Last week the Jewish people celebrated Simchat Torah – the joy of the Torah. However, I would argue that this is not a joyous festival, rather a festival which, in a very contrived way, tries to make the Jewish people happy.
The idea of the festival is a good one – Jews have had enough of synagogue at this time of year so why not end the holiday season with a party to celebrate how the Torah, the bible, enriches our life. However, the execution of the festival is poor – the men walk around in a circle for at least an hour; the women look at them from afar and pretend to dance and the children get excited by eating sweets. Obviously I am referring to an orthodox setting here, but, I don’t think that the customs of Simchat Torah aim to provoke a real sense of joy in any Jewish denomination. The festival might make certain people happy but I don’t think it makes them joyful.
Jewish scholars and self-help books alike say that happiness is something temporary. Many people are happy at their birthday party, watching a film and some strange odd balls even are happy at Simchat Torah. However, the same scholars and help-self books argue, that the real joys of life can only be found be in connecting to your partner, to yourself and for Jews at least, to the Torah. And that joy isn’t temporary and certainly doesn’t come because you are at a party – it is, I am told, much more real and long-lasting, and indeed how most people want to live their life. Thus although I said in my last blog that some people call a succah, the temporary structure that we sit in for the festival of succot, a ‘happiness box’, perhaps that is the wrong phrase – perhaps ‘A joyous box’, is more apt – a succah can, I think, bring a real profound sense of joy, in the knowledge that you can get by quite happily with not that much. I pray that I, and the millions of others who are in pain for whatever reason, will find that real sense of joy, very soon.
In other news
Just to recap the story so far in case you have lost the plot or have missed an episode or two.
The background to the story was that I have suffered quite severely from depression for over twenty years including three voluntary admissions into a psychiatric hospital. Through an extremely convoluted process I became self-aware of cognitive symptoms which were severely impacting on my quality of life and were probably the cause of my depression. My cognitive deficit included problems with memory, processing, problem solving, attention and decision-making and other capabilities that most people take for granted. And although I haven’t mentioned it previously in this blog – because it hasn’t seemed as important as my cognitive symptoms – I was also drowsy a lot and, since coming off my antidepressants medications, had a huge range on involuntary movements (eg involuntary walking, making claw shapes with my hand, involuntary bowing etc). At first I thought that my cognitive symptoms could be due to absences – 1-2 second seizures that are easy to miss – even by the person who has them. But later I came to realise that they were due to epileptiform activity – the background epileptic discharges which were happening in my brain.
I told my neurologist about my symptoms and she prescribed me to a week in an epilepsy hospital for a videotelemetry assessment. This involved being in a room 24×7 where I was videoed and a recording was taken of my brain activity (an EEG). Being a little bit bored in this environment I started this blog ‘Epilepsy and me’. In my simplistic little mind I believed that by the end of the week a solution to my problems would be found. But I was severely mistaken. At this point I didn’t understand that my condition was rare and that epilepsy can be an extremely difficult illness to treat.
At the end of the week the neurologist said to me that there was nothing she could do for me as there were no recorded episodes of seizures on my EEG – even though I had epileptiform activity. She told me to go home and see my GP. Hope faded.
However, I knew that I couldn’t live like this, and for the sake of my children, I must be a more together and less depressed person and a solution to my problems must be found. So I tried the alternative route and sent a clump of my hair off to Germany to be analysed for lack of minerals. I took all the potions that my naturopath suggested but the brain fog continued. And so the saga went on.
Then a doctor, who I highly respected, recommended me to Super-Busy-Very-Important-Doctor. The NHS waiting list to see him was six months long but, not to be put off, I wrote to my MP and explained my situation and sure enough all of a sudden Super-Busy-Very-Important-Doctor could see me a lot sooner than he initially said. At my appointment a trainee doctor listened very carefully to my story and then relayed it to Super-Busy-Very-Important –Doctor who said something like, ‘Sharon, you are not having seizures – you have having pseudo -seizures/ non-epileptic seizures. You have a dissociative disorder. You see Sharon – there are two parts to the brain – the neurological part and the psychological part. You have epilepsy – that is neurological. But you also have non-epilepsy (indeed 10% of people with non-epilepsy have epilepsy as well). Non-epilepsy is psychological. Go home and think about what the psychological cause of your disorder could be eg Were you abused as a child?, Have you witnessed mass murder? etc , Take some anti-depressants and come back when you have discovered the work you must do in therapy – the therapy will start in 6-9 months’ time.
Although, the term dissociative disorder resonated with me because I did feel separate from the world, I wasn’t so sure about his plan so I sought out another doctor for a second opinion. In the meantime the Department of Work and Pensions, after carrying their extensive but very peculiar assessment of me, got back and said – we agree with you Sharon – you are too ill to work and, in addition, your disability is so chronic that we believe that the government should give you additional income so that you can manage your lifestyle. I was pleased for the income but depressed that my life had got into such a hopeless state.
And then this week I went to see Doctor Eventually for a second (or was it third or fourth?) opinion. He said something like ‘I agree with Super-Busy-Very-Important-Doctor – you have a dissociative disorder. However you are still having epileptic discharges. So try taking these tablets (sodium valproate –an anti -epileptic) – I can’t promise, but they might help. It’s worth a go.’
So in conclusion no doctor really knows what is going on in my head but perhaps sodium valproate will give me a sense of the inner joy that I crave.