The dreamy state: an autoethnography of spiritual meaning in epilepsy

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsConference Presentation


Study of anything can sometimes drain it of its feeling, its blood (Moriarty, 2013); this ‘psychologising’ then loses a sense of the embodied individual (Muncey, 2010). In the hidden world of the ‘dreamy states’ of epilepsy, the Cartesian mind-body split is impossible. Some people with epilepsy experience ‘dreamy’ or ‘cosmic’ spiritual states (Dolgoff-Kaspar et al., 2011); they talk to God, or know the oneness of the universe. The medical model pathologises these experiences, regarding them as, at best, hallucinations (e.g. Sacks, 2012) and at worst, a symptom of seizure-associated psychosis (e.g. Dolgoff-Kaspar et al., 2011).

A personal crisis forced me to question my sense of self-identity and, in unravelling mentally, my body followed - my epilepsy became a concern. I was forced to look within to a defining condition that I had always rejected. I began to research individuals who find spiritual meaning in their epileptic auras where I have previously had none. My curiosity about ‘Other’ started me on a journey to re-defining and understanding of ‘Self’. I speak now as a researcher through and with my ‘illness’ (Frank, 1995) and wonder what is meant by health in this context.

I propose to present an autoethnographic paper that offers insight into how auto-ethnography enables me to employ a novel approach to engage with this altered state of consciousness – a waking dream technique (Hamilton, 2014). Through this approach, I can explore the specific character and intensity of the feelings that accompany these epileptic events (Trimble & Freeman, 2006).This autoethnography will present the layers and voices of my narrative and the meaning my experience of epilepsy has in the criss-crossing of my personal and societal roles as researcher, student, woman, patient, psychotherapist. Auto-ethnography will allow me to give voice to this experience - indescribable by medicine (Frank, 1995).
Period30 Oct 2015
Event title2nd British Auto-ethnography Conference: Auto-ethnography: Reading the Body and Writing the Self
Event typeConference
LocationAberdeen, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational