Posts Tagged ‘Epilepsy’

Image result for epileptic, michael b

Published by L’Association, Paris, France. 2005
Jonathon Cape, 2009

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Epileptic-David-B/dp/0224079204/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1535718463&sr=1-1-fkmr1&keywords=Epilepsy%2C+by+Michael+B

Epileptic was originally published in six volumes by L’Ascension de Haut Mal, 1996-2004.
The first three volumes translated into English by Kim Thompson, and published as a single volume by L’Association, Paris, France, 2002.

Epileptic is a graphic novel, and an easy match for any quality purely-text work. Notice that ‘novel’ as opposed to ‘text’, above?
Epileptic is not a novel, but it is a graphic work. It is an account of an illness.
It is an account of the expanding universe that illness creates. It is the biography of Jean-Christophe’s epilepsy.
There is plenty of text, from quoting Gerard de Nerval, and Pessoa, to the fin de sicele books David gets into: Meyrinck et al.
So, who is Jean-Christophe?

There were three children: Jean-Christophe, the eldest, then Pierre-Francois, then a couple of year gap, and Florence was born. They lived in Orleans, France. Ordinary kids, children of teachers. From an early age Pierre-Francois, later David, became obsessed with Genghiz Khan. They all embroidered in the telling each other’s bed-time stories, to create wonderful adventures.
Great battle scenes dominated Pierre-Francois; he drew in great detail from an early age.
Then one day out of the blue, Jean-Christophe had a seizure.
.

And so it began, the great and endless round of doctors.
Medicine, in those days, early to mid 1960s, did not seem to have that much to offer to epilepsy patients. His seizures became more frequent, and severe.
One surgeon advocated expanding his brain with air in order to see structures and abnormalities better. Then surgery to remove part. He would not be whole again, of course, but….
Sounds barbaric to us, now. But was that any worse than, say, the splitting of the hemispheres of the brain in order to control and isolate the spread of a seizure?
See Spasm, by Lauren Slater.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Slater
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/spasm-a-memoir-with-lies-by-lauren-slater-methuen-6-99-in-uk-1.299480

Epilepsy is not just a matter of loss of physical and mental control, in public, anywhere, at any time. It also carries the burden of increasing deterioration of ability to rationalise, concentrate, remember. The medication plays its part, of course.
And here we begin to see how much epilepsy takes.
Michael B sees/draws it as a huge, multifaceted and shape-shifting monster.

Alternative regimes were becoming available at the time. His parents seized on these like drowning people. Macrobiotics – ok, they try a commune, run by an older Japanese man. David B sees/draws him as a great benign cat.
Satire makes a very welcome addition to the telling: Your child draws very violent images, they accuse.
Oh, they’re samurai, that’s alright.

And humour:
Later on, his cartooning tutor says, Your images are disturbing. And why do you not draw ears?
He fought against it, but in the end drew ears.
Hm, they’re even more disturbing with ears.

There is sadness in the background of other’s lives too. The man who took over the commune when the Japanese leader left later committed suicide with his son. He had failed at everything, even being a macrobiotic guru.

The round of spiritualists, quack doctors, quack healers, is saddening.
Both parents teach, and Jean-Christophe cannot be left at home. The only alternative is to keep packing him off to board at clinics, centers. The impact of this on him is an unknown quality and quality, that explodes later.

His once youthful and spritely father is exasperated: Jean-Christophe is reading Mein Kampf. Can you not find anything better? he asks. It’s a great book, he responds.
Michael B knows he’s doing it on purpose, challenging, as all children, especially eldest children, do. And just as David gloried in the battles of Gengiz Khan, so Jean-Christophe clung to the defeated but not gone, fascistic past. But surely it was to something that gave the impression of being strong, seemingly stable, that he was seeking out. And also something to get back at people with, the people he saw as having failed him.

Both were fighting with the monster in their lives, in their family, and what it had done to them, and was continuing to do. It transformed itself, constantly; most of the time they could see only aspects of it.

Nature and nurture. How much was inherent – the violent tendencies ( though they are no worse than any of kid), for instance. The author asks how much had Jean-Christophe used his epilepsy in order to avoid dealing with the world.
Many times Jean-Christophe suggests work he would like to do, only to be slapped down: You’re ill. How could you manage?
The (unrealistic?) suggestions, and the negative responses are all part of the world the illness has created, and how it alters the perceptions of the family which lives there.

The impact on them all was terrible. They stayed together; they had that strength. But that toll is what the book is all about.

This is a very hard-won book: it articulates a lifetime of hurt and confusion, of medical misuse, and deliberate sponging on their pain by quack healers.

David (That name is too Jewish, an older relative tellingly said) was wanting to start his own family, and so was urged to broach the subject of inherited epilepsy, with his mother. The mountain of self-hurt and self-recrimination this opened the door onto, was terrible. All over again.

*

I was holding a woman as she had an ‘episode’, on the local bus. Others embarrassedly tried to give her back her purse that had gone on the floor. They thought she was lucid enough to understand this gesture.
Or were they just shut-out, and unable to empathise?
It was our stop. I got up, but she was too confused, still. Should I have helped her? She got off a little later – the bus stopped for her. Should I have walked her home?
How much independence did she need? And how, when, and how much help, support?
Is there an etiquette?
No, but there is humanity.

Sometimes the medical profession, medical terminology, can seem to overrule human response.
We see illness, not someone in trouble.

See also:

Mark Beyer:
https://wordpress.com/post/michael9murray.wordpress.com/1372

Achewood:
https://wordpress.com/post/michael9murray.wordpress.com/1379

Lynda Barry:
https://wordpress.com/post/michael9murray.wordpress.com/2146

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