When I was nineteen

I was nineteen years old the last time I had a seizure.

I was in the hospital with pneumonia for five days. It was the first big thing to happen in my life since the loss of my parents, I think.

I spent five days in and out of consciousness with a heavy fever that kept coming back and going away again. And I had three seizures.

It was really scary. I thought I was going to die.

That happens. Some people have seizures when they have really high fevers. It happened to me because I had childhood epilepsy. It’s not really right to say “I had it.” I have epilepsy. I just haven’t had a seizure in almost 20 years.

A significant number of children born to women over 40 develop birth defects. Both my parents were in their 40s when I was born. And I was born with epilepsy.

I had what’s called grand mal seizures as a baby and less severe ones as a young child. I was put on a medication called Dilantin. I don’t remember how often I had to take it, but I remember very clearly that it didn’t taste as bad as a lot of other medicine.

I stopped taking Dilantin as a preteen and my seizures did not return, until one day in a hospital bed when I was nineteen years old and afraid I was going to die.

Something like 20% of people that suffer from childhood epilepsy also develop autism or autism-like symptoms. This isn’t hard to imagine if we realize that seizures sometimes re-shape the brain. If your brain is reshaped, your neurotype can be altered.

It took me a long time to realize that childhood epilepsy has had an impact on me.

The philosopher Terence McKenna said this:

“In archaic societies where shamanism is a thriving institution, the signs are fairly easy to recognize: oddness or uniqueness in an individual. Epilepsy is often a signature in preliterate societies, or survival of an unusual ordeal in an unexpected way.”

In many ancient societies it was believed that when a person had a seizure, they were entering the spirit world, seeing hidden truths. Sometimes children with conditions like mine would be taken away and raised to be shamans or oracles.

I don’t think I entered the spirit world when I had those seizures, but I do think they changed me. I see things a little differently. I think that explains my fascination with Buddhism and other mystical paths.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ll probably be writing more about it in the future.