Karen Armstrong On Epilepsy: Author Details The ‘Absolute Terror’ That Led To Diagnosis (Video)


Blessed is He in whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things. It is He who has created death and life that He might try you—which of you is best in deeds, and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving. (Al Quran 67:2-3)


Karen Armstrong with Oprah Winfrey

To watch a video clip about Armstrong’s illness and her interview, watch a video clip in OWN

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD

When she was a Roman Catholic nun, and for many years after, religious scholar Karen Armstrong was plagued by mysterious ailments such as fainting spells, bouts of amnesia and even hallucinations. After years of suffering these undiagnosed symptoms, Karen finally got an answer. Find out what it was and why she says it was one of the happiest moments of her life.

For many a successful people, the trajectory of events in life follow three phases, best identified by the mythologist Joseph Campbell as the “hero’s journey.” The life of a hero or a heroine follows a pattern of separation from the world, initiation into new understanding (usually through trials), and return to the known world.  For Karen Armstrong these three phases of life are her enrollment in a Christian seminary, followed by epilepsy and finally her emergence as a great writer and religious philosopher.

Source: The Huffington Post

When she was a Roman Catholic nun, and for many years after, religious author and scholar Karen Armstrong was plagued by mysterious ailments. Fainting spells, bouts of amnesia and hallucinations were just a few of Armstrong’s symptoms, creating a frightening world that was made even more difficult by the fact that Armstrong couldn’t seem to get a diagnosis.

In this video from her interview on “Super Soul Sunday,” Armstrong recalls her years-long ordeal with the mystery medical condition. “[I was] having moments of absolute terror,” Armstrong tells Oprah. “Absolute terror, when the world is unrecognizable. It’s a state they call ‘jamais vu’ — it’s the opposite of déjà vu because you’ve never seen it before.”

Armstrong says that this confused state makes you forget even the most basic daily activities and objects. “You forget how to go down a flight of stairs. You forget what a glass of water is,” she explains. “The world becomes absolutely unrecognizable.”
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Additional Reading

Reconciling Human Suffering and Existence of God

A Cordial invitation to Sir David Attenborough to be a Theist

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2 replies

  1. Assalamo alaikum w. w. I’m glad to find the mention of Joseph Campbell in this post. I’ve been referred to him while searching on the theme ‘Psychosis and Mysticism’ for some time already. The following paraphrased statement from him has been of particular interest to me: “The psychotic drowns in the same ocean as that where the mystic swims”. The distinction between psychotic experiences and mystical or spiritual experiences doesn’t seem to be very clear at times, so that a patient may mistake a psychotic experience as being a spiritual one, not knowing that medical intervention may be recommendable in certain circumstances. Perhaps could someone from the medical profession enlighten us on whether psychosis is sometimes present in epilepsy, but from what I’ve gathered, it can certainly be present in mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive psychosis). Perhaps would others want to further comment on this? Jazakallah

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