By Yunus Hydara

The concept of possession, “to be seized by spirits,” is central to the historic association of religion and the epilepsies. Many people believed and many still do, especially in societies like ours, that people with epilepsy are possessed by demons. This believe no doubt exacerbates the condition due to societal stigma and thus deterioration of quality of life of the individual. The believe, historically, also existed in the West but with the advancement of human knowledge, the ignorance to this notion is allayed in most people. For example, the early Greeks viewed epilepsy as a visitation from the gods, and thus a sacred disease. As human knowledge advances, it is common in many societies to attribute what we don’t know yet, or is too complex for our fragile brain, to be attribute divinity – duped “The God of Gaps” (Gap in knowledge). Religion attributes everything to divinity but its limitation in deals makes it less effective for practical solution. Eg. Religious scripts cannot provide the protocol for brain surgery.

My apologies am gona digress a bit here.

The spirit is if God can do it repeatedly to perfection, then there must be an underlying principle that if unraveled, we can do it too artificially, or at least correct aberrations to better human experience such as curing diseases. This makes many diseases curable that was killing us curable. The alternate approach like the one we Africans like to take, that God is in control and we should just sit and allow God’s will take its course is just pure laziness, self-limiting and embracing ignorance. Thus solutions to our problems eludes us, and the consequence are severe. God made it mandatory to seek knowledge. And please spare me the excuse of “white-man’s knowledge” that is fuelled by misguided resentment. We hypocritically love to benefit from this same knowledge we condemn for religious reasons more than anyone. Take the Ebola outbreak for example, we sat and blamed the West for not coming to our aid quick enough. The point is there is no such thing as a “white man” knowledge, as no one owns monopoly to the truth. Some wants to sit at home and enjoy the convince of ignorance and intellectual laziness and some simply want to find things out to better understand the world around us and device ways to preserve human existence. Human knowledge has and is being advance through Global collaboration that we must endeavour to participate in if we want to be respected. Religion and science are not mutually exclusive as demonstrated historically in Bagdad which was the centre of enlightenment. In the beginning in the 700s and continuing for nearly 400 years Baghdad was a thriving intellectual centre for arts, sciences and medicine. Muslim Astronomers and mathematicians built observatories, designed advanced timekeeping tools, and developed new methods of mathematical analysis and computations to translate into Arabic the scientific work of ancient Greece and other places and collaborated with Christians and Jewish scholars to advance science and technology. Arabic became the lingua franca of science with newly discovered stars, comets and asteroids named and stilled after Arabic scientist. The word “algorithm” and “algebra” names after Muslim scientists Al-Khwarizmi and Al-jabr respectively. The influence of these early Islamic contribution to science remains to this day. Would not bore you with examples, but long story short, Baghdad as the city of enlighten ended with time, and more so as the city became engulfed in political turmoil.

Anyways, more to the point, People with epilepsy are not possessed by demons. They just have a condition, like someone living with asthma or diabetes. It’s a disease that is characterised by reoccurrence of seizures due to disturbance to neurosynaptic transmission in the brain. Simply put, nerve cells miss firing action potential. Action potential is the process in which excited nerve cell encodes information to be communicated to other nerve cells through an influx of sodium into voltage gated sodium channels and perpetuated by a continues depolarisation of the nerve cell. In epileptic seizures a group of neurons begin firing in an abnormal, excessive, and synchronised manner. This results in a wave of depolarisation known as a paroxysmal depolarising shift. One effect of this is a prolonged presence of neurotransmitter in the synaptic cleft of the neuro-muscular junction causing excessive contraction of muscles. A nuero-muscular junction is where a nerve terminal (neuron) come into contact with muscles where it influences inhibitory, voluntary or involuntary movement of the muscle.

Seizures can happen to anyone; that’s why multiple episodes of seizure are required for Doctors to diagnose someone epileptic. Epilepsy may occur as a result of a number of other conditions including tumors, strokes, head trauma, previous infections of the central nervous system, genetic abnormalities, and as a result of brain damage around the time of birth. It can be managed by taking therapeutics and following some precautions to effectively minimise frequencies of seizures. This include trying to remember what exactly happened prior to seizures such as were you feeling sleepy or hungry? Did you see flashing light or images? Were you hungry? ect. Noting these down will help you understand what triggers your seizure and these can then be avoided.