Epilepsy and Creativity – Can Epilepsy Have An Effect on Creative Abilities?

27th September 2021

Epilepsy has long since been known to have an effect on the chemistry of the brain and the neural pathways. Depending on the type and severity of a person’s epilepsy, it can affect a great deal of things, including their personality and ability to think clearly. Therefore, a reasonable question could be whether epilepsy can have an effect on a person’s ability to think creatively. 

Temporal lobe epilepsy, in particular, has a reputation for giving those who have it a particular draw towards creative endeavours, such as art and writing. A 1993 article from The New York Times even offered the viewpoint of someone who, having had no previous excitement about reading or the arts, developed a deep love for them after being diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. An extract from the article reads: 

“Before my injury, I wasn’t inclined to be a reader, or obsessed with God and the meaning of life,” he said. “Ever since this happened to me, I’ve been a more introspective guy, constantly reading philosophy, studying world religions and then having a fever, literally a fever, to write. It’s a lust, an obsession, to put it down, and in the act of writing I’m not Thom Jones. And it’s such a relief to not be Thom Jones.”

In addition, a number of prominent creatives are reported to have had temporal lobe epilepsy, including Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Van Gogh. 

Another article, this one from 2014 in the Guardian was written by Dan Mitchell, a writer with epilepsy who outlines how his epilepsy has helped to fuel his creative endeavours. Noting that after a seizure he wakes up in a “brain fog”, but after which feels as though he can make connections he previously wouldn’t have in a state of heightened creativity. In the article, he notes: 

“But I have found unforeseen bonuses. That shake-up of the mind, that brainstorm (yes, I’m co-opting the term) often gives me strange ideas, vivid images, words connected bizarrely – as if someone had emptied the toy box of my mind and joined together bits of mental Lego and a Rubik’s cube and produced something that no one had seen before.”

The effect of epilepsy medication on creativity

Whilst there are a number of reports that epilepsy and seizure activity have had the unusual effect of fuelling creativity, the opposite is often said of epilepsy medications. Epilepsy medications work to suppress the areas of the brain in which seizure activity begins, thus preventing seizures from occurring. There are many different types and each can have side effects. 

There is an argument, including one during the aforementioned Guardian article, that epilepsy medications can halt creative thinking and affect a person’s ability to utilise the area of their brain associated with creativity. With anti-seizure medications (AEDs), the goal is to slow the brain’s neural activity so it’s conceivable that this would be correct. 

Conclusion

There may not yet be enough evidence to say with 100% confidence that epilepsy and creativity go hand in hand. However, it’s easy to draw the connection to certain types of epilepsy and there’s enough first hand reports to give the subject legitimacy. 

However, epilepsy is an extremely varied group of symptoms that can affect people in many different ways. Not everyone with epilepsy will have the capacity for increased creativity, whilst not everyone on epilepsy medication will note that it in any way hinders their creative mind. 

There are also a number of academic studies, such as this one from Science Direct and another from BMJ Journals, that draw similar conclusions. 

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