Posted by: Kate | July 25, 2009


Do you see that little diagonal line up there, between the words caution and paranoia? It’s a fine line, isn’t it?

This weekend marked the first time I’d spent more than an hour alone, or as the only adult, in the house. Willem was away, so it was just Jacob and me for about a 40-hour stretch.

We’d have had Friday alone, too, but Gretchen saved the day by carting us around Salem and generally babysitting me until about dinnertime. By nature, I tend to be fiercely independent and somewhat solitary – not all the time, but without regular supplements of solitude I start to lose track of myself. But, just lately, alone-time for me has been less palatable, both for myself and for those who care about me.

Turns out, having the seizure did cause some permanent changes in my brain, though not the structural/functional ones that woul be the most worrisome. Instead, the change has been to my self-perception, my worldview, my mindset. I don’t want to get all dramatic and wail about how everything has changed, because I still eat my Cheerios with a spoon and I still shower with reasonable regularity. But pretending that I haven’t experienced a major internal shift would mean minimizing the reality of the situation, a tendency which isn’t especially good for one’s health, physical or mental.

At 10:30 in the morning on Saturday, July 4, 2009, I had a certain understanding of myself. I felt competent, and functional, and sturdy. A little shaken, over the past several months, by the diagnosis of spondylitis and the enforced lowering of my daily physical demands – I simply cannot fold four loads of laundry in a day, and if something is more than a mile away, it is too far for me to be certain I can make it all the way home on foot – but overall I felt like I was building a new and livable set of boundaries and expectations. A new normal, whatever that means.

By 11:00, I had become someone who might, with no warning at all, drop with a seizure. In front of my husband, my kids, and any number of strangers at a yard sale. I became someone who would briefly be completely unable to communicate verbally, and I’m able to clearly remember the bone-deep panic that comes from hearing the question, “What’s your name?” and not knowing the answer. Knowing I was supposed to know, knowing that I could probably figure it out if I tried, but not being able to simply reach in and grab that most fundamental of facts.

My baseline level of anxiety has skyrocketed, and I am deeply, deeply grateful for what pathetic and incomplete health insurance we have, because when you call and say the magic words “grand mal seizure,” you get some seriously prompt doctor’s appointments and tests. Within a week of the event, I had seen my Primary Care Physician, my neurologist, and my pain specialist/anesthesiologist. I’d had an EKG, EEG, MRI, CT scan and bloodwork – and had all of those results reported back to me. People were (and are) lining up to try and assure me that this appeared to be a one-time thing, a bad reaction to the combination of Zoloft and Ultram, easily avoidable in the future, ya mon, no worries, irie.

I’m trying hard to believe these assurances, and most of the time, I’m reasonably successful. I can’t imagine just how out of control I’d be feeling if I wasn’t. You’d probably be able to wring the cortisol out of me and bottle it. (Play tricks on your friends and enemies! Raise their stress level and they’ll never know why!)

So I’m trying, and I know, through experience and training, that the only real way to vanquish anxiety is to face it and live through it. Thus, when Willem’s annual golf trip rolled around last weekend, I never considered finding someone to stay with us or going away, ourselves – though I know I could have found several options for either idea. (OK, I lie. I considered it. I just talked myself out of it.) I needed to prove to myself that I could handle it, both the aloneness and the running-the-household-ness, and I did both just fine.

But there is that line, between caution and paranoia, and I skated right along the edge of it on Saturday night. I spent all day Saturday feeling off; slightly sore throat, stomachache, sleepiness. I took two naps during the day, which is decidedly not par for the course – though, for the second one, I’m still not clear about whether I took the nap, or whether the nap took me. It was obviously a serious force of nature, because it took Jacob down, too.

After we woke up – near dinner time, by that point – I was feeling distinctly unwell. Lightheaded, and loopy, and just strange. I didn’t feel as though I was on the verge of seizure, but only because when I actually was on the verge of seizure, I felt no different from normal. I couldn’t label how I felt, and so I started to wonder whether, this time around, I was experiencing warning sights.

I didn’t feel badly enough to call 911, or even to find someone to come over. But I did feel badly enough to design, and enact, Plan B. First, I called and emailed several friends, asking each of them to call and check in with me at various, specific times through the evening. Of course they all agreed, and so I had hourly phone calls, which played havoc with my typing speedsbut were excellent for my, and their, peace of mind.

And second, I sat down and had a talk with Jacob about what to do in an emergency of the Mama-is-sick nature, and how to recognize the difference between an emergency and a nap. He’s a smart, smart kid, and didn’t need a bit of new information from me, so that felt good, too. I fervently, avidly hope that my almost-5-year-old never, ever has to actually call 911, but I’m glad to know that, at least in theory, he knows how.

And, by Sunday, I was fine. Back to myself. Feelin’ groovy.

Though not enough to be embarrassed about being overdramatic the night before. Things have changed.



  1. I’m sorry that you’re feeling this but glad that you are making it through. As time passes, I’m sure it’ll get easier though, as you said, things changed so it’ll never be the way it was. I’m sure you’ll find a new “normal” though. And I, for one, and glad you are OK!!!

  2. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must all be for you. But like the above commentor, I’m sure you’ll find what the new normal is soon enough.

  3. Kate the brain is an amazing thing. My brother for instance, had viral meningitis some years back and it had an effect on his personality. Not in a bad way, just a different way. He’s no longer able to see things in shades of grey, everything is very clear to him, black and white. I can trace it directly to his illness. So perhaps your anxiety is indeed something to do with a little bit of damage. It’s good to know that you have such great support when you’re on your own though. I feel very useless being so far away. Keep well my friend.

  4. oh wow!!!! That is terrible way for a mom to feel physically and mentally. I hope things improve.

  5. I know what you mean. I got that way after having a couple of really bad allergic reactions to food, and started over-analyzing every “symptom” I felt after eating. It is indeed a very fine line. When your own body betrays you like that it’s extraordinarily hard to regain that trust.

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