Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), which afflicts more than a million Americans, involves an extraordinary range of behaviors: hallucinations, flashbacks, intense anger and fear, heightened religious feelings, changes in sexual interest, and a compulsion to write or draw. This common but little known neurological disorder reveals clues to one of the greatest scientific riddles of our time, the link between body and mind. Seized chronicles the lives of three ordinary people with TLE: a corporate executive, a small-town attorney, and a former prison inmate and mental patient. Interwoven with these narratives are accounts of doctors’ pioneering efforts to find a cure, from early interventions such as castration and psychosurgery to today’s drug therapies and targeted neurosurgery. LaPlante takes the reader inside the human brain to show how it functions during and between seizures, and how brain changes directly affect behavior and even personality. Rare among diseases, TLE crosses the traditional boundaries between psychology and neurology, and offers clues to the physiological causes of mental illness and mental health. It has suggestive links to creativity: LaPlante narrates the effects of suspected TLE on Moses, Saint Paul, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, van Gogh, and Lewis Carroll. Dostoevsky described in fiction the ecstasy that can precede a TLE seizure; van Gogh’s phenomenal artistic output in the late 1880s is characteristic of TLE. Seized is an invaluable resource for anyone whose life has been touched by epilepsy, and for all who are curious about the uncanny landscape of the brain.
Topics to Consider
1. Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is the most common seizure disorder among adults, affecting an estimated one million Americans, yet it remains little known and discussed. How is it possible that such a common disorder is not widely publicized and therefore not well understood by the public?
2. Describe several of the myriad seizure states that occur in patients with TLE. Have you experienced any of these states?
3. What are the links between TLE and personality traits?
4. Given that these personality traits are not in themselves symptoms of a disorder, how do they compare to the same traits in people who do not have epilepsy? Could the brain mechanisms underlying them be the same?
5. How did the disorder affect famous artists and writers afflicted with it, such as van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Lewis Carroll, and Gustave Flaubert? How might their work have been different without the presence of TLE?
6. Now that you have read about TLE, do you have a different view of psychiatric disorders like depression and psychosis? If so, how?
7. In the twenty years since the publication of Seized, researchers made improvements in treating epilepsy. What are the new therapies, and how well do they work?
About the Author
Eve LaPlante is the author of Marmee & Louisa (2012), Salem Witch Judge (2007), American Jezebel (2004), and Seized (1993), and the editor of My Heart is Boundless (2012), a collection of Abigail May Alcott’s private papers. Visit LaPlante online at www.evelaplante.com.
“A major study … The implications for psychiatry are staggering.” — Publishers Weekly
“In this fascinating account of medical research, LaPlante shows how a brain scar may cause bizarre aggressive or sexual behavior, and works of profound creative imagination.” — Howard Gardner
“The many readers who were intrigued by Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat will welcome LaPlante’s book. More common yet less familiar than the physical manifestations of grand mal epilepsy, temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is a response to abnormal electrical activity in the parts of the brain controlling feeling and memory … LaPlante interweaves the stories of three contemporary sufferers with accounts of famous people who probably had the disease, including Vincent Van Gogh, Soren Kierkegaard, and Lewis Carroll. Does the development of anticonvulsant drugs preclude another Alice in Wonderland? A thoughtful final chapter examines TLE’s conjunction of personality and physiology and its impact on our concepts of personhood, creativity, and free will. Highly recommended.” — Library Journal, starred review
“LaPlante’s descriptions of the human brain are wonderfully concrete, and her empathy for TLE’s victims is clear.” — Kirkus Review