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Stories From The Midwest — How An Old, Disgusting Pillow Changed My Life

Stories From The Midwest — How An Old, Disgusting Pillow Changed My Life

614now Staff

Editor’s Note:

I asked my brother, Kevin, if he’d be interested in telling this bizarre story of his, about the time in his life he had regular, unexplainable seizures. Despite being his older brother,we were somewhat separated growing up adolescence. We were only two years apart, so we went through our own thing. I never really knew what was going on until I’d already left our hometown of Dayton, and by then he was already in the throes of mental anguish. Anyway, I’m glad he gets to tell his story, it’s weird.

How An Old, Disgusting Pillow Changed My Life
By Kevin Erman

As a teenager, I was always fascinated with how the brain worked. Whenever one of my teachers would give me an opportunity to study something, I’d always gravitate toward the inner workings of the mind (as best a high school kid could.) See, three of my uncles were diagnosed schizophrenics and a large part of me worried that because it ran in our family, they were a picture of my future. It’s a symptom of the midwest — it’s boring! You start to wonder and fixate on things, whether they’re founded in reality or not. 

My concern of my own mental health reached a tipping point in the 9th grade — I had a seizure for the first time in my life. Now I say ‘seizure’ here only because the doctor’s never officially diagnosed me with epilepsy. In fact, the doctors had no idea what was wrong with me at all.

My seizures were what you would call “absence seizures” in that they only affected my ability to speak or understand speech and they generally only lasted for around a minute. The video below is a pretty good example of how they look when someone has them, sadly I was never able to get myself on video.

If I did try to talk to anyone my words would just come out as a garbled mess. Literally word salad. And since I couldn’t actually understand these moments I had to rely on people around me to tell me about all of the weird stuff I’d said. I had a friend send me an old example of what this looked like, because they even affected my ability to process thought to type.



Despite my soupiness, I was pretty lucky. They’d only bother me on one or two days out of the month on average and I could always tell when they were going to happen. I’d get a feeling in my gut in the morning and know that today would be a bad day. This went on for the rest of high school, but they got worse as I went to college.

I started to wonder whether I was going down the same path as my uncles. Was this a mental disorder? I didn’t know, and that mystery bothered me as a I worked my way through college. It’s hard to be a drama major when there is a small chance I’d lapse into a seizure on stage. It’s method acting on other level.

So, I went to the doctor and they gave me a CT scan and an EEG test where I had to wear a series of wires on my head measuring my brain activity for two days. They gave me a button to press if I had a seizure and I was supposed to write down how I was feeling while it was happening.

My seizures were so sporadic and unpredictable that I considered myself lucky when I noticed the familiar feeling in my gut on the second day of the EEG test. The seizure hit and I pressed the button and wrote down my thoughts. They were complete nonsense, just incoherent ramblings — but I think I got the point across well enough.

After a few months I get a call from the doctor to come in for my test results. It turns out that even though I had a seizure while the wires were strapped to my head — the results came back negative. The doctors couldn’t think of any reason for my seizures and I was simply prescribed some pills to take. I’m generally not a fan of taking pills for a condition that the doctors can’t even confirm I have so I decided to pass. The side effects for the pills were also worse than the actual seizures so it didn’t feel like it was worth the effort.

I accepted that I was just going to have these weird seizures for the rest of my life and there was nothing I could do about it.

I went on my with my life and my seizures continued for the next 8 years.

One day I woke up and realized that I hadn’t had a seizure in a long time. In fact, it had probably been about a year since my last seizure. Since I had become so used to them at that point, it was pretty easy to forget about them entirely. I started to think that maybe the seizures weren’t in my head after all but maybe some sort of external stimulus was causing them.

I thought about all of the changes I’d made to my life in the past year but couldn’t come up with anything substantial. As I went to bed that evening I realized that I had forgotten about a small change in my life.

I bought a new pillow.

Now that might not seem very significant to normal people but I realized that I hadn’t gotten a new pillow since I was probably nine years old. I came to the conclusion that after so many years of sleeping with the same pillow it had absorbed enough of my nightly sweat and face oils to create a pretty large dose of toxic mold.

As it turns out, toxic mold produces chemicals called mycotoxins that can cause symptoms such as rashes, fatigue, respiratory problems, and, you guessed it, seizures.

I was never able to confirm this theory because that pillow is long gone. Eight years of my life were plagued with random bouts of disconnect from the world because I slept on dirty old moldy pillow. So I guess the moral of my story is to get a new pillow every two years like you’re supposed to or the toxic mold buildup will give you crippling seizures for the next 10 years of your life.

I just wish somebody had told me that when I was younger but maybe it’s just common sense, I guess. Who knows, no one really tells you anything you’re supposed to know until after the fact. 



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