A grassroots initiative started back in 2008 has now blossomed into an international effort to raise awareness about epilepsy.

Purple Day, held Thursday, was co-founded by a young Nova Scotian named Cassidy Megan. She hopes the movement will break the stigma surrounding seizures, which come in many forms and are often misunderstood.

“I stare off, or I cry for no reason, and afterwards I get really tired and confused, and sometimes I forget what happened,” says Megan. 

Cassidy’s mother said she was surprised when her daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy because her seizures didn’t fit the stereotype.

Dr. Mark Sadler, a neurologist and co-director of the epilepsy program at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, says there are many kinds of seizures, and they can manifest in different ways.

“If you think epilepsy, you think somebody lying on the ground having a convulsion, that’s true,” says Sadler. “That’s part of it, but no means the entire story.”

Seizures can affect speech, cause visual hallucinations, jerking, twitching or stiffening parts of the body.

“The seizure is an electric storm that starts in one part of the brain, and depending on what function that part of the brain has, is what determines what happens in the seizure,” says Dr. Sadler.

He adds that seizures can even produce forced thoughts or memories.

Susan Rahey, the Neurophysiology Program Director at the QEII, says because of all the different manifestations, epilepsy is often misunderstood, or misdiagnosed as a psychiatric, behaviour or movement disorder.

“People are treated with the wrong drugs,” says Rahey. “They’re not understood.  Their seizures are very poorly controlled because of using these wrong drugs.  It’s a terrible, vicious cycle.”

Dr. Sadler, Rahey and Cassidy Megan all agree that initiatives like ‘Purple Day’ are the best way to help de-mystify the neurological disorder and reduce stigma.

Many ‘Purple Day’ events were held around the Maritimes on Thursday, including at Halifax City Hall, which was lit up in purple.