Delving Into Jewish Roots for Source of Her Epilepsy

A Writer's Traumatic Search for Answers

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By Merissa Nathan Gerson

Published November 17, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
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For the two years I spent in Boulder, I worked with an acupuncturist to begin to use my seizures as a guide toward deeper, spiritual knowledge. What were these convulsions here to teach me? Using the quaking that erupted from deep inside my body as a tool for spiritual learning seemed absurd until I began to do it.

I allowed myself to feel my mind half-exiting my body, the nerves taking over, the movement of the unknown surging through my limbs. I logged my seizures, which didn’t cause me harm, in a notebook. I changed the way I ate, slept, exercised and related to stress, until I was living a different life altogether.

My seizures halted for long periods of time. What really felt cutting-edge, though, was what my body was telling me: Embedded in my physical form and its complicated order and disorder were the lost language, severed people and forced removal of my Jewish family.

As I went inside myself through dance therapy and exercise, through deep yoga postures and long sips of kombucha, I began to mourn. First I mourned my own medical history. Then I began to mourn for my family, and its emergence from Nazi-destroyed Eastern Europe.

Somehow, getting in touch with my seizure disorder meant getting very close to my grief, to my family, to my childhood and to our ancestral line. I thought about my father, whose mutated 16th chromosome was the genetic source of my PKD.

He was born in Uzbekistan in 1945 and came to America by way of a displaced persons camp. The members of his family either survived the labor camps or perished at Belzec, a Nazi death camp in Poland. His parents, who lived in my childhood home, often told stories about the war, which until now felt distant, removed, separate. In Boulder, I found myself crying for my grandmother, 10 years passed.

I was mourning her memories, the ones she cried into me before she died. All that guilt for surviving the war, all the siblings incinerated and buried en masse.

A seizure became, for me, an act of purging. It was a mark of the unmourned, the ungrieved, the unprocessed. It was an eruption, a bubbling up of what otherwise would have been left unsaid. It showed me that the work of repairing the Jewish people was not finished; the past was not yet buried; the healing process was only just beginning.

I stopped medicating myself, and began to wonder whether medicine was supposed to treat my particular disorder at all. What if the medical blanket was preventing me from expressing what was essentially an earthquake, a shift in the tectonic plates of my Jewish people? What if my body, once unveiled from medicated silence, was speaking for the collective?


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