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Epilepsy and being politically correct

Updated on June 29, 2017

Can I ask you to imagine a scene...

I am standing at the front of a class room at University, explaining how my community work colleagues and I went about developing a lesson plan to encourage community members to try something new. I make the vital mistake of saying "my team brain stormed."

At the end of the presentation when I open up for questions, one student social worker says "I like your presentation, however I would be concerned that you have excluded and offended any epileptics in this room by your terminology. You should never use brainstorm anymore - the terminology is thought shower now."

My answer was simple...I have 2 questions for you

1)Are you epileptic?

2)Have I offended you?

His answer was No to both.

I then asked the class "Have I offended anyone?"..... Silence.

The student then said "You may not have offended anyone here, but there may not be any epileptics in this room."

I answered "There is....I am"

I went on to challenge the person on their assumption that I had caused offense. I personally would never associate my seizures with having a brainstorm. I may, however describe my seizures as a communication breakdown or short circuit.

What happens is the messages in my brain get confused and are briefly disturbed. In order to try to understand the message, my brain works harder to try and sort things out. This causes an increase in electrical activity and the brain overloads, eventually causing a seizure. Some people term this as a brain storm.

I personally don't like people using term brain storm to describe a seizure since I think that it sounds alarming. I would rather people explain it as a type of communication break down or short circuit. I would argue that terming a seizure in the first place as a brainstorm, is not helping people understand epilepsy. It only creates an alarming stigma for us to knock down.

Anyone could seizure, it's just my threshold is lower and people want to put a label to things.

This is my personal opinion on this, so I hope I don't offend anyone... If you are epileptic, I would be interested in your view.

I am photosensitive, so light triggers my seizures. According to Epilepsy Scotland, that is a rare form of epilepsy that only 6% of sufferers have.

This means that flashing lights, computers and TV can trigger me to seizure. (Although you can see I can still use computers) It is the pattern and the intensity of the light that triggers the seizure. Natural light can sometimes be problematic. For example the sun flashing through a line of trees whilst in a car or train can make me say "OOH" (Although I have never taken a seizure due to natural light.)

In my experience often the political correctness and epilepsy has stemmed out of someone's fear of offending sufferers. As a sufferer I have never thought of my epilepsy as something to get offended over. It is an aspect of me.

What happened in that class room was that someone pounced on my use of the term "brain storm". I was using it in the context of a brainstorming exercise, where you get lots of different ideas together. In my opinion, that well intentioned social worker student made a vital mistake....He took something I said out of its original context and slotted it into another setting to create an issue. He even suggested that I ought to be offended by the use of such terminology. The context of our language is often crucial. When we take things out of context 2 +2 often = 5.

In my opinion, if I am offended by something, it is a decision I take. Someone else can't make me be offended, in the sense that they can't tell me what to think or feel. I may feel offended by some one's choice of language. For instance, I don't like to hear lots of swearing. I could accept it as that person's character. Alternatively I may ask them politely to try and curb their language or say nothing but take offense. If I do that I am probably going to be judging them. I have a choice how I want to react, no-one can make me take offense.

As an epileptic if I am offended by the term brain storm that is down to me to decide....not someone else. At the end of the day, you have to describe it in some way. I like explaining epilepsy as a short circuit, I find people can relate to it and understand what is happening. It could be argued however that referring to a seizure as a short circuit devalues the person since you are referring them as an object. I would say that I am describing the seizure not the person. If someone dislikes metaphor, they can describe it in another way. It does not mean that we "blacklist" the terminology. Political correctness seems to do that. If that were the case we would probably have no adjectives left, as someone somewhere would object to something. It would be ludicrous to tell all electricians they can't use the term short circuit in their work, in-case it offends epileptics.

It annoys me when people assume that I will be offended over something. I would rather people were open and accepting of my condition, not tell me what to think or me that is more patronizing.

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      As I epileptic, I don't find the term brain storming to be offensive. The only term I find offensive is seizure disorder. I won't go on a rant about why it offends me because that would take too long.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The only thing that pricks up my ears is the term "epileptic" itself, due to its historical use of labelling someone as "an epileptic" and all the negative attitudes and treatment that led from that. Our doctors/midwifes often use the phrase "she is epileptic" in reference to my wife, and I think its an unnecessary lumping together of the person and the condition. It shows a much greater respect to say "she suffers from epilepsy" or similar, rather than "she is epileptic". For me this is especially important for younger people who may push blame on themselves for having the condition - as my wife did - this could have been helped by people clearly seperating the two things, as we would do with many other medical problems.

    • Dee42 profile image


      9 years ago from Beautiful Arkansas

      Ah.... We could start a club. I also am epileptic. I have lived with this since 1977, I was in Junior High. But I've never heard of this in this context, but then again I've been sheltered. Lol. Very interesting hub since I can totally RELATE. Voted up and across.

    • profile image

      jane smith 

      9 years ago

      what's annyoing is that no-one related brainstorms to seizures until (whoever it was) said it was offensive. And i bet you that peson isn't even epileptic anyway.

    • profile image

      Aimee Kearney 

      9 years ago

      I am epileptic and outraged. This is not offensive and I think if an epileptic says it is offensive they are petty and attention seeking. it's pathetic. I'm proud to call it a brain storm.

    • smzclark profile image


      9 years ago from cheshire

      the same thing happened to me in a sociology lesson a few years back. i am an epileptic myself and i used the word brainstorm and got corrected. like you, i was offended by this...

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You handled that BEAUTIFULLY! "There is....I am" I love it! After all, it was YOUR plan to give--not this other person. They were merely there to learn how to go about putting it into place. And to be truthful, I had to read your sentence three more times to understand why they would think an epileptic may be offended by the use of the term "brain storm". By the way, I have been an epileptic since I was 9 years old, and I'm in my early 40's now. I keep reading over the words "thought shower". It sounds like something my 4 year old nephew came up with, and as far as being offended by ANY kind of favorite is still when someone points out that "they were shaking so bad it looked like they were having a fit!" that one.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 

      11 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      There seems to be too many people wasting time & effort for what? They have nothing else better to do...I am photosensitive to light & have onset partial seizres that wake me due to a childhood stroke. I use the term & always have for writing songs, poems, articles, & hubs all the time & I am a sufferer & always will be but by no means can I see this term being offensive to any epileptics in the world. I say poo..with political correctness...I enjoyed the topic in your hub!

    • ruthcpatton profile image


      11 years ago

      You make sense!! We are new to epilepsy with our daughter, and I would never have thought the term "brainstorm" to be offensive...Some people just have to get a jab in here and there. Great hub!!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I agree. I've been dealing with my epilepsy for about six years now. I'm sorry you have to live with this. Most people don't understand what it is about having epilepsy that makes life so difficult. Doctors do not know what causes my seizures, nor have I found a medication that doesn't alter my mind and or body. Depression has come with all the medications I've tried, as well as many other problems. I cannot speak for you, but I live with twice-a-day medication. I know the inherent pain and suffering; and more than that, I know the feeling of accomplishment. Of waking up every day and holding my head high as I overcome the anxiety. In my opinion, taking offense to something as trivial as the term "brainstorm" (which I've never actually heard in this context) completely undoes everything we work so hard for. To all who are unaware of the real hardships we must face and overcome, we can only ask to understand that we have enough on our plate. Don't add to our hardships by telling us petty words should break our spirits too.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Amen! I think people sometimes take political correctness too far! While it's good to be considerate of others, people are sometimes so afraid they will offend someone by what they say that everybody will soon be walking on egg shells!


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