Just as Neil Young began to find his way in the world as an aspiring artist, his life permanently altered when he was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1966, and since then, the musician has been forced to make day-to-day adjustments to help him cope with the condition.
Being a live performer, of course, isn’t ideal for an epileptic. The bright lights could easily trigger a seizure, and for that reason, Young found it hard to completely relax on stage for many years. Constantly on high alert, in case he noticed any signs that suggested a seizure could be imminent, Young struggled to fully immerse himself within a performance.
Young had to grow used to the situation and learn to live with it, but it made performing incredibly daunting. Back in the 1960s, there was no deep-level research into epileptic seizures, and Young didn’t quite comprehend the mechanics behind health problems he faced. Thankfully, the issue is no longer a daily worry that was previously entrenched in his mind, and in 2012, Young revealed that he had grown out of it. However, in the same conversation with NPR, the Canadian also said he’d had too many attacks to remember, revealing the pain it had served him earlier in life.
In 1975, Young first opened up in-depth about his predicament during an interview with Rolling Stone. At the time of the conversation, he was still coming to terms with what exactly having epilepsy meant, and the diagnosis had a profound impact upon the singer-songwriter.
“Epilepsy is something nobody knows much about. It’s just part of me,” the singer admitted to the publication. “Part of my head, part of what’s happening in there. Sometimes something in my brain triggers it off. Sometimes when I get really high it’s a very psychedelic experience to have a seizure. You slip into some other world. Your body’s flapping around and you’re biting your tongue and batting your head on the ground but your mind is off somewhere else.”
Young then discussed the cloud of fear that used to constantly stalk him due to the condition. “The only scary thing about it is not going or being there, it’s realising you’re totally comfortable in this void,” he revealed. “And that shocks you back into reality. It’s a very disorienting experience. It’s difficult to get a grip on yourself. The last time it happened, it took about an hour-and-a-half of just walking around the ranch with two of my friends to get it together.”
Fortunately, a seizure never happened while he was performing. Still, the anxiety from being epileptic made it impossible to enjoy being in crowds, and as a result, performing was a nerve-wracking experience. “I felt like it was a couple times and I’ve always left the stage. I get too high or something. It’s just pressure from around, you know. That’s why I don’t like crowds too much,” he admitted.
Young always remained vigilant and had the nous to spot the warning signs of a potential seizure before it was too late. Illness has been a constant presence in his life, but Young is yet to be defeated. Inspirationally, the musician has proven his strength on numerous occasions as he overcomes the obstacles that life presents him with and continues to express defiance.