When life puts a hurdle in your way, the strength to overcome it is found through focusing on the positives.
That’s the message from Horncastle’s own Taekwondo enthusiast, Andrew Jackson (42).
At 17, Andrew had already faced difficult challenges in his life.
He developed epilepsy at age three, suffering mild to severe seizures throughout his childhood.
“Back in the eighties, not much was known about epilepsy,” Andrew explained.
“People didn’t really know how to support anyone with the condition back then - not even doctors. It was difficult for my parents and staff at my school to offer help and guidance.
“All the headteacher could do was suggest I wear a cycle helmet in case of seizure - which hardly made things easier. I dreaded going to school every day.”
Andrew’s condition meant he was often absent from school and was bullied, which he says was worse than the epilepsy itself.
However, he found solace in martial arts.
He said: “It was Thai boxing I tried first, when I was 17.
“My parents were apprehensive, fearing I could get kicked in the head, but when my father came to watch he saw the positive change in me.”
The positives just kept on coming. Andrew soon achieved a black belt in TAGB Taekwondo and progressed in kickboxing.
Around 10 years ago, he suffered from status epilepticus - a dangerous condition in which multiple seizures occur without any recovery of consciousness in between. It led to a gruelling six week hospitalisation.
“It was quite difficult to deal with,” Andrew said. “I didn’t want to talk about what I was going through, so I wrote a lot of what I was experiencing down, with the hope that I’d be able to help others in the future.
“When I left hospital, I was keen to get back to Taekwondo, since it had been so good for me in the past.
“I pursued British Taekwondo this time around, setting myself bite-sized goals until, before I knew it, I’d achieved a third dan black belt, which is like a level three black belt.”
Andrew’s passion for Taekwondo now sees him coach youngsters in the martial art at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in the town.
But his other passion is supporting people with epilepsy - and breaking down the stigma associated with the condition.
He works closely with Epilepsy Action, a UK charity providing information, support and advice for people with epilepsy.
As a media volunteer for the charity, Andrew helped pioneer a seizure ward name-change across all the hospitals in Lincolnshire in 2014. Formerly called ‘First Fit’, the wards have been rechristened ‘First Seizure’.
Andrew stresses language is an important factor in overcoming epilepsy stigma.
A champion of support and positivity, Andrew is also keen to assist people who are affected by the condition in the area.
Action Epilepsy will be running a coffee and chat morning at The Old Stables, just off the Market Place in Horncastle, from midday on Saturday, December 8.
Attendees will be able to enjoy complete confidentiality, in a safe and supportive environment.
For Andrew, sharing experiences - particularly positive ones - is the way forward.
He says: “Breaking blocks in Taekwondo is hard, but breaking epilepsy-related stigma is harder. When you’re facing epilepsy alone, it’s really easy to feel down about it.
“Talking about issues with people who understand really does help, and if you’re struggling, you’re not alone.’