NORKA - What everyone should know about epilepsy, depression and anxiety


Norka, a well-known hispanic singer and songwriter has been guided through her music career by famous Latin American Producer/Entrepreneur Emilio Estefan. Her first single “Como lo Haces Tu”  reached Top 10 Latin Pop Billboard and she was nominated for “Best Female Pop Artist” in Premios Lo Nuestro Awards. After numerous successful releases over the years, Norka’s last single “Tomorrowland” began its Promotion in April 2015 which was interrupted suddenly by severe health issues. Norka was epileptic, and due to its increased severity she had to undergo two major brain surgeries, followed by a long and difficult, recovery.


Norka's epilepsy, depression and anxiety has made her determined to help others just like her and has therefore set up the ESPE foundation. Here she speaks of her struggles, her motivations and how to help someone battling epilepsy, depression and anxiety.


  NAME   Norka  
  PROFESSION   Singer, Songwriter and Philanthropist  
  PHILANTHROPIC FOCUS   Provide medical support for people struggling with epilepsy, depression and anxiety  
  ROLE MODEL   My mother  


Can you tell us a bit more about what drives your philanthropic focus and the activities around it?


My philanthropic focus right now is to achieve the main goal of my foundation: to provide medical support to those struggling with epilepsy in my country of origin Venezuela. Right now, I am working very hard to boost awareness by educating Hispanic people about epilepsy, depression and anxiety and how they all go together. I am also busy collecting funds that will be of great assistance to each life we set out to help.  

Approximately 50 million people live with epilepsy with 80% in low to middle income countries; why do you think that is? (Is it just about a lack of access to treatment?)


Epilepsy is a disease that needs a lot more research and investigation than there already is because treating it is so expensive. In countries with low incomes and economic crisis it is very difficult to assist. It takes significant medical, financial and emotional support to manage the life of an epileptic person and those in low and middle-income brackets really do need help. 


What is epilepsy?


Epilepsy is a neurological disease characterised by constant seizures that erupt from a shock of neurons. There are different types of seizures and once they are defined in cases it will become possible to learn the origin, diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy.

What can I do if I see someone suffering from an epilepsy episode?


There are different types of seizures but the point is to realise when it is happening and how to take care of the person that is having an episode. The expressive symptoms are the sense of absence (aura) which is when the person stops talking and freezes their vision on one point, mixes words when trying to talk and loses memory (short to long-term from 10 minutes to months). When these symptoms are taking place, the person prefers to be emotionally comforted and seated in a silent area. The most severe sign of epilepsy is the general convulsion when the person’s body begins to shake physically, the eyes roll and saliva appears non-stop for just seconds or for periods up to five minutes. When this is happening, the body has to be turned to the side and the patient must be watched until the convulsion is fully over.

How do you balance everything what with your music and art career as well as your foundation?


It is not easy to manage two active and busy careers while keeping philanthropy firmly in my heart and running the foundation all at the same time. So, recently, I have been reorganizing my goals, tasks and priorities. Clearly, the foundation is my number one focus along with my own new business in the arts industry, which leaves little time left over for my music. My passion is for my entertainment career and I am confident that, one day, I will be back in that field. 

If not affected themselves everyone knows at least one person with epilepsy. Is there still a stigma/discrimination around epilepsy? 


Every day we get a little bit closer to making the whole world aware of epilepsy, but I think there is a stigma that constantly needs to be broken because the majority of the people that struggle with epilepsy are misunderstood or misinterpreted. During my own experience of severe and regular but unexpected convulsions, I was always anxious and embarrassed to have a seizure in public, frankly due to the reaction of others.


Can epilepsy be cured or elevated and if so what are some of the methods?


Epilepsy can be cured in the long term. However, it always needs to be looked after. First, medication is a must to prevent and moderate the seizures. The second most important need is the lifestyle. It is especially important to sleep at least seven hours a day, to stay healthy, not to smoke and to avoid stress and alcohol consumption. If you follow these simple rules, you will be able to function very effectively even as an epileptic individual.


What are the signs of depression/anxiety?


The main signs of depression are continuous sadness and emptiness, fatigue, loss of appetite or weight gain, longer sleeping, decrease in usual activities like showering, exercise, work, socializing and more depending on the person’s lifestyle. In some cases, depression can increase the chances of illicit drug consumption. 


When it comes to anxiety, the most commons symptoms are hyperventilating, emptiness, panicking or nervousness, sleeplessness, constant disturbing thoughts and a difficulty or inability to interact socially. All of these are the most common struggles but are only part of a complicated picture.


What can I do if I see someone suffering from depression/anxiety?


Both disorders have similar symptoms. If observed in an individual, the actions to take have similarities and can be effective for both depression and anxiety. 

When sadness is exhibited, the best phrases to say are: “I am here for you”; “Is there anything I can do for you?”; “Do you want to talk?”; You can share anything with me” and “I know how you feel” (if experienced). Any phrase that expresses care, friendship, sympathy or empathy and is non-judgmental can assist greatly.

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