Grand Mal

1.

For one second before I seize

I can feel it approach

like a hawk encircling its prey

with one exacting purpose.

At the same time

I am overtaken by an animal terror

for my body knows of what’s to come.

The hawk, with skillful acuity

dives in for the kill

and as I leave my body,

forced out by fright,

it grabs me with its talons,

attacks me with its beak

and strips me of muscle, thought,

bone, fur, awareness.

2.

A few minutes later I return

to my shaking animal body

discarded by the hawk

rejected by death

and knowing only terror.

Restless and raw,

groundless and homeless,

pieces of fur and bone

lie scattered amongst fragmented thoughts.

3.

Slowly,

bit by bit,

piece by piece,

every muscle spent

every neuron used up,

I put myself back together:

tendon to bone to flesh

to thought to awareness,

memory by memory,

I begin to recognize

who this self is.

I tremble and cry

at once overcome

with the horror and wonder

that is life.

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Home from School

I stay home from school today because I know I’m going to have a seizure. It lurks in my body, taunts me with its octopus’ arms, wants me in its clutches.

            I lie on my parents’ bed on my stomach and watch Dialing for Dollars on tv, waiting.

            The waiting is the worst. Like waiting for death only I think worse.  Like waiting for an abusive husband to come home and notice you broke a dish. You know he’s going to hit you. It’s like that. I know the seizure’s going to come like I know my own name, where I was born, the sound of rain against a window. It has its own texture and taste and you hate it, but you’ve got to bear it, right? You don’t have a choice.

            At some point, my mother comes into the bedroom with my lunch: grilled cheese and tomato soup. After I eat, I set aside my plate and I lie back. I know it’s coming now, and just as I yell out “Help me!” I fall into terror and space. I am gone.

            When I come to, I am still gripped with terror. I have no idea who I am, or who this woman is standing over me. I ask the same questions over and over again, “What happened? Where am I?” My mother answers my questions with patience and kindness and an undertone of sadness.

            The force that has ripped through my body has left me completely and utterly spent. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Every muscle aches. You never know how many muscles you’ve got until you’ve had a seizure. And my head screams with pain, a heavy pain, an all-encompassing pain, a dead weight on my forehead, entering my skull. Even with the blinds drawn, the light is too bright, too loud, an explosion. I feel like a hurt animal. And even though my mother’s here with her pained expression, I am dismally alone. I don’t know anyone like me, anyone that goes through this. I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve done something wrong.

            “I’m sorry”, I say to my mother. She looks more pained. “Oh darlin! You don’t have anything to be sorry for”. But I do somehow. The guilt doesn’t go away with her saying this. I’m a problem, I think. I’ve created a problem. I’m making her life harder; I know it. And I can’t seem to change it.

            All these thoughts though, they’re like gray moths fluttering beneath my mind. I’m too exhausted, too spent to really know they’re there.

            Bit by bit the terror recedes, and I pull the covers up and fall into a dark sleep.

Thich Nhat Hanh and The Kardashians

What does it mean to be spiritual? I meditate, do yoga, read books on Buddhism and spirituality. I also watch TV, dance to loud rock and roll and occasionally read People Magazine. When I engage in these latter activities, does this mean I am not being spiritual?

One day I watch a DVD documentary about Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Vietnamese Zen monk. I am deeply moved and inspired by this wise and gentle soul. I feel this burning desire to be like him. I vow then and there to be more “spiritual”; perhaps meditate longer and more often, pray daily and more fervently.

But then the next few nights my sleep is more disturbed than usual, which triggers my seizure threshold, and my anxiety is heightened. From there, feelings of dread and despair threaten to take over. Instead of meditating, which I feel I should do, but requires focus and concentration I do not have, I binge watch “The Kardashians”. Where did my resolve go? I feel bad about myself. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a truly spiritual person.

And yet upon reflection, those times when I give in and watch TV, I realize that I’m doing what my mind and body need to do. As someone who is chronically ill, I spend a lot of my time, like it or not, inwardly focused, probably more than the average person. I suspect this is true for most people with chronic illness.

For me, this can lead to depressive and anxious states and sometimes, despair.

I do use meditation practice to investigate these difficult emotional states, but sometimes, I need a break! I need distraction and I can get that quite easily with TV.

            Many spiritual teachers warn of being distracted through all kinds of activity as a way of separating oneself from what’s going on internally, but for me there is a danger in getting too caught up in difficult emotional states. And this can lead towards hopelessness and despondency.

            By watching reality shows like “The Kardashians”, I get a lot of breathing room by entering someone else’s “reality”. It gives me space. It lightens my mood. There is so much drama and antics packed into one show that it takes up most of my awareness: Will Scott Disick stop drinking? Will Kourtney and Scott get back together? Why does Kim act so superior? Will Khloe be successful with her new fashion line? Will Kris stop meddling?

            By immersing myself in such trivial things, I lighten up. I take myself and my life less seriously. I get my needed break.

            So, can we meditate and watch TV and still be spiritual? Can Thich Nhat Hanh and the Kardashians be part of my spiritual path? My answer is yes.