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July 26, 2022

How my “Falling Sickness” teaches me the Beauty of Being Here Now.

 

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I was a teenager in the 90s, which was the same thing as the 60s and 70s, only angrier and less colorful.

It’s not a mystery that every generation is influenced by their parents’ generation, which is why my teenage son recognizes music on my playlist from shows like “Stranger Things.”

Just as the 80s are de rigueur now, the endlessly glorified Age of Aquarius was rebooted for grungy teens and Riot Grrrls like me in the form of flared leg jeans, movies like “Dazed And Confused,” and the second coming of Woodstock. I hung around eternally hippified college neighborhoods and grief-stricken downtown Seattle in the wake of Kurt Cobain‘s death, meeting people who deemed themselves Snap Dragon and Sunshine.

One could assume that names like Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell would have been on everyone’s lips—au contraire! Because nostalgia forgets nostalgia, the 90s as novelty frequently neglects to mention the eras that were novelty in that era. Manson and Morrison were ubiquitous, and Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds” was quoting Bob Dylan to vulnerable inner city youth.

So it was only natural that the message of “tuning in, turning on, and dropping out” was back in a big way. Intentionally unwashed adolescents with butterflies carefully appliquéd to the unobtrusive bells of their jeans, peasant blouses, and iron-on patches scored shrooms and LSD-soaked postage stamps once again. The shamelessly gaudy 80s, with its lines of designer blow, had given way to the arguably more philanthropic practice of acquiring drugs to expand your awareness beyond the hard boundaries of capitalism.

It was time, again, to transcend, brother.

This was long before my temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) progressed into focal aware secondary generalized epilepsy, replete with the telltale symptom of grand mal/tonic clonic seizures, also known as the “falling sickness.” As yet undiagnosed, I jumped on the psychedelic bandwagon in a vintage witchy ensemble. I tried shrooms and nothing really happened to me when everyone else was frying balls. I dropped acid and was the only one who experienced a “bad trip,” which I know in hindsight to be a seizure aura. It was terrifying enough for me to try once more—and then never again.

I now know that some epileptic brains don’t react to many drugs the same as neurotypical brains. People sometimes inquired whether I was high on acid or anything else, gawping in disbelief when I insisted I was not, which was due to my focal aware or “absence seizures.” No matter, I turned my attention to other far-out hobbies, like remote viewing and astral projection.

One day, decades later, without putting so much as one mind-altering chemical in my body, my mind was altered. What I perceived in those moments was a sudden shifting of the context and content of reality as I knew it. One day I was inhabiting the three-dimensional world I’d always known, and in a flash, it was gone. I was flailing alone in a surreal liminal space that could have been created by David Lynch, and I couldn’t tune out or turn off as I was violently dropped to the ground like a rag doll.

I woke up after a time warp. I’d missed the ambulances and medics coming and the things people later told me I did or they said.

That was the first of many tonic clonic seizures, appearing out of nowhere as the subtle but sudden sense that something in my world was eerily “off,” the walls cracking and portals appearing like something straight outta “Hellraiser.” I lost any ability to stop the ride; I was at the mercy of its “Poltergeist”-esque static until it was done having its unknowable way with me. 

I eventually came to, informing paramedics that it was 1996—in 2017. Maybe it was 1996 and I was perma-fried in an institution somewhere, only not, because I have epilepsy due to a congenital birth defect. The TLE version of my epilepsy is trippy in its own right; many with this condition experience Alice in Wonderland syndrome, which is exactly what it sounds like. I have heard music in the walls with no neighbors on the other side and smelled untraceable scents, as well as experienced déjà vu over and over, which is about as meta as it gets. When reality comes back to me or I come back to it, awash with relief, it’s a sort of home coming. In the words of David Bowie: I’m “sitting in a tin can, far above the world,” and I cannot wait to leave of the capsule and experience any semblance of control again, at ground level.

I’m a supporter of plant medicine and psychedelics, if that works for you, whether or not you have epilepsy. I think both synthetic and organic substances can help a lot of people with everything from chronic pain to mental illness. Personally I use only THC-free CBD oil. And as for transcendental spiritual practices, I prefer to learn about being in my body rather than out of it—restorative or yin yoga rather than kundalini, for example. Again, we are all unique and what works for me may not be best for everyone, but I, for one, at 40 years old, am relieved to be liberated from my former restlessness and need to constantly be elsewhere, be it another state or another state of mind.

Reality is not only underrated, it’s outright feared. I’ll admit, the reality of having a condition that restricts me in any way can be a real bummer, but the reality of having survived an intracranial hemorrhage, which rendered me in critical condition, and the opportunity to come back through the veil and have a second chance here on Earth is humbling and divine in its own mundanely magical way.

Savoring the taste of an avocado smoothie with natural light streaming through the window this morning, I took stock of my living room, with all of the regular and reliable things that are mine, and I silently asked them not to slip away today. I don’t have dementia or schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s or any other condition that produces a chronically transient version of reality, and I no longer need to seek out other worlds to escape or deal with my own. I’m sure that my loved ones are as thankful as I am that despite my scarred brain, some part of my connection to reality has remained intact. 

Thank you for reading, and please, when you leave, be sure to close the doors of perception behind you. 

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