I am an epileptic and have always found it embarrassing, as many epileptics do, so I've kept it a secret to the extent possible – until now. I have a form of focal epilepsy known as temporal lobe epilepsy or TLE.

Only if you've lived with this odd disorder can you speak in an authentic voice – a first "aura" alone makes you an interloper on earth forever after. Seizures are intertwined with death and a return to life, sending those who experience them into the rare air of Jesus and Lazarus, and demonic possession at once.

Or, in seizure are you psychologically and physically possessed by God? An epileptic's thoughts are far afield from the usual.

A seizure is akin to an electrical storm in the brain's circuitry, along the axons and into the synapse junctions. Storms in my cranium happen along the right temporal lobe. At age four, I had my first petit mal seizure in a Boston hospital, after enduring an emergency appendectomy.

I continued to have seizures, getting lost in an archetypal, seizure aura during childhood several times a year and for no apparent reason. My Irish emotional stamina cut off the impulse to speak to my parents or anyone about my visions of God – His playful nature and break-step pronouncements. Weeks after my fifteenth birthday, I began to wonder if I had epilepsy after reading a rotogravure article, A Vision of the Gold Chariot: An Epileptic's Story. Nearly three years later in October, a Boston doctor told me that I was an epileptic, and that my visions were due to a cortical scar and electrical misfires. Nothing else.

TLE seizures are psychic, not obviously physical like the rocking of a grand mal. When I am in a petit mal seizure, it's hardly apparent to anyone but me, as I experience an alteration of consciousness, not a cessation of consciousness.

Lewis Carroll, Gustave Flaubert, Vincent van Gogh, Alfred Tennyson, Fyodor Dostoevsky and other literary luminaries – as well as many mystics – likely had TLE. Its attending auras and odd symptoms resemble psychiatric disease: hallucinatory smells and tastes, visions of God or other heavenly figures, entrancing or frightening auditory messages, and hypnotic dreamy states.

TLE patients are known to have a constellation of personality traits. Foremost, they suffer from hyperreligiosity – a fixation on God, to the extent that the patient believes she has a personal relationship with God. Like the ecstatic female saints and holy anorexics of late

medieval times, she may offer her life to God by entering a convent, and sometimes she gives her life literally. Death is a sweet she accepts from Him. An enormous capacity for faith is a hallmark, yet suspicions of demonic possession may arise. An abiding interest in complex theological thought is also a characteristic and a typical avenue of escape.

A further TLE trait is known as hypergraphia – an obsessive compulsion to write and record, which may stem from the patient's need to transcend feelings of isolation. TLE writings are often in the form of a diary or journal, displaying the stark realism of his or her spirituality. An adjunct to this is a passion for language, particularly for the sound of a word or phrase and rhythmic performance of them in the mouth and on the page.

Hyperconnectivity is another signature aspect – a sudden awareness that a simple external stimulus is conveying a message of profound meaning, surely from God. Too rapid and too many electrical connections in the emotional part of the brain create this belief. Using nonliteral language or metaphor to describe auras is a trait. Unusual or forbidden sexual longings is another.

My story – Chopin in the Attic – is about His authority and my complete surrender to it, and how a curative balm was ultimately tucked into these blessed sexual encounters.

For aeons we’ve wondered and questioned whether the Divine walks among us. Actually… I have the answer.

I once knew Him.

THE AUTHOR
Elisabeth Bell Carroll is the granddaughter of a master plumber and poet who left Ireland for Boston in the early 1900s, and who settled in the upper eastside of South Boston. Elisabeth, who has lived with temporal lobe epilepsy since childhood, spent many summers on Martha’s Vineyard. She has two sons, three grandsons and three granddaughters.
Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
Elisabetch Bell Carroll
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