Epilepsy is a fairly common neurological disorder—roughly from three to five percent of all people in the world will be diagnosed with it at a certain point in their lives. It has no cure. And although epilepsy is very rarely a direct cause of death, it is nevertheless considered by neurologists as a serious disorder. Throughout history, mankind has vacillated in terms of its regard for this so-called scourge from the gods: depending on one’s cultural sensibilities, epilepsy was considered boon or bane, a blessing or a curse. From the modern perspective, however, the disorder is just another malady that patients and the medical establishment must overcome, manage, or at least understand.
The manifestations of epilepsy can be considered “spectacular.” You’re having fun with a friend one moment, the next moment all hell breaks loose as your friend is on the floor having a violent seizure. Anyone whose life has been touched by epilepsy in one way or another is intimately aware of the obvious and not-so-obvious implications of the illness in the epileptic’s life. When one is diagnosed with epilepsy, some doors close, some open; one has to realign things in one’s life for the sake of managing the often debilitating and limiting symptoms of the medical condition.
At this point, it is important to clarify that the seizures are not epilepsy itself. But rather, epilepsy is that unique neurological condition that somehow makes people more susceptible to having seizures than the general population. Such electrical changes or disturbances in the brain, however minute, can bring about the symptoms we are all too familiar with: the violent convulsions and the loss of consciousness that may last up to a few minutes. There are also those almost imperceptible symptoms of epilepsy: the stare that suddenly goes blank, the lips that smack, the arms and legs that jerk uncontrollably. People with epilepsy vary in terms of the severity of the symptoms they experience, and whether they undergo only one kind of seizure, or more. But regardless of the symptoms, the origin is the same: the electrical signals brain cells send to one another somehow get misfired or fall in disarray.
But perhaps, the most important thing to keep in mind when one has epilepsy or one knows of someone who has the illness is this: epilepsy does not define you as a person. It’s just something that you have; it’s not what you are. It is not a mental disorder. And both the person with epilepsy and those people who love them have a proactive obligation to limit the effect of the disorder: often, all that’s needed is knowledge and understanding.