facing the other side
One of the most powerful gifts my brain tumor gave me was the opportunity to face my own mortality. Acknowledging my own impermanence brought me to a new depth of gratitude for what I already have. For a special period of time following the diagnosis, many of life's details stood out as true blessings. I realized how much I had previously taken some things for granted. In the weeks leading up to my surgery, I also dealt with extreme fears. The frequent seizures that made me feel insane churned up some very scary emotions and reactions. A neurological study done in 1986 found that a high percentage of people with epilepsy had suffered from depression, and suicide attempts were four times as frequent with epileptics than with the comparative group of physically disabled people (2a). Indeed, epilepsy and depression are found to be neurologically linked, which makes me wonder how much of it is a physiological matter of the brain's chemicals and how much can be attributed to emotional and psychological issues that need theraputic focus. Having the tumor took me through a process of looking at both my light and my darkness. By simply letting myself feel the fear, instead of turning away from it, those tight feelings would then go through a process of dissolving. I learned how to take surrender to another level. When I was in the hospital before the operation, I knew that there was a chance that I would not live through the surgery. But it felt best to simply trust what was going to happen. As I was being wheeled away from my family on the surgery bed, I felt like I was in a bubble of white light, totally protected, surrounded by angels. Fear tranformed into faith. The operation physically removed a kinetic mass from my head that could no longer stay there. By freeing myself of the tumor, I was letting go of a part of myself that was ready to die. It was the beginning of a dynamic period of change and growth. My actual seizures can also be seen as symbolic of the passage between life and death. As Adrienne Richard writes, "The appearance and the symbolism of death and return to life are unmistakable in epilepsy. The ancients recognized it and both honored and feared it" (2b). In Zimbabwe, traditional healers treated epileptics with elaborate rituals to contact the spirits associated with the seizures. Richard tells how "The of symbolics death, burial, and rebirth are obvious... For the cure to be effective the person must go into a new life -- 'he must not look back' -- thoroughly cleansed of the old, thinking of himself and seeing himself in a new way" (2c). I went through a ritual too. It started on a surgery bed and was the beginning of a life-changing journey.
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