A few weeks ago, I contributed to an episode of my favourite travel podcast She Explores. The episode was all about female solo adventures and I shared my thoughts on hiking solo across Scotland and what being alone in the outdoors does to my mind and body. The episode featured many inspiring women, who sought the outdoors and adventure – one of them was Fran Turauskis and since we were the two only UK-based solo adventurers featured in the episode, we quickly connected via email afterwards.
Fran was diagnosed with epilepsy in her early 20s and shared her story of solo walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I felt inspired by her determination to complete such a long walk by herself and saw myself in her reflections about strength and confidence on the trail. I had so many questions for her and thought, why not share her answers with all of you too!
Fran, first of all, what sparked your idea to walk the Camino de Santiago on your own?
Brexit and epilepsy. It seems like an odd thing to say, but without those two things, I don’t think the Camino would have happened. In 2016, I wasn’t doing what I wanted in my work and was already thinking of ways to mix things up. Then Brexit was voted through, which really surprised me. It was this big change to my country, in a way that I thought was for the worse. England is my home, but it wouldn’t surprise you to hear, given my name, that I’ve always felt very connected to the continent (Turauskis is Latvian). Brexit felt like a rejection of that, just at a time when I was gaining some independence because my medication was controlling my seizures. It made me reassess what was important to me. And I decided to get out of England for a while and take a long hike in the mountains to think about things. After a bit of research, the Camino del Norte came up. It seemed right for me, because it was a hard walk, but a well-walked route, so I wouldn’t have any epilepsy-related anxiety about being alone for too long. I did ask my boyfriend to come, but for some reason, he didn’t think walking 500 miles sounded like fun!
"I put a lot of faith in my medication, and in the kindness and common sense of strangers."
Where you ever worried about having another seizure on the trail?
There were certain places on the trail that were quite remote (particularly on the Primitivo part of the route that goes through the mountains in Asturias and Galicia) when it would pop into my head that this would be bad to have a seizure! But it was more in a somewhat objective kind of way – it wasn’t something that I actually worried about. There were a lot of people walking (my biggest worry was having somewhere to sleep some nights!) and I would speak to the other pilgrims and tell them about epilepsy and what to do if someone has a seizure. It had been more than 2 years since my last seizure when I started walking. I put a lot of faith in my medication, and in the kindness and common sense of strangers.
One of the most inspiring things you said in the She Explores podcast episode about solo adventures, was that completing this trail made you realise how much stronger you and your body actually are. I totally felt the same after completing my first big solo trek this summer. Would you say that hiking and adventures are therapeutic to you?
Absolutely. I’ve always been into walking – my family used to go for hiking holidays when I was young – and I went to New Zealand by myself when I was 18, where I had some great adventures. Even when I stopped doing proper hikes, I would always go for walks around where I live. It’s my preferred method of transport (I don’t drive) and whenever I’ve been having a rough time, I find myself going for little wanders. Being out in nature is just soothing, and I often don’t listen to music when walking – I didn’t put my headphones in once on the Camino. Walking just gives me time to process things at an unhurried pace without distractions of modern life. The Camino had that added element of being physically challenging. My body has let me down in the past, but now my body got me across a country! And I know how strong I am – physically and mentally.
On your website Seize Your Adventure you write, that you didn’t think your epilepsy would draw so much attention on the trail – what are some of the misconceptions about epilepsy you encountered on the Camino?
The most common question I got was “what do I do if you have a seizure?” and some people had outdated information (for example you shouldn’t hold them down and or put anything in their mouth. Those are good ways to hurt yourself or the person seizing!) A lot of people thought that epilepsy is something you are born with, and were surprised to hear that I had my first seizure when I was 22. But I think the main thing that surprises people is how many different types of seizure there are – there are 40 different types, and very few of them involve dropping to the floor and convulsing. And of course, there seemed to be a bit of a misconception that everyone with epilepsy stays at home – there was a fair amount of surprise that I could be on the trail by myself.
What made you start your website Seize Your Adventure?
I was determined before I went on the Camino that I wouldn’t come back spouting the “it changed my life” cliche. But it really did! I took Creative Writing at university, so I started writing about the Camino and epilepsy for some blogs, and things like Huffington Post, and I was interviewed for a few local newspapers. And soon people were picking up on it and contacting me – whether to say that they had epilepsy and were doing similar things, or that they never thought they could do something like that. I started researching and finding other people who were much more impressive than me, and I found that there wasn’t a platform where we could celebrate these people. So I combined my love of adventure and telling stories with spreading epilepsy awareness and created Seize Your Adventure. I was surprised no-one else was doing it to be honest!
And you’re launching a podcast soon as well, right?
Yes, in November! You can sign up to the newsletter to hear when it launches. It’s just another way to share the amazing people that are on the website in a way that is accessible to more people. I love reading, but I know that there are countless reasons people might not be able to sit down and read the stuff on the website. It might be because of lack of time. It might be a more physical barrier. Some people with epilepsy do find it difficult to focus on reading for too long, particularly on computer screens. Making the podcasts allows more people to enjoy the content. And it means you can hear the people behind the diagnosis.
How can people share their adventures with your and the community?
I love to see what other people are doing – it always makes me jealous! We’re on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – just look for @SYAdventurers, or use #MyEpilepsyAdventure on Instagram if you’re happy for us to share your posts. And if you have a longer story you want to tell in writing or on the podcast, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m interested in all kinds of adventure and adventure sports – whether it’s a through-hike or a walk around your town, dipping your toes in the sea or surfing. If it put you out of your comfort zone, I want to know!
"assess where you are starting from and go from there. Everyone has a different definition of adventure, and you might find you need to adapt things to make you safer"
What’s the next adventure for you?
The very next one is a few days in Scotland in November, so it will be cold. I’m visiting a friend in Edinburgh and then walking the Great Glen Way. But next May I’m turning 30, and because May also has national epilepsy awareness week in the UK, I’m planning something big, so watch this space!
Do you have any advice you’d like to give our readers for their future adventures?
Just to assess where you are starting from and go from there. Everyone has a different definition of adventure, and you might find you need to adapt things to make you safer. You should be aware of all the risks – but you should also enjoy it! So much of life is governed by big ‘what ifs’. Whether that’s a seizure or something else. Adventure is the perfect counterbalance to that kind of worry.