Living with Epilepsy: Reflections on 60 years of battle

In this post I want to share with you in a very honest way some of the problems facing a person who has epilepsy. Even today one finds that having epilepsy seems to be a condition which carries a stigma. I realise that some of the things I will share will be hard for those who don’t have epilepsy to understand but I will try to make it as clear as possible. I want to record my story and I hope that by reading this you will be encouraged.

It all started suddenly when I was 4 years old, one day I was a normal 4 year old, the next I started having seizures. The seizures soon led to be admitted to hospital. It was hard for anybody to control these seizures and they came one on top of another. The doctors warned my parents that I was likely to die and if I did survive that I would be permanently brain damaged. This was one of the most scary periods of my life, I lost all coordination between hand and brain and was dumb for a short period of time. I remember vividly trying to speak and only grunts would come out of my mouth. This was a frustrating and confusing experience. I did not understand what was happening to me and I had no way to communicate my fears and frustrations to others. The doctors and nurses did their best for me but I was not responding to treatment. Then one Sunday a visiting preacher to our chapel called Mr Foster, having spoken to my parents at the service.Came and visited me in the hospital and prayed for me. from that moment I started to slowly recover. My speech returned, my mother told me that the first sentence she heard me say was “I can talk again mummy” but it took me 30 minutes to say those few words. I was released from hospital and became an out patient for about 6 years.

The long struggle to regain the coordination between hand and brain begun. I could not write and when I did start writing it was in block capitals which was the only way I could write until I was 12 years old. But that is to jump ahead a bit and I will return to that later.

Shortly after I was released from athe hospital I had an outpatient appointment with the consultant, he asked me “what made you get better David? I answered by saying “Jesus made me better” to which the consultant said “who knows the boy might be right we certainly didn’t do anything”. In the sixty years since I have not changed my mind I believe with all my heart that it was the Lord who healed me.

When I was well enough to return to school another battle was to begin not only was I struggling to do things I had done before but my fellow pupils thought that I was odd and stupid. They made sure that I knew that by cutting me out of some conversations. I was consistently bottom of the class in every subject except for history. My writing did not help matters. As I grew I became more and more aware that I was different.  I never knew when I was going to have a seizure, the onset of a grand mal seizure is frightening as you for a few seconds realise that you have no control of your body and you try to gain it back. And although they were now reasonably well controlled, I was told that I must not get over excited, my parents would assign somebody at a party to make sure that I did not get too excited. The result being that I still don’t know how to enjoy a party.

At first I resigned myself to the fact that I would never make much of myself but, then I had a new teacher at school called Mrs Leader and one day she said to me “David if the two of us work together I am sure we can get you writing” this was when I was 12 years old. Suddenly there seemed hope for some improvement and we worked together and I learnt to write. This was a major step forward and I began to think more positively but my fellow pupils still looked down on me. I was told on numerous occasions when I tried to join in a discussion ” you wont understand”. I felt that I wanted to achieve something and I felt that I would have to follow my father into the menswear shop that he ran.

While I was at school I started working for Dad at his menswear shop, I worked 15 hours a week. It had been decided at school that it was useless for me to st any exams because I would fail them. My headmaster said to my mother, “David has the knowledge inside himself but I can’t find away to get it out of him”. I felt a growing desire to prove to people that I could achieve in some area, so I went to Luton Library and read up on various subjects. When I about 14 years old, I started to get interested in politics.  I remember reading books like “The Case for the Conservative Party” and “The Case for the Labour Party” but I was still not satisfied but I continued to read around the subject. On the eve of the 1966 general election I read “The Liberal Party” by Jorgen Scott Rasmussen, this book made we want to get involved with the Liberal Party. I joined the Liberal Party at the begining of the election campaign and they soon had me stuffing envelopes and going dooor to door canvassing. I felt that at last I had found something that set me apart as different and something which I could try to excel in. In the autumn of 1966 I was asked to join the committee of Luton Liberal Association, I was the youngest person to ever have a seat on that committee. Soon my life was full of politics.  wWe started up a branch of the Young Liberals in town and I was their first, Political Vice Chairman, as such it was my responsibility to engage in debates with members of other parties and to keep my own members informed of political developments and try to inspire them to action. In the Political sphere I found I was accepted for who I was and for the first time in my life my epilepsy was not a major issue for them. The Young Liberals were on the left wing of the Liberal Party and indeed in the “New Left Mayday Manifesto” published in 1968 we were considered an integral part of the new left. My political views were becoming more and more radical and my Christian background was receding. During this time of political activity I tried to live within the bounds of my limitations but I did not always succeed and the result was that I had another seizure. This happened on several occasions even though for the most part my seizures were well controlled.

