Salah: Epilepsy is a multifaceted disorder

Salah argues that awareness of epilepsy doesn’t necessarily mean having pity.

Hend Salah

Hend SalahHappy Purple Day, everyone!

What is Purple Day, you ask? It’s National Wear Purple for Epilepsy Day. It’s supposed to raise awareness about this condition and change some misconceptions about it.

To put it simply, epilepsy is a seizure disorder. An epileptic is a person who is prone to having seizures, or fits of tremors, causing the loss of control over his or her body. Interestingly, the phrase “having a fit” was coined in reference to these convulsions. Not such a fun phrase to use anymore, is it?

It is widely believed that a seizure is marked by severe and uncontrollable shaking of the body. This is not entirely true, because this is only one type of seizure. In fact, in many cases someone next to you could be having a spell and you wouldn’t be able to tell. The person will lose control of his or her body but not outwardly so.

I have found that there are  common misconceptions about epilepsy. Several people have told me that they think a seizure is just a lack of control over a body’s movement, without any particular feeling attributed to it. A friend of mine once told me that he thought it was just like moving your arm back and forth without being able to make it move yourself. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A seizure is more than just sporadic and irrepressible movement. To have some understanding of what a seizure is like, try to sit on your hand until it goes numb. When you attempt to move it, you will feel pins and needles go through it. Now imagine this feeling amplified by 100. That is how it feels to have a seizure, and yes, it is painful.

[blockquote]Finally – and most importantly – it is not a handicap. Someone with this condition is not in need of constant special attention.[/blockquote]

Another untrue belief I have come across several times is that, because seizures mostly develop from abnormal activity in the brain, other brain functions are hindered as well. I have heard people even go as far as saying that it causes a learning disability.

It is true that memory can be affected by this condition, but someone with epilepsy is not necessarily at a disadvantage when it comes to schooling or education.

In fact, there are many influential people who epilepsy. For example: Sir Isaac Newton, a very famous and accomplished scientist, was epileptic. Bud Abbott, of the comedy team Abbot and Costello, had a seizure disorder, as does Neil Young. Throughout history many leaders were diagnosed with the condition after their time, such as Julius Caesar.

Finally – and most importantly – it is not a handicap. Someone with this condition is not in need of constant special attention.

There are some struggles, but epilepsy comes in many levels of difficulty. Some epileptics do not experience any problems in their daily lives, while others do. This condition is not necessarily a crippling one, and treating it as so isn’t making you any friends.

A few weeks ago, I was walking out of a class with a friend and cracked an epilepsy joke – one I still think is hysterical. A girl I have never met stopped in front of me and started lecturing me about it. She told me that I was being insensitive, and that epileptics need my sympathy and support, not my laughs.

In the beginning, I was extremely angry. I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 13. Yes, I have faced many problems because of it. And yes, there are a couple of things I am unable to do. However, her insinuation that people like me are in need of sympathy or help just because we have to deal with some obstacles is both irritating and fallacious.

We all have problems, whether they’re with our health or issues with family, work or school. If we don’t learn to laugh at our problems and move on, our lives will become too complicated. Voltaire, a French Renaissance philosopher, once said, “Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater their power is to hurt us.”

Dealing with epilepsy is one of those thorns, and just like any other problem, it is possible to move past it.

So happy Purple Day, everyone.  If you hear any epilepsy jokes today, don’t be afraid to laugh. This is what awareness is really all about: learning about each other’s problems and getting through them, while having a laugh or two along the way.

Hend Salah can be reached at

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