‘Fit For Anything’, penned by Wally Ward (b. 1914), is an autobiography detailing the author’s struggles to maintain a normal life within the confines of epilepsy in 20th Century Yeovil, England. Born into a poor family, Wally sabotages his own chances of an education due to the expenses of school clothing, and attempts to battle his condition within difficult and sometimes perilous working conditions. Being diagnosed with epilepsy at this time had a different effect than a diagnosis now – until mid-twentieth century, epilepsy was defined not as a neurologic disorder but a psychiatric one. Medical knowledge and treatments were limited and the condition carried negative social connotations. (Reynolds and Trimble, 50-55)
The memoir details his life from early childhood through to the time of writing (at which time he is married with children, and has ceased to have epileptic symptoms). Ward wrote his memoir as a guide and empathetic document for other epilepsy sufferers, which he explains in a preface dedicated to the target audience:
I was lucky enough to be offered a chance to live a reasonably normal life, the chance to earn a good wage, a chance to hold my head up and look at the world straight in the eye, and I’m glad to say I took that chance and in this book I want to try, if I can, to point out the way to my fellow sufferers. (i)
As Ward states here, he succeeds in living a full and accomplished life despite suffering an illness which, in the time of writing, could have been completely detrimental to his chances of a “normal” life. By the end of the memoir, Ward has found a wife and had children, gained a well-paid factory job that is flexible to his condition, and paid for a house for himself and his family. Ward dedicates chapters to each area of his life and explains the factors which encouraged and allowed him to achieve this; notably, the support of his wife Violet, his “right arm through all [their] married life” (40). Ward is open about his affections for Violet and appreciation of her assistance, allowing any ego indicated by his writing of the memoir to be overshadowed by his devotion to his support networks.
However, even considering the comparative successes of Ward’s life, his epilepsy has provided constant obstacles in his attempts to secure these factors in his life. Societal attitudes towards him were frequently judgemental, affecting his mental health and his ability to feel a part of society. He details the aftermath of his diagnosis of epilepsy, elaborating on the changes in the way familiar people treated him. Friends and girls began to treat him with fear. He lost confidence in spending time with his peers and in dating – one girl he had courted explained that “while she had liked [him] a lot, she was scared of being alone with [him]” (17) – hardly the kind of statement to help the confidence of a young man! I am excited to do further research into the work of Wally Ward and explore the true effects that his condition had on his quality of life (as well as his general demeanour, and even writing style!)
Reynolds, Edward H., and Michael R. Trimble. “Epilepsy, psychiatry, and neurology.” Epilepsia 50.s3 (2009): 50-55.
Ward, Wally. ‘Fit For Anything’. Brunel University Library 2.798