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!
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • 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.