A mother of two who has suffered from epilepsy every day since her first seizure on her 14th birthday says that taking up bodybuilding helped her find freedom, love, and a whole new career.
Lauren Hemming-Torres, 32, of Worthing, West Sussex, started her period the week before her epilepsy began and said the hormone-induced condition controlled her life for years before she discovered weightlifting.
Lauren said, “People don’t tend to see or understand that epilepsy is a big problem. I felt trapped by my diagnosis for a long time, especially when the seizures happen so frequently.
“That’s why I want to create more awareness about it. It wasn’t until I started bodybuilding that I felt like me again.”
Lauren had a first attack on the day she was 14.
She said, “When I was younger I always had headaches, but I didn’t really think about it, it was just something I thought I had to deal with.”
“On my 14th birthday, I went to bed that night and my mother came in to check on me.
“She peeked into the room and saw that my feet were where my head should be, so she turned the light on.”
She added, “I was breathing very hard with my eyes wide open and my mouth was foaming.
“She must have been really scared.
“It’s the only seizure I can’t remember.”
She continued, “It came so suddenly, and it also coincided with the week I first started my period.”
Doctors were unable to diagnose Lauren at this point because epilepsy cannot be diagnosed until after three seizures.
“It was just a few weeks later when I had my second,” said Lauren.
She added, “I was in a sleepover at the time. I remember lying on the floor and seeing my friends looking over me, calling my name and looking very panicked.
“Seizures are a strange experience, your body moves but you have no control over it. It’s very scary.
“I remember lying there wondering why I couldn’t move my own body. I felt trapped.”
Lauren was rushed to the hospital from her friend’s house before being released the next day.
For the next 10 months she suffered regular seizures, which increased up to several times a day and lasted eight minutes each time.
Lauren said, “It took you so long to diagnose me, I was in and out of the hospital, and it wasn’t until my mother wrote to our MP about this that things started to accelerate. I got more tests in hospitals and eventually I was diagnosed with epilepsy. “
In December 2003, Lauren received her official diagnosis and was given medication to suppress the seizures that she believed were ineffective for her.
“I could easily have three to four seizures a night,” she explained. “It mostly happens when I’m tired or near my menstrual cycle.
“I think the two are linked because it is my frontal lobe that is affected by the seizures, and that is where your hormones are.”
She added, “I have missed a lot of education because of my condition. I asked doctors to have an operation to stop the seizures, but they said they couldn’t. “
In invasive brain surgery, surgeons would drill into her skull to remove part of her frontal lobe and stop her seizures.
But as a young adult, Lauren’s brain was not fully developed, so doctors turned down treatment.
By the time she was 23, Lauren had met her then-husband and discovered she was pregnant – but she worried about how this would affect her epilepsy.
She said, “I was concerned that pregnancy might make it worse, but to my amazement, I didn’t have a single seizure in either of my pregnancies.”
Mom of Noah, eight, and Luna, seven, Lauren is now eligible for invasive brain surgery, but says the risk of memory loss and nerve damage outweighs the potential gain.
She also said her seizures had “calmed down a lot” since she had their children.
“I suffer a lot from partial seizures where I am still in control of my body while they are occurring,” she said.
“Sometimes I have a partial seizure while I’m at school and Luna and Noah have to help me get me home.”
She added, “I get a lot of funny looks when this happens – people sometimes think I’m drunk, but the kids are very understanding.”
Finding the joy of being a mother, along with her seizures that are diminishing in severity, has helped Lauren feel happy again.
And she got her life back through her love of bodybuilding too.
She explained, “I first started weight training to lose baby weight after having my daughter in 2014, and I just fell in love with weightlifting. I felt great.
“It’s like I’m back in control of my body. It’s no longer the body of epilepsy, it’s mine. That made me much stronger and more confident.”
Bodybuilding gave Lauren, a former waitress, a new career – as she now works as a personal trainer in a gym.
And it also helped her find new love after being single for three years since breaking up with her children’s dad.
For her new partner Ben Wylie, 29, with whom she has been together since September 2019, she is also a personal trainer in her gym.
“Ben is my training partner in the gym and he understood and really supported my condition,” she said.
She added, “He’s helped me a lot.”
Lauren believes bodybuilding even helped alleviate her epilepsy.
She said, “Fortunately, I can usually predict when I’m going to have a seizure so I didn’t have one during exercise.”
Lauren added, “I think the lifestyle change since starting bodybuilding has also helped a lot.
“My day is much more structured and I am more active than before.”
Now she wants to share her story to help others.
She said, “The main goal I have is to break the stigma of epilepsy. I am much more than my state and I hope that what I do can break stereotypes. “
Louise Cousins, director of foreign affairs at Epilepsy Action, said, “The effects of living with epilepsy can have a profound effect on people’s lives, happiness and wellbeing.
“Everyone has had different experiences with epilepsy, but it cannot be overcome with just drugs and“ being more positive. ”That attitude needs to change.
She added, “A lack of knowledge and empathy leads to anxious, harmful assumptions and people with epilepsy who continue to feel misunderstood and dismissed.
“By giving them a voice and stimulating conversation on Purple Day, we can really improve society’s knowledge and compassion and bridge the gap in this gap of understanding.”
Friday March 26th is Purple Day, a global epilepsy awareness day. To learn more, visit www.epilepsy.org.uk