Epilepsy, unemployment and Natalie Walker's mission to overcome both

Natalie Walker knows all about the hardships that come with battling epilepsy.

Diagnosed with the disorder eight years ago, she has since experienced anxiety, loneliness and of course, the physical toll that comes with suffering from violent seizures.

Ms Walker suffers from tonic-clonic seizures roughly every three to four weeks, sometimes experiencing as many as five within a 24-hour period.

Twice they have caused her to dislocate her shoulder, with other physical injuries including black eyes, a split head and concussions.

Epilepsy is so often just dismissed and not really talked about, but it really affects lives.

Natalie Walker

But arguably the toughest part of her struggle has been facing unemployment.

The Halls Head resident was living in Melbourne studying public environmental health science when she was struck by her first seizure.

Eventually, Ms Walker was able to secure work as an environmental health officer at the local government level, but her inability to drive soon saw her out of a job.

Since then it's been an uphill battle to find a willing employer.

"I'm very honest about my epilepsy when I go into interviews. I tell them all about it and I've always got contingencies or plans around how I can handle it and do my job at the same time," she said.

"But I never seem to get a call back. I think a lot of employers just hear the word epilepsy and immediately write you off.

"I often find myself feeling quite useless, as if I just can't contribute be that in society or even in my own household."

Halls Head resident Natalie Walker pictured with her three dogs. Photo: Justin Rake.

Halls Head resident Natalie Walker pictured with her three dogs. Photo: Justin Rake.

Adding to that pressure, Ms Walker has also been deemed ineligible for a disability pension.

"As far as Centrelink is concerned, I am not considered disabled," she said.

"And at the same time I am told I can't have the Jobseekers Allowance because there are too many jobs I can't apply for, so I get nothing from Centrelink."

According to the Economic Burden of Epilepsy report (prepared by Deloitte Access Economics using data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics) the total financial and wellbeing costs of epilepsy to Australia's economy will be $12.3 billion this financial year.

But despite being one the many people struggling to find work due to epilepsy, Ms Walker remains adamant she is "one of the lucky ones" thanks to a supporting cast of family and friends.

"The past eight years have been really tough, but I've got a wonderful partner, great family and an amazing best friend," she said.

"To know they're all there for me to lean on is what gets me through a lot of the time."

In Ms Walker's opinion, education is the best way to combat the stigma surrounding epilepsy.

"A lot of it is about having that conversation. Epilepsy is so often just dismissed and not really talked about, but it really affects lives," she said.

"I think we can make a real difference with just a little more education on the topic."