During this period of time I saw both my elder and younger brother learn to drive, I found that very hard because in those days there was a lifetime ban on people with epilepsy driving. I became quite depressed about it all.  One of the things that helped me the most at this time, was when my younger brother bought his first car. He would not allow anyone else to see it until he had taken me for a drive in it. I felt privileged to be the first one to go out with him and it was a healing experience.

In the Autumn of 1969 I became a Christian and I realised that I needed to resign my political posts so that I could consider everything biblically. When I resigned from my Liberal Party position.  I was contacted by members of the Liberal Party,The Conservative Party, The Labour Party and the Communist Party. They said that if I wanted to be involved in politics again I would be warmly welcomed into their ranks. One party even tried offering me a safe council seat but although tempted I declined the offer.

This next period of my life was to be very challenging I had become a Christian in a hyper-Calvinist denomination that forbade evangelism because God is sovereign. I started reading more widely and began to realise that the denomination I was in was unbiblical  in its theology. At the same time I came across the writing of Francis and Edith Schaeffer which had and still do have a great impact on my life. As I began to struggle with my denominational background I became aware that L’Abri Fellowship had a work in London.

I contacted Dick Keyes who was then heading up that work, he advised me in conversation to spend some time at the L’Abri branch in Greatham.  I spent all of my work vacation time at Greatham from 1972-1974. During which time I began to see the issues very clearly and knew that I had to leave the denomination I was in. To cut a long story short in the summer of 1974 I moved to Greatham to be a helper in the work there. It was here that I was to experience some highs and a very deep low. In October 1974 I had been asked to give a lecture on the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, the day I gave this lecture was also the day of the second general election. I stayed up late listening to the results as a result the next day I had a very bad seizure. This completely deflated me physically and emotionally. The good side was I went away for a few days to convalesce at Sylvester and Janet Jacobs home. On returning I was still feeling very depressed, I started struggling with the facts that I could not drive or drink alcohol, I seemed to see all the problems and none of the blessings. One day one of the students who had just become a Christian said to me “David this illness and depression has made you more honest than you were before”. God used these words to help the light come flooding back in. I realised that I had to live within my limitations. I also argued with God, as to why he had not completely healed me, when I was young; he powerfully said “my grace is sufficient for your weakness”.  He has been true to this promise, I have not had a daytime seizure since this one.

In 1975 I found myself travelling to Switzerland to work for L’Abri, I thought I would be working in Switzerland but on arrival I was told that I would be working in France. I spent four and half wonderful years in France, I loved the work and I enjoyed living in Thollon-les -Memises. This was to be a formative time for my thinking and was to alter my whole life. I found myself giving lectures at Swiss L’Abri and leading the discussions some Thursday mornings. Strangely it was at L’Abri where thinking and education was encouraged that I was allowed to teach even though I had no accademic qualifications. Here I was accepted and affirmed for who I was. The crowning blessing of my time there was the arrival of Judy Baumgart as a student. Little did either of us realise that the Lord had placed us together, so that we might get to know one another and eventually in March 1979 we were married.

