“I needed courage, strength and self-belief to have achieved so much”, says Katrin Löhken, a 34-year-old Doctor of Natural Science. She finished her Doctoral Thesis last year in Research Center, Jülich, Germany (in collaboration Aachen Technical University).

Having refractory epilepsy has not been any obstacle, but an extra challenge in her studies, which she has had to deal with since her high-school days. Neither has her disability prevented her from playing tennis, kayaking and living her life her own way.

Katrin has had seizures since she was 15-years-old. At first the doctor thought that there was a problem with her blood sugar levels, but, after suffering further tonic-clonic seizures, she was accurately diagnosed by a neurologist. However, the first anti-epileptic drug treatment did not stop her seizures. She has had better and worse times with her symptoms. Her epilepsy has been treated in many epilepsy clinics and by many different anti-epileptic drugs, but without satisfactory results. Nowadays she experiences only absence seizures.

Her epilepsy has caused cognitive problems and has adversely affected her verbal memory and speech. She feels that bullying and negative attitudes – not only at high school by classmates but also at university, even by some professors – have been the most unpleasant things in her life. The difficult symptoms of her epilepsy are nothing compared the social consequences that she has had to deal with. Because of her disability some people have ostracized her, cruelly showing her the cold shoulder. But she has never given up or given in.

A Survivor and a Fighter

“Life is not meant to be easy”, says Katrin, who is struggling to find employment. She believes that she has no chance when other candidates are given the same tests in a recruiting process. An employer could even receive financial aid for employing her, yet the attitude of employers hinders them from doing so. Katrin will keep on trying until her job search is successful. She is not hunting for big salary but merely a decent job to earn a living. Special recruiting policies and arrangements for disabled people are needed in employment legislation, her experience suggests. She is thankful for help and special arrangements for her university studies, for example lengthening the study time.

Katrin stresses that without the support of her family she would not have achieved so much. Her father is mentioned in particular, for sacrificing his time to act as her chauffeur or assistant. That has demanded a lot from him. Not as a happy ending, but as the next step in getting along in her own way, Katrin is delighted that her boyfriend is supporting her without any conditions or issues about her epilepsy.