Did you know that Prince (or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or that symbol thingy he tried for awhile, or whatever he’s calling himself these days) was born epileptic?
Yes, the Purple One, that great Purple Yoda from Minnesota himself, used to struggle with seizures as a child. He was fortunate enough to outgrow the disease, but still, he suffered.
And how appropriate that he associates himself with purple, the color of royalty, the color associated with epilepsy.
Today is Epilepsy Awareness Day, so I decided to wear purple. It’s a color I don’t wear often, but perhaps I should start—epilepsy is more common than you might think: as many as 1 in 26 people will struggle with seizures at some point in their lifetime. (And feel free to fact-check that one—it’s straight from the Epilepsy Foundation.)
1 in 26. You’d be rich in Vegas with those odds.
Even though I had a two-hour-long seizure as a toddler, and I took medication for a few years afterwards, I never thought I’d be that 1 in 26. I thought I had my brain under control, that it was an isolated incident. But I was that 1 in 26.
Think about that for a moment: that’s pretty much one kid in every classroom in America.
So this is something that people need to know about.
There are a lot of weird misconceptions about seizures: epilepsy has been associated with the cycles of the moon, with prophecy, and excessive masturbation. (I wish I were kidding.)
It was even believed by some to be divine, a direct link to God—like Harry transmitting messages to and from The Big Giant Head on Third Rock from the Sun back in the 90’s. The Greeks called it a sacred disease, and it has been called the genius disease. It has also been called witchcraft, criminal insanity, a curse, and a contagion, and its stigma is so profound that epileptics were banned from marrying in the United Kingdom until the 1970’s, and in India and China it is still considered valid grounds to deny marriage rights. (I wish I were kidding about that, too.)
It’s not contagious, but it is stress-aggravated. And these misconceptions are both stressful and aggravating. (And frustrating, come to think of it—at least, for this epileptic…)
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder—epileptics are prone to recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A seizure can be so many different things: most people think of the type where the body convulses. That’s one type. But there are others, too. I’ve had convulsive seizures, but lately, I’ve been having complex partial seizures, which basically means that the seizure starts in only a part of my brain (that’s what’s partial about it), and I usually mumble something and do some sort of action to accompany the gibberish. (Marching is one of my favorites, and I also like to take off clothing and twiddle my thumbs.) Yeah, I’m exhausted and pretty unaware after they happen, and they’re a pain in the butt, but I think, more than anything else, seizures are scary.
I think they are scarier for those witnessing them than those who have them.
So educate yourself. Learn about this disease so that it doesn’t scare you. If you see someone having a seizure, protect them from hurting themselves (but don’t restrain them or put anything in their mouth), and pay attention to how long it lasts—if it is longer than five minutes, brain damage can occur, so be sure to call for help.
And go wear some purple—just like Prince.