What moving to a new continent taught me about living with epilepsy

11/01/2017 05:28 pm ET Updated Nov 01, 2017

It is said that whenever one moves homes or even changes countries--- it is more than a change in address. Something magical happens, if you allow it. It is said, that this is chance to leave behind past lifetimes, old baggage, and get a fresh start.

The act of moving - whether to a new home, city, or country --- goes beyond a packing list, farewell parties, and acquainting yourself with a new neighbourhood. This is a actually a period of grace, a window in time where one can really allow oneself to expand, transform, change, usher a sense of newness in where it is sorely needed.

I thought I understood this in a way many people could not. After all, I was a veteran mover and packer - having begun moving and settling down since I was 6 months old when my family first moved as expatriates to Melbourne and continued to do so every few years around Asia until I was a junior in high school. With my family, I learned each new country was an adventure of flavours, languages and landscapes. We created networks of friendships that have lasted across countries and timezones . I learned keeping in touch was essential because our life was so transient.

However, when I moved to Switzerland at the end of 2015, everything i believed to be true about how I felt about moving and my capacity for embracing the new was thoroughly tested. Arriving during winter from Singapore was a shock. For instance, I did not count on the fact that when I went to work in the morning, it would as dark as when I got home from work. I also did not fully understand what impact this would have on someone like me who grew up in tropical sunshine.

Amidst all this, I was making an effort to make new friends: I would try dance classes, go snow shoe hiking, go to socials for new people in town like me. One day in January 2016, I was on my way to meet some new friends in Luzern, when my wallet was pick-pocketed just as I was about to pay for my train ticket. It was devastating, to feel as if anything I needed for identification or payment, was no longer available to me. A week later, I had my first seizure in Switzerland. You see my seizures are triggered by stress. I was home alone. I did what I normally do, I tried to reach a neurologist to schedule an exam. I was told the next available appointment was in March. I pleaded to see the doctor, particularly as this was my first seizure in the country --- and felt quite insecure. He relented and found an appointment the following week.

The day of the appointment it was 5 degrees with windchill, so it felt like it was 5 below. When I checked the website, there wasn’t an address for the doctor’s office, but there was a picture. I remember going down from the tram and realizing it was a long uphill street. I timed it so I would give myself an hour to find the office, in the off chance I would get lost. After close to an hour of searching, I thought I found the office, I climbed the stairs and realized I was again at the wrong address. I turned around, slipped and fell down 6 steps. A man on the street picked me up and I was crying, incomprehensible and limp, unable to stand. We communicated in sign language as he spoke no English, and I knew very little German. My phone rang, it was the doctor’s office looking for me and the kind man spoke to them and brought me to the doctor. When I got to the doctor, I did my tests, and the nurse asked me if she should help me as my knees, shins and hands were bleeding profusely. In my shock, I had not noticed.

The doctor then reviewed my tests, He said, “Your tests are excellent. So you had a minor seizure, it’s ok. You are very healthy.” I waited for the litany of dont’s that normally come after a seizure - what I had become used to over the years : Don’t exercise too much. Don’t over exert yourself. Don’t drink. Don’t stay out. If you drive, don’t. When they didn’t come, I asked him, are there things I shouldn’t be doing as a result of my seizure?

He said, “No, do everything you want. Live. You are perfectly healthy. Why should you stop doing what you want to do?”

I had never heard anything so liberating in my life. All of a sudden, whatever I felt I was mourning: the loss of sun, the loss of my wallet, the loss of the familiar ---- was overshadowed by this feeling of freedom. Everything until that moment had seemed like one fall after another, but with my new doctor’s words, I felt my spirit soar. I felt lifted. Indeed, it was time to see that it was time to live, to look at my new city with new eyes. My Kabbalah teacher also gave me a new lens to look at the theft of wallet - that the universe was pushing me to get rid of all my old baggage so I could truly build myself anew. And this was exactly what my new doctor echoed. To not think of the old limits I had lived with for so long, but to believe that beginning now, all was possible.

After that things began to turn for the better, I found my tribe, including an amazing yoga studio where I found balance, strength and friends, I began travelling around Switzerland, on hikes with camera in tow, rediscovering my joy in photography. I gladly received friends and family and showed them the corners I loved in Zurich and beyond, and I have stopped mourning the ocean, because I have discovered the pleasure of swimming and sunning by the lakes and rivers around.

What did a seizure teach me? To live.

Lake Thun, one of the stunning lakes to fall in love with
Lake Thun, one of the stunning lakes to fall in love with
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