The Epilepsy Foundation asked me to write a testimonial for them. For those of you who really want to know who I am, you are welcome to read this.
My name is Pieter Walser, and this is my story. The full and unaltered version! To put my story in perspective, I feel I need to give you some background details. I am 32 years old and a qualified winemaker. After some studies and practical work experience, I decided to go back to university full time to study winemaking (BSC Winemaking and viticulture – a full four year course!) when I was 25 years old. I started my own business in my second year and made a lot of mistakes, lost money and in the process learned very valuable lessons! (In short: normal business processes!). I also married the most beautiful girl and long-time love of my life, Aneen, in my 3rd year. I turned to personalised winemaking in my 4th year and made wine for private clients while finishing off my final year. After graduating, I started my own wine brand called BLANKbottle (https://www.blankbottle.co.za/) which I’m still building with passion. I am a surfer and have an unstoppable passion and love for the sport of surfing. I’ve been surfing since the age of 6, and used to surf almost every day, even if only for 10 minutes! (We live 5 minutes walk from the beach).
In September 2006 I recommitted my life and marriage to God and for the first time gave all that I have to the Lord. I handed him my business and everything I have and then started the slow and endless exercise of growing in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I think Romans 5: 1-5 says it all. We are justified by Faith and Glory in tribulation because Tribulation brings Perseverance and perseverance builds character and character hope. NOW HOPE DOES NOT DISAPPOINT!!! My wife fell pregnant with our first baby in 2006 and at 22 weeks pregnant, we found out that we were having a baby with a bilateral cleft lip and pallet. To prepare for his arrival we moved into a flat let in my parents’ home as his defect necessitated additional help with his care in the first year or so. At that stage my business was 2 years old. I was just surviving financially, still making mistakes, learning and growing in the process. We were still 100% depended on Aneen’s income, as we had been since our wedding in 2003.
Luca’s birth alone warrants a book to be written, but to cut a long story short, he was born 6 weeks premature on the 30th of September 2006. My wife was in hospital a week before he arrived and Luca was then admitted to ICU for another week. The year to come was an absolute nightmare. After months of endless screaming, 2 operations and very very little sleep, Luca finally started sleeping normally after they closed his palate at 11 months. During this time, Aneen still had to keep on working and in the day myself and my mom looked after him. I was working from home – an impossible task with no sleep and a screaming baby. Two weeks after Luca’s turnaround, we found a house to rent and moved out of my parents place. We arrived in our new home as 2 broken people with a mountain of issues to work through. If it wasn’t for God we would not have made it that far.
On the 11th of December, we celebrated the end of the hard year of tribulation with family and friends at the official BLANKbottle Year End Function (dinner at our house!). The next morning, on the first day of my holiday, I got up at 5 the morning to go surfing with a friend. The last thing I remember is walking towards the kitchen to fetch my surfboard.
The next moment (or so it felt), I was lying in the back of my wife’s car with her driving at the speed of light. I was covered in blood and she was peppering me with questions like: “What’s your name?, What day is it?” etc. My head was aching and I was getting kind of irritated with her. But when I wanted to answer, I couldn’t remember my name!
I arrived at the hospital and they did the routine EKG, EEG and MRI. They suspected epilepsy, but didn’t want to commit to a diagnosis before I consulted with the Neurologist who had already left on holiday. I refused to accept the epilepsy suspicions as I had never had anything like that ever before – I was in total denial. I didn’t want to take the prescribed medicine until I saw the Neurologist (which would’ve only been the next year) and kept on surfing during the holidays (with a borrowed life jacket in case I have another attack I might add….) In the New Year they confirmed their suspicions. I had epilepsy, and I had to face the fact. It was not so much the epilepsy that upset me, but the fact that I had to go on daily medication (especially with me being someone who refuses to even take vitamin pills!) The doctor booked me OFF FROM DRIVING a motor vehicle for 12 months and I had to stop surfing. Not driving for a whole year? I have my own business and I knew what an effect this could have on it. My income dropped to -R?????? for the first few months! Aneen, who was praying about selling her business for a while then already, made the final decision to sell her business and come and help me. We did this 100% in faith. We had a plot where we were planning to build our first house, and decided to sell it over that same December holiday to relieve us from financial pressures. I now see how God used this to rearrange our lives in order for us to pursue our purpose.
It is at that point that I had to make a choice. Am I going to stay positive or am I going to sit in the corner and feel sorry for myself? I decided to stay positive and keep on going. I bought a fantastic bicycle from my brother and began to cycle. Apart from the obvious physical and emotional benefits, my diesel expense went from roughly R2 000 a month to R0.00! I cycle to all my meetings in a 25km radius, and I’m getting fitter by the day (at first I got a few weird looks but by now most people know about my epilepsy and honesty is what BLANKbottle stands for anyhow!) I’ve adapted my business to be 100% mobile – I can (and do) pack my office into a single rucksack. When I do have to travel longer distances, I organize with friends, family or my wife to drive me, and it turns out to be very valuable quality communication time (not to mention the fantastic investment in my marriage)! At first I only thought it is negative but I now spend time with people that I never would have and organize my time better to spend more time in the office. God worked hard with us but I can honestly now say that Epilepsy had a hugely positive effect on my life.