Clubbing in Brighton with epilepsy: What I’ve learnt since coming to university
It makes clubbing just that little bit harder
Just like any typical student, I love sleeping, takeaways and of course, a night out. But what is slightly less typical about me is I have epilepsy, a condition affecting the brain, causing temporary bursts of electrical activity known as seizures. It's actually relatively common, affecting around one in one 100 people in the UK. There are various types, each having different physical consequences.
It was on a school trip in my teens when I had my first photo-sensitive seizure as a result of heavy strobe lighting. These are not necessarily uncommon, and can occur in individuals without epilepsy too. However, as I had a previous diagnosis from my childhood, I was told that I couldn't be sure that this was a one-off, and I would have to be careful around bright, flashing lights in the future.
This wasn't the end of the world for me. I can of course navigate day to day life without coming into contact with strobe lights, however, coming to university caused uncertainty. The thought of clubbing in a new town with new people is daunting enough, without the added risk of having a seizure.
Here are some of the things I learned in order to handle going out with my condition.
Be around people you trust
Particularly in Freshers' Week, going out with a bunch of brand new people can feel slightly uncomfortable, but this inevitably changes with time and experience, and sooner or later you can surround yourself with trustworthy clubbing companions.
In those first few weeks, just ensure that your pals are relatively responsible. They don't have to be trained paramedics, just able to help someone in need. That friend who disappears at the first sign of trouble? Maybe leave them at home.
In my experience, everyone has been fully understanding and compassionate about my condition, and there is always someone happy to step outside with me if I'm feeling anxious about having a seizure. I've been fortunate enough not to collapse on the dance floor just yet, but I know that if I did I would never be alone.
Prepare your friends for what could happen
People living with epilepsy are very much aware of the parameters of their condition, and the specific needs that come with it. This is different for everyone, but generally involves spotting the signs of a potential seizure, and knowing what to do if one occurs. As long as my friends know this as well, the worry over going out is lessened, because I know that they know what to do.
Try and remember to tell all of your friends. When you go out with a group of new or less familiar people, you don't want to have to explain your epilepsy concerns to them mid-boogie (speaking from experience on this one).
As for the friends who might have to deal with an event such as this, don't worry. Every venue will have trained first-aiders who are happy to step in. No one will ever expect you to do CPR or ring an ambulance. The most my pals will ever have to do is ask people to step back and alert staff members.
Know what works for you and your own body
Despite my worries about clubbing, I was determined to be able to go out and enjoy myself, without having to fret about how I would react to the lights. One of the most important things, in my opinion, is to understand your own body, and how it reacts to different internal and external environments. For example, after much 'experimenting' with alcohol, I found that my fears over having a seizure became highly exaggerated once I'd had too much to drink. Although now I might drink slightly less, I feel safer in myself, meaning I have more freedom to actually enjoy the night.
Also, be sure to check that your medication is compatible with alcohol!
Find out which venues work for you – it's better to be safe than sorry
Not all clubs have huge lighting sets or strobes. In fact, many are not far off your average school disco. Depending on your reactivity, many venues in Brighton will not pose a threat.
For me, it was simply a case of trying out different clubs, and knowing which ones I felt comfortable in. Alternatively, if you don't feel safe doing this, you can easily drop a message to a venue via social media and ask about the lighting set up in order to determine the level of risk (generally speaking, a flicker rate of five to 30 times per second is most likely to cause a problem).
If unfortunately, your sensitivity to light is more severe, there are still plenty of ways to have a good time at university. For example, see what different societies have to offer, as there are often exciting, less intense experiences available to participate in.
In my experience, there are many clubs which offer more epilepsy-friendly lighting, and if I choose to go to a more 'risky' venue, I know I am surrounded by fantastic, trustworthy people who'll keep me right.
Know you're not a liability
One of the biggest by-products of epilepsy is feeling like a burden, particularly on your friends who may have to look after you. Don't. If you are with the right people, they won't mind checking if you're okay, nipping outside for some air, or even you burying your head into someone's chest when the strobes hit (a tried and tested method).
I count myself extremely fortunate to have met the most lovely, understanding and compassionate people, whom I know would help me in any situation, and I know I would do the same for them. There are many precautions you can take to ensure a safe and happy night out, but at the end of the day, good friends are the most important part of that.
By taking the right steps specific to my condition, I have been able to enjoy much of the nightlife Brighton has to offer, and I hope that there are many other photo-sensitive clubbers who can navigate nights out happily and safely.
For more information about clubbing with epilepsy, visit www.youngepilepsy.org