I have learnt to let go and slip into the immense darknesshttps://pixabay.com/illustrations/tourette-syndrome-epilepsy-adhd-7194133/ geralt

There is an inexorable force that comes upon me at night. It plays on my sleepiness. It takes me up. It brings the taste of death. Words are arrested at the base of my tongue. I breathe ozone; my head is thinning. The most I can do is flip over my body before biting oblivion.

This force leaves me unconscious. Someday it may leave me dead. But this condition has a long medicinal and, in truth, spiritual history. Past cultures have interpreted it in many ways, ensuring that epilepsy can be traced to a distant time when spirts inhabited the manuals of science.

Sometime in the seventh century BC, an Assyrian clay tablet detailed strange convulsions. It also illustrated the demon who caused them: its claws, its tail, its horned head. Later, in the second century BC, a Babylonian tablet described strikingly uncommon behaviours. People were possessed by a falling sickness. They rolled their eyes to ‘the lord of the roof’, a demon hovering over their heads. Captured by demonic will, they repeated their vibrations and muddled half-words without cease. They felt the persecution of angry gods and the condemnation of their communities.

“By the end of last year, I had no spirit left in me”

There were some who sought to dispel these demons. The clay tablets were textbooks for medical practitioners. Psychiatry, exorcism — all the same. In the first century AD, a Galilean man took his boy, whose convulsions sent him falling into the hazards of both water and fire, to a preacher named Jesus of Nazareth. He drove the demon away and healed the boy.

The Prophet Ezekiel, in his thirtieth year, saw visions of God. Four-faced creatures and wheels with eyes. He saw prophecy. He fell. Then, he was uplifted by the Spirit. Here such a condition was not demonic, it was planned by God.

Two millennia later, another boy was gripped by convulsions. His parents took him to the hospital. But the neurologist could not drive the seizures away. They were hereditary, expressed only after the germinal stages of life. The boy had a condition that was inexplicable.

My neurologist was optimistic after my first seizure. One year remained until I would be allowed to drive and swim again. One year until I could go anywhere without fearing my body seized and twisted, without seeing the face of death. But I fell many times more. I, unlike the Prophet Ezekiel, saw nothing but the ceiling adrift. The neurologist prescribed medication. The intervals between my falls widened. The drugs left me downcast, lethargic and indignant. Each fall inflated my dosage. A nasty episode fractured my shoulder. The surgery disturbed me. By the end of last year, I had no spirit left in me.

“I know how it feels to fall into a fleeting death and come back to life”

Some have found bliss in the fall. True jouissance. In the sixteenth century AD, a mystical nun later canonised as Saint Teresa of Ávila was afflicted with countless ecstasies. Holy visions gave her boundless pleasure, demonic visions bottomless pain. She once saw an angel plunge a golden dart into her heart, putting her in such sweet and overflowing pain that her love for God burned like fire. Her rapture was immortalised in statue. Seized by God, the mystics entered an ecstatic epilepsy, transported by their delightful death.

The feeling takes hold. A wall of cloud is approaching my forehead and fogging my eyes. I hold on to the last coherent particle, that last articulation of cognition, then let the golden dart penetrate me; I have learnt to let go and slip into the immense darkness. The dark expires in warm lamplight. I have felt the pain of all pains: annihilation. But I have fallen into death, faced the carpet rolling, and been uplifted.

I could have died. There are stories of those who suddenly die. But the air has cleared. I can breathe. I sensed nothing but death and new life, the taste of refreshed air, as if I were reborn. I saw no seraphim. Nor did I see God. I am not possessed by the right demon. In fact, we all have our own epilepsies with discrete attributes. Teresa’s inhabited her temporal lobe. Mine is diffuse, bodily, shivering. I miss the sensory delight, but I know how it feels to fall into a fleeting death and come back to life. My conversations with Death go unconsummated, yet I have set foot in his domain.


Mountain View

Home isn’t a place where I feel like I belong

A life of being put down and taken up, made by immediate confrontations with death and rebirth, defies medicalisation. My neurologist is well equipped to cast my epilepsy out, but he has never eased himself into abandon, let impulses with inarticulate whims take control. Such an experience cannot be diagnosed. My convulsive demon, my epilepsy, is more than a disability; it is a shared spiritual experience of oblivion, ecstasy and death. Your mind is in God’s hands. I don’t think my neurologist could ever understand.