man curled into the fetal position with pain and surrounded by multicolored question marks

Was That a Nightmare? Frightening Seizures and Postictal States

You might assume that getting pulled beneath a highway bridge while walking to school, where a bully shoved a weapon at me, was the scariest experience in my life. The teen was upset by being disciplined by my father, the school superintendent.

Once he let me go, I was too scared about what he or his gang would do to me in the future to make a police report or even tell my dad. Nevertheless, moments before and after seizures have been scarier.

Scary auras before a seizure

When I was younger, I was prone to hallucinations during the auras that preceded my complex partial seizures. Being that I grew up during the Vietnam War, I always saw the same Vietnam-era GI was ready to get to me during my school-age years.

However, during the worst year of my life, I was having seizures about every day other day with an aura before each. Auras can be the manifestations of genuine subconscious thoughts, and mine was that the poor earnings from my straight-commission sales job had me stressed about whether I'd be able to pay my rent the following month.

I began having hallucinations of myself as a homeless man. They were more frightening than the GI because a real possibility existed that could happen to me soon.

Losing awareness during a seizure

Something even more frightening followed a decade later, even though the hallucinations had stopped. I was teaching in China without knowing the language, and I came out of a seizure. I was alone.

My awareness repeatedly comes and goes—which I've always told people was like trying to tune in to a TV program on an old-fashioned television when the viewer began with static, would pick up an instant of sound, back to static, a grainy picture, static, until the program was solidly tuned-in.

A particularly scary seizure and postictal delirium

My surroundings were totally unrecognizable to me. I don't know how long it was after that registered until realizing that I was barefoot. Sometime later, came the awareness of shards of glass, and garbage left by homeless people.

Fear was rocketing with the perception every voice I heard was foreign, and it would be impossible for me to ask for help from any of the handful of people I saw at either end of the alley.

Looking back and forth, I recalled how I got to this place. I'd been waiting to be picked up by an American couple who'd take me to church, sitting on a bench in front of a McDonalds. It was so strenuous to take a mental photograph of one end of the alley as a reference and then walk to the opposite end.

How did I get here?

When I reached that end, I looked for the golden arches on either side. When they weren't seen in either direction, I backtracked to the other end of the alley. There were the arches and caddy corner on the other side of a 4-lane street. It was only 7:00 a.m., so I was able to jaywalk and get back to the bench.

It amazed me that no one had picked up the expensive walking shoes that I had neatly placed side-by-side beneath the bench. That was a clue to me that my seizure and postictal period hadn't been too long. When my friends arrived, they took me back to my apartment, where I scrubbed myself in the shower.

A confusing encounter

Another time, bright lights showered me. Gradually, I got the idea that I was standing at the front door of a store, but I couldn't think about what kind. It was twilight; I didn't know if it was morning or night. I never thought to walk and look for street signs, even though there were no other stores between this doorway and the stoplight.

I don't know how long I was stationary until I crept away and determined that I was at an auto parts store. Eventually, somehow, I determined in the fog that I'd been waiting for a bus to work, but it still hadn't hit me, and I wasn't up for catching the next bus to work.

Needing support during seizures

Then I remembered that I had a cell phone and a wife to call. This turned out to be the first time since our wedding four years earlier that she comprehended how much I might need her at times. She had been getting ready for work but told me to remain where I was until she could get me in five minutes.

The first thing she asked me was where my backpack was. Then, an image flashed in my mind of stepping onto a bus with a backpack containing $120 worth of my favorite CDs that I was taking to keep in my office. After we looked around the store's parking lot (which hadn't opened yet), and the area around the bus stop on the other side of the street, we concluded that I'd left it on the bus.

Postictal delirium

Not long afterward, I felt bathed under a bright, warm sun. It was still early enough in my postictal that I didn't know the jungle surrounding me were signs of Walmart, McDonalds, Kroger, and KFC. It was like being in an alien world. I don't know how long it was before I thought to turn around and knew that the "trees" were business signs; there was a bank, and the thing on the corner was a gas station.

I'm unsure how long I gawked until concluding that I had been on the same bus route as the first incident, just coming from the opposite direction.

Finally returning to reality after hallucinations

Ironically, I was returning home from seeing my epileptologist, who had just convinced me to consider a VNS. My recovery was quickening, and I realized that the seizure had occurred on the bus, and I'd deboarded two bus stops beyond where I'd intended to disembark.

Fear immediately turned to sadness when I realized that I'd left behind the best safari/journalist-style vest I'd ever owned.

Epilepsy can be a nightmare.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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