Graphic Novel Explores Status Epilepticus and the Quest to Belong

Iasmin Omar Ata’s stunning graphic novel, Mis(h)adra, dives into the vibrant, hypnotic world of epilepsy. Although it only came out about a month ago, it has received critical acclaim from Kirkus Review, Brian Lee O’Malley, and others. The book gives a fresh voice to a story that many people who face rare and misunderstood diseases know too well.

The story follows Isaac, who struggles through his day-to-day life while carrying the invisible burden of epilepsy. Isaac attends college in New York, and he wants the full experience: the growth, connection, and exploration that so many of his peers are free to enjoy. He wants to finish his homework, and succeed in class. Yet so much of the time, it feels that those goals are at odds with managing his seizures and health. External stress and sleep deprivation can trigger a seizure. A seizure, and the ensuing recovery time, can in turn, create more stress.

It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also a lonely cycle. It’s hard to develop a thriving social life when you’re always at risk for a seizure. It can also be difficult to explain certain behaviors to people who have grown up in a world where epilepsy is constantly erased and misrepresented. Doctors dismiss Isaac’s
symptoms. The condition puts a strain on his relationship with his family, especially his father. All of these factors compound, until the struggle is not only with epilepsy itself, but also with isolation.

Isaac’s Palestinian-American identity isn’t central to the story, but it’s woven through out. It adds another layer of space between him and the world he lives in. It’s another part of Isaac that’s frequently misunderstood, another part of himself he has to struggle to carve out a space for. The title, Mis(h)adra is a play on Arabic words. It literally translates to “I cannot,” but also contains the word “seizure.”

The book was created by Iasmin Omar Ata, who borrowed from their own experiences as a Palestinian-American with epilepsy. In an interview, Ata describes the creation of Mis(h)adra as a “two-year-long therapy session.” In one scene, a truck almost hits Isaac. This incident was pulled from Iasmin’s own life. They had an episode of complex partial status epilepticus, which is different to the type of seizure most people are familiar with. It’s long-lasting and non-convulsive, so to an average observer, it appears as if the person is in a daze. To read more about status epilepticus, click here.

The book is full of crisp, colorful illustration. Ata uses surreal imagery to explore the loneliness of an experience that language fails to communicate.

Mis(h)adra is a beautiful and much needed story. If you’re interested in ordering a copy for yourself or someone in your life, you can find it here or here.

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