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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Flashbacks

Simple Turned Complex

September 2022

My seizures continue. Simple turned complex when I had another seizure in the middle of the night three weeks ago. As usual, I woke up, went to the bathroom, felt fine, sat on the toilet and in three, yes only three, seconds went from nausea to dizzy to out-of-body to knowing I better head to the floor rather than falling and hitting my head. I was in my son’s unfinished house that has five beds, a dining room table and its four chairs, two porch chairs, and a sofa, a house not fully ready for occupancy. That’s fine but the house is so big, he didn’t hear me call out for about ten minutes.

My brain seemed to have lost much of its organization. That night three weeks ago like many other times, my thoughts and feelings grew so complicated, so blurred and confused that my brain felt too jumbled and too full. I could not retain what had just happened. Nothing made sense. Nor could I keep words or thoughts in any order. For that night, the next day, and the next week I checked the same events with my son and my husband. They were both extremely patient with me, repeating ad nauseam, what they had just told me, or listening to what I had already told them several times before.

How many times and for how many years have I felt I was on some archeological expedition. My 80-year life is short for an archeology search, yet I hold different-sized trowels in each hand. Beside me lie other trowels and small brushes I’ll use in my explorations. I’ve had a few years and many moments when I thought I needed something smaller than a toothbrush, perhaps the one used for brushing eyelashes, a two-inch bit of a thing with one row of soft bristles. Perhaps one of the brushes with two or three sable bristles that artists use for fine detail in a photorealism painting.

I needed to take out all or part of my brain, hold it very gently in my hand, and brush away the residue, tidy up synapses that had scattered as they moved from neuron to neuron. It seemed a bit like removing snarls from my long hair. When all in proper order, I could put my cerebrum back in my skull and all would remain tidy and clear in thought. I’d live well enough till the next time my thoughts and perceptions grew so messy they needed that gentle cleaning again.

Well before I knew I had seizures, I knew each time it started. I knew other people did not behave or think as I. Years after this urge to tidy up the small particles in my brain, I felt like I was Zemaryali Tarzi. He’s the Afghan archeologist of a site in Afghanistan, searching for the 300-meter-long Sleeping Buddha, that elusive reclining statue of Buddha that the Taliban did not look for or blow up. Since 2001, Tarzi put together a plan by digging here and there, but still did not find the 900-foot reclining Buddha. They found shards of this or that statue and keep looking. My elusive sleeping Buddha, hidden beneath the soil of my skin, is the same and different from the one Tarzi looks for. I find elusive shards of myself and record them in a poem. I record them when I chart how often I have a hallucination, an illusion, out-of-body sensation, or any other of the nine events that tell me I am not all right with the normal world.

A half a life ago, a doctor told me it was my heart. After two decades, a few more doctors, and at least ten normal electrocardiograms (EKGs) later, no one had found anything. I continued running and swimming on a daily basis and still sensed things that did not exist or existed in my own weird world. My senses and perceptions continued to play tricks on me that night and that week.

My disrupted brain makes this room look organized.

This photo came from the Internet. My disrupted brain makes this room look organized. Picture this and set it whirling or advancing sideways, front or back, up or down, in a circle, retreating at a speed of 1,000 movements per minute or what feels like the speed of the planet.  

Before I knew I had epilepsy, a friend once said to “Methinks you try to analyze everything too much. Just get up and say good morning, not that the earth made another revolution while screaming through space…just a thought I had.” What a lovely idea, Ray. How I wish I could.

In my son’s office building last month, I walked into the shop area. I do not own a construction company, but he does. I am a writer who has epilepsy. Suddenly I saw the inside of my brain. I knew the shop had organization for all his employees who might need this or that, but the order of tools immediately struck me as the chaos of my brain. Varied colors, sizes, angles, cardboard boxes near metal cabinets, and unopened boxes from suppliers—I’m sure it all meant something to my son and his workers. Except for the handled tools by the door, none meant a thing to me. Whether it is organization or clutter, his storage area is too full of objects for me to focus.

Construction shop—1

Construction shop—1

Construction shop—2

Construction shop—2

Construction shop—3

Construction shop—3

For the first few moments after I walked into his shop, I felt the chaos of my thinking, sensations, and feelings. Even the objects didn’t stay where they should be. I knew where I was but felt disoriented. I told myself it was a shop full of tools and supplies for building. I calmed down a bit and the objects settled into their places. I still didn’t know what everything was, but I didn’t need to. The contents of this large room were not a part of my responsibility. I don’t know why I went into the room—on my way to the lavatory? I left when I realized that it represented my disorganized brain. It was the first time I’d ever glimpsed a real scene that looked like the inside of my head when experiencing a seizure. Having that analogy felt good. I had an external physical image I could relate to.

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