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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Flashbacks

Epilepsy Hallucinations

December 2023

8 May 1977. I walked from our married student housing up the hill to my meeting with Og in his office. I felt nothing beyond my usual random sequence of natural highs, feet off the ground, dizziness, out-of-body sensations, floating not walking among the treetops. I had the occasional hallucination of seeing the world in one dimension, then three, then one again. I heard someone call my name when no one was nearby. Nothing unusual from my perspective.

“Did you smoke pot before you came?”  Og asked in a tone louder than usual.

“No!” First, I would never do that in the middle of the day. Secondly, I would never do it before a professional meeting.

Ogden, an experimental psychologist saw something in me that was very different from my usual self. It was the only time he commented on my acting very different from my usual normal self.

* * *

March 10 through 13, 1982. I had four days of feeling a natural high. I’m sure it included hallucinations and other inner behaviors I shared with no one. I worked for two of those days and halfway through the fourth, Sunday, the daze of fog cleared from my brain. The strange thoughts and images were too continuous to identify or count. Realities shifted slightly as if I had had two gin and tonics. No pollens in March. Thus, no independent variables. The table moved. Changed shape. Faces belonged to the wrong people. I follow the printed agenda I wrote and kept careful notes. What causes this continuous wave of weird brain activity? No idea.

* * *

I lie in bed or sit on the davenport. It starts gradually. Back and forth…back and forth…back and forth…increasing in speed till I sink into the false firmness of eiderdown. Speed and nausea increase. I, or is it the room, spin on my axis. Does a room have an axis? I move somewhere between 300 miles an hour and Mach1. I discern lines, colors, and voices. No shapes. No forms. If I stood, I’d fall immediately. Chairs, windows, people, books, and rugs return suddenly. Reality exists. I vomit the sudden stillness. I think I’d vomit when I become dizzy. No, dizzy approaches slowly. After twenty-three minutes in this altered state, it is reality that makes me vomit.

*  *  *

I cannot see from me to ten feet in front. Seventeen feet away the door, window, kitchen counter, and dining table shake as if seized in a violent earthquake. I cannot see my husband, yet we speak in a normal fashion. We had no break in continuity and he had no awareness reality had vanished for me.

*  *  *

Blue leaves lie in piles beneath the aspen. Most still cling to their branches. Wind scattered some in the parking lot. November in Juneau. Juneau where no aspen trees grow. Juneau where all trees had lost their leaves two months ago.

 I ask my epileptologist if he sees blue aspen leaves. He looks at me square on. “No!” he raises his voice. Okay. Another one of my moments and the fourth time someone responded to me with a firm No. Why do people yell at me when I’m out of reality? They don’t yell. They stare at me and firmly say “No.” It just feels like a yell.

*  *  *

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Abigail Abigail sat on her bed
Abigail Abigail feared for her head
Vertigo tumbled ten feet to one hundred
As Abigail fell down the horrid abyss.

Abigail Abigail feared all bottomless pits
and losing her balance on the balcony’s rim
looking at the egg shell, yolk, and runny white
of Humpty Dumpty’s spattered head.

I hate Humpty Dumpty. He’s frightened me all these years. He was perched four times higher than the horses’ heads below. Why did he sit on the wall? Didn’t he think that if he fell forty feet he would break? Humpty’s shell would crack into a million pieces and the yolk would leave yellow smears on the cobblestones below. The white would ooze on the stones and into the cracks between. He’d be dead.

If I fell out the window of my parents’ bedroom onto the stone wall, I’d be dead.

*  *  * 

Some of these vignettes occurred before I knew I had epilepsy. I frequently thought of them as flashbacks. They often seemed quite similar to the flashbacks people who have been in war, hostage, or situations such as rape, physical, or psychological abuse. Sometimes my episodes were just weird inner events that I could not categorize. Other times I found them terrifying.

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