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!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • 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.