Monday, November 23, 2015

The Syndrome

     Soon after I found out about my flat seahorse, I went to Bethesda to meet with a neuropsychologist at Walter Reed Hospital. His job was to figure out if epilepsy makes me less smart or more crazy..in ways that need to be helped.
     That's something I have tried to keep a close eye on since my diagnosis in 1989. The word epilepsy kept me out of the DSM-III, but I wasn't taking any chances. The rules in that book have changed a lot since then.
     The best information then and now came from books by a neurologist my big sis told me about, Oliver Sacks.
     I started with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, then Awakenings and kept going from there. His books make me feel like I have a gift rather than a problem, a chance to experience life in a way no one else can.
Dr. Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)
     I even wrote Dr. Sacks a letter when we lived in Okinawa and my disease was suddenly such a big deal. He took the time to write me back, which elevated him to hero status in my mind. From then on, I imagined myself to be a member of his club of misfits.
   
     There was another neurologist whose book I didn't find so appealing because it was spooky and less scientific. I read a similar book last summer.
     Both authors use such historical figures as Vincent Van Gogh and Fyodor Dostoevsky to explore the connection between epilepsy, creativity and madness.
     They are particularly fascinated with a syndrome that may or may not exist, depending on whom you ask. Even Wikipedia admits the syndrome isn't fact-based, but still, it's interesting reading. Stories of deviant behavior sell, and there is a lot of wiggle room for writing about famous dead people. (Example: Elvis Presley)
    More doctors and fewer storytellers should explore the topic before the syndrome takes on a life of its own and becomes a new demon to be exorcised/conditioned out of us.
     I spent the weeks leading up to my evaluation wondering how similar I might be to the people described in those less-than-scientific publications. Would my doctor send me across the street to the National Institutes of Health for extensive study to find out just how much of a freak I really am?