Thursday, March 11, 2010

Epileptic by David B.

****see below for text at the top of the panel

I ordinarily don't read graphic novels because I'm not a visual-type person. I like words, and pictures confuse me. I don't even listen to recordings of books, except for poetry, because I just can't pay attention. I've had the book Epileptic by David B. for many years, but it has always sort of horrified me. David B. is a famous European comic artist who grew up with an epileptic brother. The book is a memoir of that childhood, an account of David's and his sister's coping with the diagnosis of epilepsy that his brother received at age eight. He coped with the horror of the epilepsy by drawing elaborate battle scenes. Their mother evidently dragged their entire family to alternative healers as well as many traditional doctors in an endless pursuit to help her son. Her son only got worse, and the book is upsetting for that alone. When I first picked it up, I happened upon a picture of the mother and it upset me so much that I put it down again. She looked like a raving lunatic monster, a monster whose face I myself probably take on at periods. While this family was very close and deeply loved one another, it was more than upsetting to me to see a pictorial representation of what these children saw when they looked at their mother. I just couldn't read it and put it up on the shelf, until today.

If you remember, I posted recently about my son Oliver's drawings of elaborate battle scenes, drawings that his teacher had determined to be "violent" but that I think are rather brilliant and deeply imaginative. When I pulled this book down off the shelf, having forgotten about it, I was struck by the similarities. They make me nervous but perhaps as I read the book, I might gain some insight into what Sophie's brothers go through, living in a family that deals with this terrible disease. The effects of having a sister with such a stressful disorder are well-known to me and I do believe that I've done "the right things," ensuring that they get attention and don't feel responsible for their sister's seizures and difficulties. I'm also very sensitive to them feeling their own emotions and not feeling responsible for mine -- I have always been open with feelings of grief but have assured them that we (The Husband and I) are taking care of Sophie and that it's all right to express anger or sorrow or other difficult emotions. And I think, for the most part, that they have not just endured but thrived in a less-than-orthodox family situation. I do wonder, though, about their interior lives, knowing full well that the impact of their sister is an immense one. I look forward to really reading this book with the awareness that it is someone else's experience.

*** This disease would eventually make off with all of us. I was sure of it.


  1. All of us are woven on different looms. That cannot be changed. But it is the skill and the love of the weaver which makes the difference. You have great skill and immense love. Your children are and will be amazing.

  2. Sending love, I have nothing else to offer here. I admire you and you know it, I hope. Children are not only resilient but they thrive when they are loved as yours are. That's all. Nothing else matters.

  3. How can this not affect them? The drawings, I think, are a FABULOUS avenue for them to pursue their feelings around Sophie's seizures. Of course, I'm partial to the arts. But there is so much that art can bring out in subtle ways -- so much they don't have to say with hard words, but can depict sometimes even more clearly than their vocabularies allow them.

    I saw your post on the drawings, and didn't realize (skimmed too fast?) that his teacher said the pictures were too violent! Seems to me a VERY healthy expression of deep-rooted anger. Better that it comes out on paper, and with such fine detail!

    My T-Bone is much younger than your two boys, but even at this tender age, I can see that having a brother with a mental illness greatly affects him. Let's not kid ourselves -- it's 3:30AM and I'm telling him in his bed that we're bringing his brother to the hospital tomorrow. Anyway, my point is that these posts on your Oliver and Henry always interest me. I am only at the beginning of dealing with "sibling issues," and watching how you handle them helps me.

  4. There is a children's meditation course that Amma has created, it is taught at the retreats every year. There will be one in LA in June. You might consider it for the boys, if not now for in a year or so. I can tell by their faces that they are well loved, well adjusted, and happy kids, regardless of what they have to deal with. I will post a link to the meditation course...
    ps let their art be a free expression, they can use it to work through their feelings. Altho most boys their age draw battle scenes.

  5. Here is the link
    If you are interested yourself it is usually offered in major cities throughout the year, as well. Since you are in LA that is a hub. I have heard there might even be an ashram coming in LA. No doubt there is a large "Amma community" there.

  6. Amazing graphic. I clicked to enlarge so I could read the words. Raw and real.

    You have strength and courage to face the fear the book stirred in your mind.

    The book will be a real recounting of David's experience and maybe as you get into it, you'll feel enlarged by seeing how he thought.

    At the base of everything though, your children have their own feelings, not his; their lives are not his. They have security he didn't have, and trust in your love and that of your husband.

    You're doing everything you can. It is enough.

  7. What a deep way of expressing feelings...those remind me of old-fashioned woodcuts. Powerful.
    I echo what Allegra said...and am sending love and blessings to you and your family.

  8. you are brave to open the book and smart to read it the way you are trying to. it is not your experience or theirs. i think the battle scenes are brilliant and healthy. so is everything you do.

  9. These are questions you have to ask yourself, of course. But you are aware of the needs of their interior lives, and this is the family thay were born in: a "less-than-orthodox family" perhaps, but a deeply loving one. Isn't family about love above less-than-orthodox situations? And you can't just take a graphic novel as a portrait of how the author lived his childhood - just like your son's drawings don't mean that he's a violent child.



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