoming a firefighter had always been a dream of mine.

Mark is one of the UK’s only firefighters living with epilepsy. 

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at 17 years old, after suffering my first seizure whilst getting ready in the early hours of the morning for my first “lads” holiday. At the time I knew nothing about the condition, but after many tests and appointments with doctors and neurologists, I was painted a very dark picture. The neurologist spoke about me never drinking, never going to nightclubs, and never being in the forces; it was all doom and gloom. As someone who was just finishing school, meeting girls and doing all the things teenage lads do, I thought my life was over.

I feel very lucky to be doing my dream job as a firefighter despite living with epilepsy. Although no exceptions or excuses have been made because of my condition, I also know I have a very strong and supportive crew around me. In just the 8 months since joining, I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I would. I’ve worked through modules such as a Water First Responder course and a National Institute of Fire Engineering exam, as well as training sessions and emergency calls for many different types of incidents. As far as we are aware, I’m the first person in Derbyshire, and probably the UK, to become a firefighter with epilepsy. Many people said it couldn’t be done and that it wasn’t possible, but I have proved them wrong and hopefully opened the door for others.

The neurologist spoke about me never drinking, never going to nightclubs, and never be in the forces; it was all doom and gloom. As someone who was just finishing school, meeting girls and doing all the things teenage lads do, I thought my life was over.

Sometimes people forget that I have epilepsy just because I’ve been seizure-free for many years – I still take medication every day and there are obstacles and risk assessments that need to be overcome. I have been contacted by several people since first talking about epilepsy and the fire service and, although I can only speak about my own experiences, my advice would certainly be to make enquiries and see what is possible.

My love for the outdoors was the hobby that initially helped me come to terms with my epilepsy. Being in the mountains, the hills, the countryside and woodland was a massive part of what got me through the first few years of being diagnosed. I always came back from the outdoors feeling re-energised and more positive about my life and my future. I’m currently taking on the Peak District Trig Point Bagger Challenge, which involves hiking to every trig point – a total of 88 pillars on top of each incline in the Peak District. I’ll be wearing my Epilepsy Research UK t-shirt to as many of the trig points as possible to promote epilepsy awareness.

Sometimes people forget that I have epilepsy just because I’ve been seizure-free for many years – I still take medication every day and there are obstacles and risk assessments that need to be overcome.

I always try to think positively and not let epilepsy automatically become a barrier or a negative label before fighting for what may be possible. Always try to set yourselves goals no matter how big or small – achieving goals make you grow as a person and gives you the confidence to set other goals that may be bigger and better than you ever dreamed.

The biggest thing I wish people understood is that not all people with epilepsy are photosensitive. It seems to be the biggest and most common mistake people make.

– Mark, March 2021

You can follow Mark’s journey on Instagram @wilderness_robbo 

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