On Netflix, one of my new obsessions is “Episodes” featuring Matt Leblanc. When you’re flooded with a production crew—i.e. family telling you what to do—it’s easy to have “episodes”. While this Netflix series demonstrates allegory as a product of the endless metamorphosis of a television pilot and its adjoining personal relationships, the show illustrates why dark humor is a winning concept for the show’s naïve Britons who are slow to understand the common pitfalls of American culture.
It’s this kind of dark humor that has gotten me through three distinct kinds of “episodes” in my disabled life. Before I discuss them, it’s critical that we know what episodes are for the context of this story.
When building TV episodes, an episode’s creation is more or less a string of ideas and arcs rehashed constantly until the writers and producers reach consensus.
If no consensus is reached, the string lingers on un-coordinated. This is where the rhetorical definition of episode fits: a wandering away from the main idea.
Similarly, the human body’s muscles are like that string of ideas. Until the body and the brain coordinate them, they are useless and good for nothing.
That brings to my first real “episode”: SEIZURES!
My muscles were very episodic as a child. Let’s imagine a pair of tangled up headphones wound so tight that you can’t enjoy hearing your favorite song. Sad, huh? That’s what my first seizures were. My body ran away from me. Seizures are like random earthquake-like movements by nerves and muscles that are confused. When they happened to me, I had no choice but to “go with the flow” and pray for the experience’s ending expeditiously.
The seizures caused a battery of other things I hated. Namely, their evil twin: Tremors. Tremors are mini-seizures that happen for even shorter periods of time. While playing a song in church, I had a tremor and although it didn’t last but a few moments, it made for some interesting facial expressions at the piano.
Episode number two: Medication!
To combat these seizures, doctors placed me on an anti-anxiety pill called Depakote. Supposedly, this medicine was supposed to make the seizures stop. I was on the liquid form of it first. It was this reddish-pink looking elixir that reminded me of some slaughtered animal. Boy, was I happy when the doctors said that I could take the pill form instead.
It’s important that we understand that Depakote had a twin. I’m sure we’ve all heard of Lexapro. Lexapro is given to those people who have bi-polar disorder—-along with a slew of other mental illnesses.
It’s no surprise that by the time I reached 20 years old, I’d learn that the medicine was making me manic. A doctor I had gone to urged me to get off the medication because several years had gone by with no new seizures and I had side effects that I didn’t know about.
Episode Number Three: People / NON-interaction
I’ve heard many ignorant people reduce Cerebral Palsy to “walking funny”. You heard right! My third episode was “people”.
I was so focused on other people’s perception of me, that I struggled with allowing myself to truly be comfortable. The seizures were weapons of self-consciousness that made me despise most social activity for a considerable time. Because I never knew when another seizure would come, I wanted to limit the time I spent around large groups of people.
I learned that my seizures were a combination of stress-related stimuli and effects from the medication that was supposedly helping me. And I couldn’t enjoy much because people though that I had epilepsy. I didn’t have that because I loved video games and you can’t play video games with epilepsy.
The other terrifying thing about my seizure problem had to do with EEGs.
I had to go to doctors who would strap electrodes to my brain and do brain wave scans to make sure that I was normal.
This probably explains why people believed that I was mentally retarded.
You try living around rough noisy people and nosy rapscallions that you must go to school with and see won’t you turn out temperamental. People scared me to the point where there were times when I actually wanted people to believe I was nuts, so they wouldn’t talk to me at all. That never worked. In fact, that very concept only forced more invasive questions.
He’s obviously smart! Why doesn’t he talk to us? You have a great a smile, they’d say. I’d nod and keep staring off into nothing in particular—- hoping that they’d eventually stop talking to me
P.S. —- The Episode of Laughter
If the above episodes were not more than enough to consider, there is yet one more issue that I struggled with that caps off the darkness that I weathered coming to terms with disability. There was LAUGHTER. If you’re familiar with the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”, believe me when I tell you that I laughed more than I need to. Laughter was code for nervousness, fear, loathing, hatred, uncertainty, pity, and contempt. I should have said more.
The problem was:
I was often placed in situations where the outcome was chastisement for voicing any opinion other than the one fed to me. I episodically laughed at everything that I could not talk about because I didn’t feel worthy enough that my opinion would matter. It’s the kind of thing that occurs when you’re shy and you know more than you reveal to others.
I laughed through most of the things that hurt me relentlessly. And that laughter almost cost me my entire identity as a person. This is because eventually I functioned as a laugh track to experiences that clearly went against what I valued. If you’ve heard the laugh track inserted into a sitcom when the audience is supposed to respond, you understand what I mean.
I had to re-learn authentic pain, to realize my power as a REAL person. People who hide too much of their real pain are not REAL people. Pain is important to finding out who you are and what you value. And I am no exception.
As the consummate actor, I honed the episodic skill of drawing attention away from the real things that pissed me off, and I paid dearly for that.
You know the holes that are in Swiss Cheese? Those holes through the cheese are what happens to your identity when you aren’t honest about what you value.
Eventually, we become so “holed up” we fail to see the cheese without the holes. Episodes are truly the seasonal paths that we take toward authenticity. Often to get to clarity, we must like the mania have its day. There are plenty of people living as Swiss cheese. Pain and hardship have punched so many holes through that they can’t see who they are meant to truly be.
Don’t let your episode divert you from the authentic path that life has for you. Don’t laugh so hard that you forget what’s funny. And don’t so much time diverting your pain, that you forget the pleasure of real peace. Don’t be the hole. Be the cheese.