I picked this graphic novel at the recent Big Bad Wolf sale without knowing anything about it, but something about the cover and title got its hooks into me. Mis(h)adra is a bit of a wordplay referencing two Arabic words: “mishadra”, which means “cannot”, and “misadra” which means seizure. In a way, it is an elegant descriptor of the story contained within. Iasmin Omar Ata tells us the story of Isaac, a college student struggling to balance life against the demands of his epileptic seizures which affect every aspect of his day, and how they hold him back. Ms Iasmin herself described it as a “semi-non-fictional story” about her own lived-in experiences with epilepsy.
I could tell that this is a very personal story, and frankly, even just spending an hour being in Isaac/Iasmin’s headspace felt a little overwhelming—which I am sure, was the point. It is portrait of a life that is constantly teetering on the edge of disaster. Isaac could not cope with attending classes. He fights constantly with his anxiety and fear of succumbing to his fits. His doctors are dismissive and judgmental, and his anti-epileptic drugs barely work. He expects his friends to eventually dessert him after being tired of taking care of him, leading him to distant himself from people who can help him. His father seems to be in denial about his condition instead of giving him the support he desperately needs. He is in constant battle with his environment filled with triggers that can tip him off at any time into oblivion. So much of his energy and attention is put into putting up a front of normalcy, to behave as people expects him to behave because too many people simply do not understand that he is, in fact, not well. There are a lot of parallels to mental illness here, and Isaac’s experiences are identical to those my patients often relate to me. As much as Mis(h)adra is a story about an epileptic, it is also about a society that does not forgive sickness.
Stories are empathy engines, and Mis(h)adra is one of the better demonstrations of that function. Whatever pain Ms Iasmin poured into her beautiful drawings, it came through to me in her words and colours. Strings of shining beads. Eyed knives. I don’t know what these represents (Isaac’s anxiety? The epileptic aura that epileptics experience before the onset of a seizure?) but I do know how they make me feel. I recommend it for anyone who is interested in getting a little understanding into people who suffers from epilepsy, and for sufferers of epilepsy as well—you may find something familiar between the covers, and perhaps it can make you feel less alone in your struggles. Sometimes, the knowledge that someone out there understands what you are going through can be enough to get you through it.
P.S. Just a small word of warning though: it does get pretty gruesome in parts.