Back in a Bit

Effects of Time of Day on Age Differences in Working Memory

The efficiency of the access and deletion functions paralleled the subjective alertness rating for younger and older adults, and age-related differences in these functions were greater when individuals were tested at nonoptimal times of day. The efficiency of the response inhibition function was similar for younger and older adults and paralleled changes in body temperature.

Stop the clocks

I never thought I’d say this. Had I seen this three years ago, I couldn’t not have recognised myself as the author. But right now, I would give just about anything to be able to drive again. The DVLA, in particularly festive spirit, formally revoked my driving licence as of Christmas day. In real terms, this didn’t mean very much and was little more than a formality, as I had already surrendered my licence and taken myself off the road some months before.

When you live in London, as I did for twelve years, car ownership doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, it’s only too easy to be lulled by the press into believing that motorists are at fault for more or less everything. But, of course, London has various cheap and efficient public transport systems that make moving about a breeze. At this point, Londoners usually sit up and object (saying their transport arrangements are neither cheap nor efficient), but I would invite them to travel away from the city for about an hour in any direction, and take a look at the transport situation there. That’s right: the only vaguely efficient infrastructure in place simply takes you back from whence you came. So, when you’re out here in Zone Q, the significance of the car ramps up.

Take the most revolting and objectionable thing you can think of – if I could exchange it for a driving licence I’d be there in a snap. I’d eat any creepy-crawly known (or unknown) to man. I’d do the most dangerous and low-paid jobs – hell, I’d even be Gary Glitter‘s PR man. Dammit, I’d set myself on fire while singing the greatest hits of Jim Davidson if it meant I could get my driving licence back. But none of these things will do it – all there is to do is sit and wait… and wait…

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The process

Having been proved right, or rather not proved wrong, the neurologist had proceeded with treating me exactly as he had said he would. The quantity of drugs were to increase week by week until I hit the magic quantity, and then I’d continue at that level for the rest of my days. Providing I didn’t fit, he saw no reason to scale the medication back down, as it’d only increase the chances of me fitting again and therefore losing my licence for another year. I’d also be tested (and tested and tested) for side-effects, abnormalities and anything else anyone could think of on a regular basis.

Once I’d got the hang of getting hold of repeat prescriptions, it was all fairly straightforward. For some reason, the taxpayer foots the entire bill for those of us taking treatment for epilepsy, so it’s not even costing me the standard prescription charge. All I do is renew with the pharmacist every month (it seems dumb that I can’t get larger quantities less frequently, but I’m not complaining), take a bunch of tablets twice a day, drop in at the local surgery every six months for blood tests, and that’s basically it.

Just as he said he would, the neurologist also factored in my bipolar disorder when prescribing the medication. Curiously, quite a number of anticonvulsants also have mood-stabilising properties, so there were a good few drugs from which he could choose that would tackle both at once, providing he got the dose right. So I followed all the instructions, and the months began to roll by.

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Fighting fit

A week after collapsing in central London, on an extremely wet and gloomy day, I was wandering around Northampton General Hospital trying to figure out where on earth you go for an EEG appointment. This was a classic example of something that would have been considerably easier had I brought the car – at least I’d have somewhere dry to sit. But, having now surrendered my licence, I’d arrived in the general area of the hospital by taxi and was now getting soaked through while circling the site on foot.

Having finally found the right building and the right door, the nursing staff led me in and escorted me to the examination room, before wheeling in all manner of intimidating machinery. Lying on the bed with electrodes attached all over my head and face, they explained that they were going to carry out a number of tests, concluding with a whole load of strobe lighting to see if they could bring on an epileptic fit. Great, I thought, but then if I’m going to have one it may as well be here. As the lights were dimmed, part of me began to hope that they could set me off – at least then we’d have some idea of what could be the cause.

It’s reasonably common knowledge that some forms of epilepsy can be triggered by flashing lights – anyone who’s ever been to something like a pantomime may have seen the signs warning of strobe lighting. So as I lay there with the lights flashing wildly in my eyes, I wondered why all this should happen now. I’ve been exposed to strobes on many occasions, working on theatrical productions, as a DJ, and in various clubs and so forth. So why should it all kick off in my late twenties?

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Seizure in the city

After enduring an increasingly dull CRM conference in central London, my colleague and I decided to skip the concluding question-and-answer session and make our separate ways into the city. I got hold of my dear friend Tom, and we agreed to meet outside Tottenham Court Road tube station before heading off east to meet up with some more nice folk. I stood under the covered entrance to the Dominion theatre where we had agreed to meet, smoking a cigarette and killing a few minutes until our agreed meeting time. It was wonderful to be back in the hustle and bustle of the city I call home. I remember savouring the noise, the smells, the drizzle.

When Tom appeared, we rounded the corner to the first bus stop in New Oxford Street, and pratted around with the ticket machine before stepping back to wait for the right bus. “So,” said Tom, for we had not had a proper catch-up in a long while, “what’s this I’ve been hearing about you having seizures?” With spectacular comic timing, and part-way through a word in my reply, it happened again.

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The meeting

Following a number of unexplained blackouts, there was no longer any use denying that there could be something wrong with me. After the first two, I wondered if it was a dietary thing or, at worst, side-effects of prescriptions I’d been given for something else. But, following a third, I was tired of guesswork.

As good as the NHS is at reactionary care (I still find it remarkable that they can get two paramedics in a fully-kitted van to wherever I’ve collapsed within minutes), it didn’t seem that anyone was getting closer to any kind of diagnosis. Fortunately, I had another option – the company’s private healthcare plan. Sitting in front of my GP, the situation seemed quite hopeless… until I brought out the health insurance paperwork and his eyes lit up. Suddenly, possibilities were plentiful, and waiting lists no longer applied. Would this, at last, lead to any kind of diagnosis?

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Passing out

It was a gloriously sunny and warm bank-holiday Saturday in what had otherwise been a damp and grey summer, and I had spent it self-indulgently. In the late afternoon I hurtled towards the centre of town to find a drum shop, and spent ages rolling up and down the narrow back-streets between Victorian terraces trying to find a parking space that was at least on the same side of town as this particular percussion emporium. In fact it took me longer to park than it did to buy the percussive odds and sods I was after and hurtle home again.

Little did I know that the events to come would make this day one of the most significant and memorable in my life so far.

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