DiversifYA: Fiona McLaren

FionaToday, Fiona McLaren joins us here at DiversifYA! Fiona writes edgy YA contemp and gothic stories, and she’s represented by Jamie Bodnar Drowley at Inklings Literary Agency. When she isn’t writing, Fiona spends her life torn between the sun-drenched island of Cyprus where she lives, and the windswept hills of Scotland where she grew up.

Follow Fiona on Twitter here and read her blog here!

1. How do you identify yourself?

I suppose I identify myself in a mixture of ways. I’ve always answered this question with the answer that I identify myself as “me”. But when I break it down, it comes down to variety of qualities – a writer, a partner, a horse and dog lover, a reader, a friend, a fierce family member, and a dreamer. Someone who likes to help others to succeed and believes that paying it forward is one of the most fundamental parts of life. In regards to my epilepsy, I see it as something I have, not someone I am. If I broke my arm, I wouldn’t say it’s “me”. I wouldn’t say it identifies me. It’s just part of my circumstances.

2. What did it feel like growing up with epilepsy?

It’s strange, because epilepsy is termed as a hidden disease. One of those things that people can’t see so don’t necessarily know that you have. However, I also found it highly embarrassing, as I couldn’t control my bladder when it happened, and it left me with pounding headaches. I guess I was lucky, as when I was younger I only had nighttime seizures, so only my family really knew about it. I did have a few daytime ones though, and the worst was at a friend’s house during the summer. I came to after a convulsion and felt mortified that ambulances had been called out. All I wanted to do was sleep. I must admit, immediately after a seizure all I can care about is sleeping. When I actually get back to normal, I try to forget about it as soon as possible. I tried not to think about it too hard as it was easier to try and ignore it.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

I suppose the biggest challenges for me are people’s reactions. I have a variety of different seizures and I know how to look after myself through most of them, but it’s hard when people make you the center of attention when you don’t want to be. Plus the reactions change depending on what type of seizures I have.

For example, the tonic-clonic seizures – convulsions and loss of consciousness – are the ones where people will stare, and above all I just wish they wouldn’t look. The thing I need is space, and no sharp objects around me. But I don’t need twenty people staring. When I have these ones, I don’t realize they’ve happened until I wake up. However, a crowd of people staring at you like you almost died when you regain consciousness is disconcerting to say the least.

The atonic type – drop attacks where I suddenly fall to the floor and lose consciousness – are normally discarded by other people thinking I’ve fainted, so I suppose those are the easiest to deal with. It’s strange because my head goes funny and then my legs turn to jelly. I hit the floor hard. However, the loss of consciousness lasts only a few seconds for me. It’s worst if I’m at a bar or late night restaurant, as sometimes people look at me like I’ve had too much to drink! Which is ironic since I don’t drink!

Finally, there are simple partial seizures – 60 seconds, no loss of consciousness, sudden jerking, sensory phenomena, transient weakness or loss of sensation. These are the ones I hate. Because they make me look not normal. The sensory phenomena can be scary and disorientating. Even after all this time, I can find it quite panicking. A lot of the time, I want to lie on the floor when they’re happening. I don’t know why, but I find it grounding.

As time progressed, my epilepsy went into recession for a while. It returned as an adult, and it got a lot worse. I started having more and more daytime seizures, and they also developed into various strains. I had one seizure that sent me crashing through a glass door. With lacerations on my leg, I got taken up to the hospital, and I lost quite a lot of blood. I got put on heavy medication, but it ended up giving me hallucinations. After a family discussion, I got taken back from Cyprus to the UK for medical treatment.

Then you get people with epilepsy who have twice the risk of suicidal thoughts than the average person. That can impact you quite a lot. Oh and it’s a pain to get your license.

As for perks…umm…free bus pass in the UK. And umm…nope, I think that’s it. Go buss passes! Lol

4. What do you wish people knew about having epilepsy?

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. A lot of epileptics know their triggers, so they get themselves somewhere safe and out of the way of other people. Also, a lot of seizure types don’t have convulsions involved in them. This can sometimes lead people to think that there is actually nothing wrong with them as they don’t witness a lot of it. I’ve seen epileptics accused of “faking it” or being told “it’s all in their head”. Sometimes, neurological conditions can’t be seen.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Oh gosh. I think it’s that epileptics have huge convulsions all the time. While some do, there are a lot of different seizure types, like the ones I’ve listed above. You also get absence seizures too, where the person just completely zones out. Also, don’t stick a wooden spoon in their mouth if they do have a convulsion. Unless you don’t like them and want them to break all their teeth. 😉

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Talk to people with the conditions. And bear in mind there is no set mentality towards each condition. Everyone has their opinion. For example, this is just my experience of epilepsy. Someone else’s might be different. Perhaps another epileptic might have a different view. I remember writing about a character with Aspergers once. A woman came to me on a critique board and said “My son has Aspergers and this isn’t how it is for him” and I replied “my nephew does and this is how it is for him.” It actually opened a great dialogue. Don’t be afraid of that dialogue. It can actually bridge gaps between people.

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2 Responses to DiversifYA: Fiona McLaren

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Fiona. I’ve actually admittedly been waiting for someone to discuss epilepsy as I have a WIP with an epileptic character and definitely did not want to get it wrong!

  2. This is wonderful! Thanks for writing this up and sharing it. I knew there were different types of epilepsy but hadn’t looked into it enough to know that many people with epilepsy have different kinds of seizures. I’ve had a character with epilepsy before, but it didn’t figure into the plot. I thought it might be nice once in a while to have a person with a difficult condition and NOT make it some kind of plot point or essential detail. It was incidental. A lot of the experiences you mentioned here sound pretty scary! I’ll remember that if I ever witness something like this, I won’t stare at the person.