Personal Stories: I Once Knew a Genius Who Ended Up a Simpleton – He Was Epileptic and He Was My Brother

June 27, 2017

Mbts_covery name is Marie Abanga and I am from Cameroon in Africa. Before my brother Gabriel got diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 11, all I knew about that condition was the appellation 'fainting fits'. In my country and probably in a large chunk of Africa, such fits are still attributed either to evil attacks or ill luck. There is so much taboo and stigma surrounding such cases, to the extent that some families would rather hide their children suffering from seizures, than risk public shame. They simply are never sent or withdrawn from school once seizures set in.

My family, especially my mum who was almost his sole caregiver, did not go all the way with such beliefs and actions. However, it was a very difficult and challenging time for her to try and find all the help she could for her son. It happened that dad was so embarrassed by the diagnosis and literally abandoned them both. My brother was a very intelligent young man and I was with him for a better part of his elementary and secondary school education where the seizures began.

I very well remember his first seizure. I saw him walking up towards me in the boarding school we attended, and all of a sudden he had fallen. Several people ran to him and we notice he was foaming around his mouth. We didn't know what to do until the school authorities came and took him to the hospital.

Thus began my family's journey with their epileptic son and sibling. I mentally chronicled his journey of suffering with seizures and the development of what came to be diagnosed as a bipolar disorder. Finally, on the 2 nd of August 2014, this very bright brother of mine, who had for 18 years become nothing but a simpleton, died probably of a heart attack while he was reaching out for his medications. I then wrote and published this journey of his, in a memoir titled my Brother's Journey from Genius to Simpleton: Battling with his Mental Illness and Coping with His Loss.

A Foundation and Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Well-Being

“A Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Well-Being in Cameroon will definitely be one of its kind. Yet, Mental Illness is one of those taboos "society" still balks from, not because most are spared from its ravages and delirums, but because of the stigma associated with any such illness. It was but a decade or so ago that the Country saw it's first Centre for Autism too. Before then and even now, illnesses and disorders such as these are 'simply' attributed to withcraft, illluck, bad parenting, and why not demonic attacks”. With these words, we announced the creation of the Gbm Centre for Epilepsy and Mental Well-Being in Cameroon which is a project of the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Well-Being established in the state of Massachusetts where he died. The Foundation and Centre are thus still making toddler steps in developing programs and projects, mindful of the vast potentials which exists for its growth as one of the pioneer Foundations in this area of health and well-being.

There is so much to be done in my country as far as raising awareness about epilepsy is concerned. This is to me the first step toward getting a proper diagnose and following a suitable treatment protocol. One more life lost is too many, and this is why we decided not to end at mourning for the loss of Gabriel, but to seize that opportunity to learn more about his various conditions, the options we may have had or were denied, and then go out and help as many as we can.

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