Seven years ago Prince revealed to the world that he had battled with epilepsy during childhood, a battle that shaped him as a man and an artist. Now, as the world mourns the death of a genius, it is worth considering one of the less prominent lessons he taught us.
Prince compared his fight with Epilepsy to that of the legendary black boxer and civil rights icon Jack Johnson “because he had to deal with seemingly insurmountable odds; if he knocked someone down people from the audience would get into the ring and pick him back up. I just related to it in a lot of different ways.”
“I was born epileptic and I used to have seizures when I was young and my mother and father didn’t know what to do, or how to handle it, but they did the best they could with what little they had.” – Prince
This ongoing battle is something that a lot of people suffering from epilepsy, myself included, can empathise with. The constant struggle and the lack of an apparent end to the embarrassment, irritation and fear can feel debilitating, but it can build up our defences and make us stronger people, just as childhood colds build up our immune system. Later in the same interview Prince highlighted exactly how his battle had built him up and given him his signature colourful approach to performance, music and life:
“Since then I was having to deal with a lot of things like getting teased at school and early in my career I tried to compensate for that by being very flashy and very noisy.” As Prince began to make his own noise, his genius was recognised by local music lovers, record companies, the world and, eventually, by me. In my defence I wasn’t even born when Prince was partying like it was 1999 and I didn’t hear him properly until I started to party, which happened coincidentally around about 1999. From then on, in his jazzy, funky, trippy rock-pop, I’ve increasingly felt I could hear something that felt personal to me. Perhaps it’s the shared experience of epilepsy that drew me to him (being in a funk and tripping are both terms that have been used to refer to fits).
What is certain is that Prince wouldn’t be Prince without his early experience of epilepsy and his music wouldn’t be what it is. Epilepsy and many other disabilities aren’t just disabling, with support and the right approach they can enable us, define us and make us better people.