Michaela Miller was a week away from turning 16 when she experienced her first epileptic seizure.
She had just spent the night at a friend’s sleepover party when it struck without warning.
“I had no prior symptoms and no idea what epilepsy even was,” Michaela remembers.
“We were just hanging out and the next thing I knew I woke up on the floor, there were ambulance officers and my family was there.
“I was dazed and confused and had no idea what was going on.
“I was trying so hard to sit up but I couldn’t even move.”
Michaela underwent a series of tests and was diagnosed with epilepsy after a scan showed shading on part of her brain.
She admits the news left her feeling confused, lost and worried about the future.
“They told me I had a form of epilepsy and that unfortunately it was common in teenagers when the brain is still developing,” Michaela says.
“I was booked in to get my learner’s permit and, being 16, you tend to be a bit dramatic and think ‘oh my god, what is this? I’m never going to be able to drive’.”
Fast forward a decade and the 26-year-old from Ocean Grove is now successfully managing her condition with a high dose of anti-epilepsy medication and prioritising her wellbeing.
Michaela, a real estate agent, is among the approximately 250,000 Australians who live with epilepsy.
“One in 25 people have epilepsy or will experience epilepsy at some stage in their life,” she says.
“It’s crazy to think how common it is and yet some people still don’t know very much about it.”
Michaela is sharing her story in the lead-up to the Walk for Epilepsy which begins on October 1.
Her goal is to walk at least 100km within 25 days and she has already outdone her fundraising goal.
“In 48 hours, I’ve smashed my goal of $1000 so it’s very humbling,” she says.
“This year has been really hard on everyone in one way or another but your faith in humanity is restored when stuff like this happens.”
Michaela is proof that having epilepsy is not a barrier to living a fulfilling life.
She is married to husband Doug, has travelled both overseas and around Australia, has a rewarding career and holds a driver’s licence.
“I’m lucky in the sense that my epilepsy isn’t as severe as it could be,” Michaela says.
“I live the most normal life but I have epilepsy and, because I’m one of the lucky ones, I need to be that voice for the people who do have 20 seizures a day and have permanent carers.”
Michaela says coming to terms with the diagnosis was the hardest part.
“When I first started my medication there were early side effects like mood swings, weight gain and hallucinations,” she explains.
The fear of having a seizure also weighed heavily on her mind.
“When you have a seizure every muscle in your body convulses so it’s like you’ve run a marathon 10 times over,” Michaela says.
“You wake up and you are so dazed and you have no idea what’s going on but not just that, you can’t move your body.”
Thankfully she has not had a seizure since 2014 which she puts down to being vigilant with her medication, ensuring she doesn’t get overtired and not exerting herself in hot weather.
“I’m doing really well which is very exciting,” Michaela says.
“It’s always in the back of your mind but you just learn to live your best life.”
To donate or register for the Walk for Epilepsy around Australia go to epilepsyfoundation.org.au