I was the dud in the family of two parents and four siblings. I was exempted from sport at school. I never learnt to dance. I had fits. My body went stiff after a buzzing in my ear and cramp in my leg. Then I lost consciousness. When I came round I vomited and had to stay in bed. My cousin Gary had electric shock treatment for epilepsy.
I went to school six kilometres away by taxi unable to cycle while my brother rode his bike there. One classmate cornered me and said ‘I know why you go to school by taxi! You have fits!’ I thought I would die of shame and remained speechless.
‘It’s the Irish side of the family, you know,’ said my mother. ‘And your son looks epileptic too,’ she remarked when she met him for the first time aged four.
When I was fifty I got both divorced parents together and interrogated them if only to find out why my life was in shambles.
‘Did I really have epilepsy?’ I had not had a fit since I was twelve but lived in fear and dread that I might have one. For that reason I had had to sleep with my mother when my parents got divorced. ‘What are you talking about?’ said my mother. ‘You fell down the stairs when you were three and were unconscious!’ So I had injured my head, I thought. My father looked stunned!
All those years I had believed a lie and perhaps there were even more lies. It was a revelation. From then on I started to do sport. I learnt to drive. I even took up acting. I felt I had reclaimed a part of me that had lain dormant for so long.
About the author
Kathleen Ann O’Donnell is a researcher and writer. Her research focuses on the influence of Celtic literature in the Balkans and Anatolia in 19th century through Greek and Rumanian translations of ‘The Poems of Ossian’ by James Macpherson.