Seizures are difficult to define by physical description alone, mainly because there are so many different types. A person with epilepsy often has multiple types of seizures, some of which are not easily distinguished. It is possible that you have seen a person have a seizure and not noticed!
The International League Against Epilepsy and the International Bureau for Epilepsy broadly define an epileptic seizure as:
Robert S. Fisher, one of the authors of the above-mentioned article, mentions that this definition is specific to epileptic seizures, as the term “seizure” in the medical field can mean a range of things. He explains that the word “seizure derives from the Greek meaning ‘to take hold’… [m]odern popular terminology uses the word… for any sudden and severe event” (471).
Here is where it gets tricky. Seizures can affect the above functions, but every seizure does not affect each one. For example, a Myoclonic seizure only affects motor function for a very brief amount of time, as it causes the patient to involuntarily contract a group of muscles. This type of seizure could look like one brief jerk of an arm, or possibly a twist of the head (Blume 1214). The patient typically does not lose consciousness and is aware of the motion. A person who suffers from Generalized Tonic-Clonic seizures, which cause the body to stiffen, and then jerk in a rhythmic manner, almost always loses consciousness and suffers from amnesia as a result of the seizure (Blume 1214).
So, a person suffering a seizure may exhibit anger, or fear, as well as inhibited speech. They may be unable to recall simple memories, or they may feel as though they are continuously experiencing deja-vu.
In the case of a Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure, the patient is not necessarily finished with the seizure simply because he stops moving uncontrollably. The video below features a man undergoing such a seizure. After his motions stop, it is clear that his mind has not fully returned to its normal, functioning state.
This is a GRAPHIC video of a man having a generalized tonic-clonic (or grand-mal) seizure:
Note that he is on the floor. Seizures are rarely expected, and they often result in head injuries. His saliva is tinted pink because he has bitten his tongue. Would you consider him conscious by the end of the video?
Now, compare the video to this representation of a Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure, as seen in David B.’s graphic novel, Epileptic.
Keeping in mind that this is only a snippet of a scene, a comparison can still be made between the two mediums. The video captures the interaction between the man having a seizure and the woman caring for him. There is no filter. We can watch her hands almost willing him back into his body, simultaneously smoothing away the invisible sickness. The struggle in the man’s eyes is apparent; although he cannot yet speak his emotions flash through his body.
With David B.’s representation, we are allowed a more symbolic glimpse at the disease. Epilepsy is turned into an attacking monster. Here, we are limited by David B.’s perspective. His brother and epilepsy become representations, digested through an artist.