Delving Into Jewish Roots for Source of Her Epilepsy

A Writer's Traumatic Search for Answers

Thinkstock

By Merissa Nathan Gerson

Published November 17, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When I started having seizures at the age of 7, no one ever suggested an exorcism. No one sent me to discuss with a rabbi what was going on inside my writhing body, or to try incantations, or amulet prayers, or minyan circles, for the sake of extricating the spirits.

My motor seizure disorder was treated strictly and cleanly by neurology. One hundred milligrams of Tegretol daily put down the beast, sequestered the disorder and left me cured, or so my doctors said.

Merissa Nathan Gerson
Courtesy of the Author
Merissa Nathan Gerson

For the next 14 years, until I turned 21, I did not think twice about the cause of my epilepsy. Top neurologists diagnosed me with paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia, a rare motor seizure disorder. When I forgot to take my medication I had strange and embarrassing episodes, triggered by sudden motion or nervousness: My speech would slur; my arms would swing and writhe, and my body would shake. These occurrences forced me to reckon with the enormous unknown that was grinding through my own body.

But the clinical neurological speak of genetic mutation and basal ganglia misfiring did not satisfy me. I grew curious beyond the scientific. What was I looking for? At the time I had no idea.

Years later, I learned: to understand my body in the context of the Jewish people, in the context of my ancestors, of my history and of my connection to Torah. That was something neurology could not provide. My search to understand my seizures, to understand my own body, brought me to my family’s history.

It was at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, in Boulder, Colo., that I began to uncover my story. As part of my education, I had to meditate and take classes in “contemplative studies.” I took a class on Jewish mysticism, and I took a course on movement therapy where I began to do assignments that forced me to move and listen to my body.

I would find myself in a ball on the floor of my apartment — or in the classroom, where other people were running about and letting go wildly. Where they were free, I was turning into a potato bug, sobbing. I realized for the first time that inside of me there was a very sad story I was refusing to acknowledge as my own.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.