Judy and I left L’Abri for England in 1979, Judy being an American had to learn to live within the English culture thankfully she did not find this too difficult. She has been a great support to me throughout our married years. Soon after returning to England I started applying to Bible Colleges and one by one they turned me down because of my lack of academic qualifications. I had written to a friend telling him that I had been turned down by all the Colleges including London Bible College. My friend without telling me wrote to Derek Tidball the director of studies asking if he felt that he had done justice to my application. Derek graciously responded by inviting me to an interview, that interview being as it was for a mature student had four or five faculty members present. I remember Leslie Allen challenged me, as to whether I could handle different viewpoints than my own.  I  responded by saying that I had given a seris of lectures on Liberation theology at L’Abri before anything had been published on the subject by evangelical scholars and therefore I had worked from the primary sources. This seemed to be the turning point in the interview.

Life at London Bible College (now London School of Theology) was difficult to begin with. I suddenly found myself writing essays, something I had never done before and the first exams that I ever sat were for my BA. With Judy’s support and keeping my eyes on my limitations, I was able to accomplish a lot in that first year. I will never forget the joy I felt in seeing that I had passed my first year exams. As we were looking at the notice, I noticed that Dr Harry Rowden was lingering around, as soon as I had seen my result he came up to me and congratulated me on securing such good results. He then told me that he had predicted that I would fail my exams and that he was so pleased that he was wrong!

During the time at college I found that I received pastoral support from a number of the lecturers but I will just mention two. Firstly Derek Tidball, I was in his fellowship group throughout college and he was to encourage and support the students. The other one was Donald Guthrie, he knew that my college placement was not an easy one, the church was struggling with huge problems. Donald knew the Church and its members well and very often after a difficult Sunday he would call me into his office on a Monday morning and speak words of encouragement to me. As a result when I was ordained I asked Donald to lead in the ordination prayer which he did.

After college I pastored a church for nearly six years until I had to resign on a matter of biblical principal. This was a very stressful time but one where the Lord gave me strength and wisdom. Obviously the dizziness and other symptoms increased but I did not have a seizure,

After the pastorate I was preaching at a variety of churches but eventually in 1993 we became involved in Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist church and I have been an elder there for the past twenty years.

In 1994 I also started to study for my Masters degree by distance learning at Nazarene Theological College,Manchester. I travelled up to Manchester once a year for  two weeks of residential study. This was a time when I really felt affirmed in my gifting to study theology and to produce new work. There I found the fellowship and the seminars to be truly beneficial. I perhaps spent more time in my room resting than the others as I needed to pace myself and make sure that I was working within the limitations that epilepsy has imposed on me.

One of my great joys every year is to attend the Tndale Fellowship Christian Doctrine Study Group, the conference is always intense and I have learnt that I need to rest in the free period. I try to share fellowship as much as possible with my fellow delegates but sometimes I feeel frustrated by the limitations my health puts on me..

This biography has mentioned many things but perhaps you ar e thinking what has happened to the subject of epilepsy, the answer is that epilepsy is something that is with me every day of my life. There is not a day that goes by without feeling some effect of epilepsy.

I still occasionally loose coordination between hand and brain, sometimes I go dizzy and other times I find that I am trembling for no explicable reason. The medication makes on feel perpetually drowsy, the result is that if I ever I feel really alert, I realise that I have not taken my medication. Sometimes I have to say to Judy,I am going to have rest today and that is what I have to do. An example of coordination going is sometimes I can not get a cup of tea to my mouth, if I am in company I find this most embarrassing.

For the most part I live an active and fulfilled life but I am always conscious of the limitations my epilepsy imposes on me. Living within those limitations and taking my medication has allowed me to do far more than I ever imagined possible when I was young.

(I am publishing this now but I may come back and add some things, so this is probably not the final version.)

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 25 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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1 Response to Living with Epilepsy: Reflections on 60 years of battle

  1. Angus McAllister says:

    Hi David, I came across your blog earlier today and have read some of your posts, discovering how you came to be a worker at L’Abri, an organisation from whose ministry I have greatly benefited over the years. Thank you for the honesty of this post in particular: I am in great admiration for the determination you showed to overcome the obstacles you faced in early life, and continued to do so since. I am reminded of St. Paul’s ever-present thorn, a weakness in which God could be his strength; this, it seems to me, is the approach you have taken, which appears to have blessed a great many people.

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