Since the first written account of epilepsy, people who experienced seizures were associated with having divine power or experiencing demonic possession. Movies were no better, and tended to portray stereotypical scenes of people experiencing seizures which promoted misconceptions about the condition. Thankfully, over time, the portrayal of epileptic seizures in TV shows, movies and books have changed considerably. From using it to add drama and horror to a movie or book, or relating it to madness and violent behavior, it is now used to raise awareness and normalize the condition.
SHOWS THAT HAVE CHARACTERS WITH EPILEPSY
Many characters with epilepsy have appeared on soap operas and TV shows. Portraying such characters needs to be done mindfully and realistically. Some include The Young and Restless, where one of the characters has temporal lobe epilepsy. Coronation Street depicts the life of a hairdresser and his struggles to control his seizures with medication. EastEnder received praise for depicting epilepsy the right way and also raising awareness about it. Deadwood shows Reverend Smith as having epilepsy and how he attributes his condition to divine intervention. Popular TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, House, M.D. and Private Practice, and ER also have many episodes that depict people having seizures.
MOVIES THAT HAVE CHARACTERS WITH EPILEPSY
Many horror movies like The Exorcist and the Exorcism of Emily Rose depict victims of demonic possession as experiencing seizures. The victims are shown to be diagnosed with epilepsy initially and their diagnosis is then changed to achieve the element of horror in their films. Other movies like First Do No Harm shows a woman’s struggle after she discovers her son has epilepsy. Garden State is a cult indie flick about a character’s return to his hometown and his relationship with a girl who lives with epilepsy. Control is a movie based on the true story of the vocalist of the band Joy Division who experiences generalized seizures and his loss of control over his life. The Exploding Girl tells the story of Ivy, a student who experiences seizures, and returns home for the summer. The Andromeda Strain is a movie about a group of scientists investigating a virus from outer space. The chief scientist conceals her epilepsy from her colleagues. When she has a seizure, they assume that she has been infected by the virus.
BOOKS THAT HAVE CHARACTERS WITH EPILEPSY
The first written accounts of epilepsy are found on Babylonian stone tablets dating from the year 1000 BCE. Epileptic seizures here were described as caused by possession by ghosts or demons. The Greeks also assumed that people who suffered from epilepsy were possessed or were in contact with the divine. The Bible talks about a boy that people called the “lunatic” who experiences seizures. Jesus is said to have healed the boy by removing evil spirits from the boy. The author Fyodor Dostoevsky is said to have lived with epilepsy and it seems to have influenced much of his writing. His novels The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, The Possessed have characters who experience seizures. The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie is another famous novel that includes the character of an epileptic traveling salesman. Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the gripping story of a group of boys stranded on an island and of Simon, who lives with epilepsy. Flutter, by Gina Linko, tells the story of Emery who lives with epilepsy. The seizures have begun to consume her life and she longs to live the life of a normal teenager. Black Water by Rachel Anderson depicts life in the 19th Century where people misunderstood people having seizures and label Albert, the central character as a freak and a madman. What If They Knew by Patricia Hermes tells the story of a ten-year-old who wants to hide the fact that she has epilepsy at her new school.
Authors and filmmakers have realised that the content that appeared in their movies and books could have an emotional impact on their audiences. Many people diagnosed with epilepsy feel the need to conceal it from their colleagues and friends as they might be embarrassed by it. By normalizing it in movies and books, and raising awareness in a realistic way, they may stop feeling secretive about their diagnosis and learn to cope better with their condition. Also, as many people only see a seizure occurring through these mediums, it provides them with their only points of reference. Although novels and movies are works of fiction, it is important to show realistic images so as to provide people with a more accurate view of epilepsy and break existing stereotypes.
Many new movies with characters who have epilepsy also show the use of wearable epilepsy monitoring devices. SmartMonitor is one such brand. The Smartwatch Inspyre by SmartMonitor detects repetitive shaking motion and alerts family members and care providers with seizure alerts. Read our blog on what to do if someone is having a seizure.