One minute I was nineteen and horny, scrolling mindlessly on Tinder; in the blink of an eye, I was twenty-two and swinging my legs in a neurologist’s waiting room.
Being told the seizures I’d been having were a trauma response and I had PSTD from being in an abusive relationship was not much of a shock. It made sense. The seizures had started mere weeks after I initially broke up with my abuser and worsened in intensity and frequency as we dipped in and out of our relationship, getting back together and breaking up several times over the next few months. The specifics of my seizures didn’t align with that of epilepsy. When I was told that they were a trauma response, it just made sense.
It was strange to be given a label, to be told that the abuse I had endured was real and had caused neurological damage. It was validating – especially after my abuser and many of their friends had gaslit me into thinking it wasn’t abuse, calling me “crazy,” “a liar,” and “dramatic” – but validation only goes so far. To be told my PSTD was real and there were real repercussions for the verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse I had gone through was overwhelming. My seizures were no longer some nebulous concept of being unwell, now, they had a cause, but to even start getting better, there was a mountain of trauma I had to work through. To name it meant I had to look at it.
I had met my abuser on Tinder, first starting our relationship as a casual hookup situation before becoming an official couple. It took me a long time to realize what was happening was abuse, that the constant anxiety I felt around them wasn’t normal. It wasn’t normal to be yelled at, or coerced into sex, or told I was hard to love. There was a lot that wasn’t normal about that relationship, but I was nineteen and they were twenty-two and I didn’t know any better. I wanted to be loved even if that so-called love was painful. So I brushed every fear aside, and I stayed.
We dated for a year before that initial breakup. The on-again/off-again part of our relationship lasted many confusing, upsetting months after that. In those months, my seizures were unmanageable. They lasted hours, cycles of convulsions overtaking my body whenever I started to feel stressed or anxious – which was often, making my seizures a nearly daily occurrence.
It’s been almost two years since I started having seizures, and months since I last saw or spoke to my abuser. Their absence from my life has made the seizures noticeably less frequent and more manageable. I do still have them, occasionally overtaken by a sinking feeling as I remember my abuser screaming at me in the street, or jumping in front of a car during an argument, or on top of me while I whispered “no” like a mantra.
It enrages me that they got to move to a new city and get a new partner and start a new job, while I am stuck here until graduation, surrounded by places that are heavy with memories. As I walk to get a coffee, I cannot help but notice: that is where I got burned by their cigarette, that is where they said they would die without me, that is where I sat and cried every day those few weeks I lived with them.
They can forget what they did to me, but I can’t. My body is holding on to those endless months of anxiety and isolation, spitting out my trauma and turning it into convulsions.
It makes sense that my seizures are from PTSD. When I was getting an EEK done, the technician explained the impact of trauma on the brain. I don’t remember what he said exactly as he pointed at different parts of my head to show me where and how my brain was impacted. I can remember the relief I felt knowing that what I went through was real, the proof held in the scans of my brain.
And while there is peace about knowing that my story is true, there is also something terrifying about having to confront this truth.
Since being told my seizures are a trauma response to an abusive relationship, that I have PTSD from everything that happened to me, I have felt disconnected from my body. My seizures have always made me feel separate from my body. There is an inherent dissonance when you are convulsing on the floor, unable to get your limbs to stay still.
But I am holding on to my truth.
I am trying to reclaim my body.
My abuser’s actions rewired my brain. That’s intimate, the same way a chokehold is. But they are far off in a new city with a new life, and I am learning to nurse the wounds they left: therapy and medication and finding ways to be myself, be in my body.
I know I will never again be nineteen and laying on a dorm bed swiping on Tinder. Trauma has all but killed that version of myself, turned naivety to anxiety, turned reckless into care. I will never be who I was before abuse, but I will also never be in my abuser’s chokehold either.
As much as my body is keeping score, remembering every bad thing I endured in that relationship, I am working to make sure there are good things to remember too.
And maybe one day, I will have my last seizure.
About the Author
Aiden Nelson is a queer artist and writer, a dad to a pair of rats, and a classic water sign. When they’re not writing, they’re making elaborate coffee drinks and skateboarding.
Follow on IG: @aiden.nelson_