A teenager has told how exam stress and anxiety left her with a condition which means she has up to 50 seizures or blackouts — a DAY.
Paige Thorpe, 16, has struggled with anxiety throughout her childhood – but it peaked during her GCSE exams this summer.
After weeks of worrying fainting episodes, she was admitted to hospital where she started having seizures and blackouts.
Up to 50 times a day she would pass out and fall to the floor, or have seizures – where she’d hallucinate and become delirious and confused.
Tests revealed she had Non Epileptic Attacks Disorder (NEAD) – where the brain goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode when confronted with overwhelming stress.
There is no cure – and doctors hope Paige will just grow out of the condition when she overcomes her stress and anxiety.
In the meantime, the debilitating condition means she can’t be alone 24/7, has to sleep in the same bed as her mum and won’t go out in public.
Brave Paige, from Stansted, Essex, who has released a video of one of her seizures, said: “I’ve completely lost my independence, and it’s just rubbish.
“When I found out what the cause was I was super frightened as I’d never heard of it before.
“Every time I become stressed or anxious about something my body just shuts down – I have completely lost control.”
Her desperate mum Charlie, 41, added: “We’ve always been really close, but this is enough to test anyone’s patience.”
A non-epileptic attack is a type of seizure that is not caused by abnormal electrical discharges or blood pressure.
They happen when the brain can’t handle particular thoughts, memories, emotions or sensations and can be triggered by extreme stress.
Paige has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks throughout her childhood, but it got worse in her teens due to a breakdown in family relationships and her exams.
In September of this year, Paige started to faint regularly and Charlie took her to Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow, Essex.
She was kept in for a week, and she got worse, having blackouts and seizures.
When she has a blackout, she can fall to the floor if she’s standing and her body goes completely limp, but she’s ‘locked in’ and can still hear and feel everything around her.
When she’s having a seizure, she looks perfectly normal, but begins to speak “rubbish”, can hallucinate, and becomes delirious, for anything from a few seconds up to a whole hour.
After seeing multiple doctors, a neurologist finally confirmed that Paige had developed Non Epileptic Attacks Disorder (NEAD).
It seems the only ‘cure’ is for her to overcome the anxiety and depression that triggers her seizures.
She has had a couple of meetings with a mental health specialist and they are working together to determine what the family need to do next.
“I was really scared of what was going on,” said Paige, who has sisters Freya, 14, and Kiere, 11.
Charlie added: “We just had to get home and try to start figuring out how we were going to tackle this.
“Knowing that there was nothing more anyone else could do for Paige at that point, we had to learn from experience.
“We quickly found some Facebook groups and began to speak to fellow sufferers, sharing our experiences and learning from theirs.”
During what her mum describes as her “worst seizure yet”, Paige ran down the street bare-foot looking for Santa Claus.
“It was so scary,” said Charlie. “I knew she was having a seizure because she was starting to talk rubbish.
“We were off to see family, and Paige asked who we were going to see, to which her sister jokingly replied ‘Santa’.
“She pushed past out through the front door, wearing nothing but a t-shirt and little shorts, running and screaming that she was going to the north pole.
“She hasn’t believed in Father Christmas since she was 10.
“We all ran after her and I managed to get her back by telling her she was running south, not north.
“You have to play along because there’s no way she’ll go along with it otherwise.
“When we got back to the house she was angry because I made her stay inside, so we had to lock all the doors.
“She ended up climbing out of the window which was terrifying.
“It sounds comical and we manage to laugh about it but in the moment it’s terrifying and completely tragic that she has to go through this.”
Although Paige has only been dealing with NEAD for just over a month, she has already begun to notice a pattern in the seizures.
She must sleep in the same bed as her mum, who has installed a baby gate to the side of the bed so she can’t fall out if she has a seizure in the night.
As soon as she wakes up in the morning, she blacks out, and then has a few minutes to go to the bathroom and get changed before she’s gone again.
She has to shout down for her mum before she walks down the stairs, so she can accompany her, as a fall due to a blackout could leave her hurt.
The blackouts continue throughout the day, and as she gets progressively tired into the evening, the seizures become more frequent.
Paige has been given a wheelchair to use when she is outdoors, but she doesn’t go out because she worries about being “judged”.
Her mum said this fear increases her anxiety, which makes the black outs and seizures come more frequently, creating a vicious circle for the poor teen.
She has also left school because going to lessons with her condition proved too much and the school was not equipped to handle her.
Charlie has had to give up her work with special needs children to care for her teenage daughter.
“I just have to take each day as it comes,” said Paige.
“If I think about the future, it really scares me because I have no idea what life holds for me now.
“I used to have dreams of driving a car and becoming an osteopath, but that just might not be possible anymore.
“Even thinking about that can send me into a blackout or a seizure, so I do my best to remain positive, but it’s getting harder and harder.”