This week, I finally hit the post-IVIG flare that we were all dreading. Thanks to a six-day burst of high-dose Prednisone, I’ve come out of it now, but I hope I don’t have to go through that ever again. Unfortunately, I probably will.
Until my most recent IVIG, my flares were getting worse and worse. One night a few weeks ago, I found myself spacing out at the kitchen table for about two hours, unable to make myself get up, because I had too many OCD compulsions. When I realized I’d been doing nothing for two hours and thought about how hard it would be to do anything with the burden of OCD, I just lost it—I spent twenty minutes walking around my apartment screaming and hitting the walls.
On another night, I similarly started screaming, but then ran outside and sprinted for half a mile in the rain at 1:30 in the morning. Shapes were rising out of the bushes during the run—shadows were everywhere… I realized I was hallucinating.
This week’s flare wasn’t nearly as bad—my latest IVIG seems to be damping things down. This time around, my flare consisted of depression, feeling detached from everything and being “out-of-it,” some of the worst tics and choreiform movements since the summer, bad memory problems, and crying about everything for no reason. The flare wasn’t pleasant, but at least I wasn’t hallucinating.
At this point, I’ve become a master of knowing when I’m about to flare. It’s true that all my flares happen very suddenly, but there are a few warning signs…
The first clue for me is that I start to have a hard time making myself do anything in the hours leading up to the flare. I lose interest in things. If I’ve made plans, I cancel them if at all possible. It’s almost like my body knows it needs to conserve energy to brace for the coming battle—before I consciously know it’s coming.
The second clue is that my physical pain suddenly gets worse. As a result of another condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, I’m almost always in some amount of pain, but this is different. I start to get this strange, dull ache all across the backs of my arms and sometimes in my legs, too. Before this week’s flare, I went to bed and had that pain in my arms and thought a flare would be coming. The next morning, I had no other signs of flaring, but sure enough, that afternoon, I fell off the cliff.
Another sign of a coming flare is that my cognitive issues suddenly get worse—especially the word-finding problems. I don’t know the names of everyday objects. I try to articulate myself, but I say things in the wrong order and get the tenses of my verbs wrong. Sometimes I know how I want to say something, but it doesn’t come out of my mouth that way. I find that increased word-finding difficulties might happen only a few minutes before the worst of the flare.
But what’s it like to experience a flare? The tics and other movements are obvious. You can see the “look of terror” I get with my widened eyes. You can watch me having a panic attack. You can hear me yelling at my parents. You can notice me doing more compulsions than usual. If you could read my mind, you’d know that the looping, intrusive thoughts start happening much more often. But it’s more than all of that—flaring feels like losing yourself. It’s like something outside of yourself takes control and snatches who you are away.
When I flare, it feels like someone is taking things out of my mind and hiding them—and refusing to tell me how to get anything back. I look for the words to speak, but this monster has set them up in a high place I cannot reach. I try to remember what happened the week before, who that familiar face is that I’ve seen hundreds of times, or even what I was in the middle of doing, but it has all been stolen out of my mind, and I don’t know where the monster has put any of it—I just know it’s all gone.
When I flare, it feels like I’m living in another world, unable to traverse the chasm that is my mind in order to be with everyone else. I know I can’t think clearly about anything, but I cannot specifically tell you what about me is “off.” I may try to go about my day as usual, but the world doesn’t quite make sense, and I feel like I’m somewhere else. The scary thing is that I never know how far away I’ve been until I come back out of the flare—and then it’s like I have been away for a long time am rediscovering all the wonderful things about the world and the people around me.
Coming out of a flare is like getting the proper prescription at the eye doctor—you didn’t know what you had been missing until you saw clearly again. You knew things weren’t quite in focus, but you never could’ve imagined all the details you once missed—but now, everything seems even more beautiful since you can fully see it.
I often wonder how many more times I’ll have to go through these flares. I’m not myself at all when I flare, so I feel as though I’m living between the flares, hoping to have as full of a life as possible. I go to college like everyone else. I have friends. I even make straight-A’s. But I live with the constant reality that I could flare at any moment.
I try to live the life I want to live between the flares because when you never know when you’ll lose yourself next, you have to make the most of every moment and cherish each day that you get. I lose my perspective on everything when I flare, but if I can look at all I accomplish in the better times, I can maybe know on some level that I am still me—no matter how much each flare makes me feel otherwise.
9 thoughts on “What’s It Like to Survive a Flare?”
Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve been going through my own medical thing and it’s been exhausting! I finally (after 10 months of suffering) was told that I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome but I still don’t have answers to why I had such bad eye infections or cognitive problems. It’s so scary.
A lot of people don’t think that it’s a big deal… they should try to live in our bodies for just a day!
I wish you all the best!
Hi Eir! Thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry you also have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Living with the constant pain and frequent numbness and other symptoms really is a big deal, even if other people don’t think it is. You’re not alone. Hang in there. I hope you’re getting good treatment for it so you don’t have to keep suffering.
I find it interesting that you, as a fellow TOSer, have had cognitive problems (I do, too) and eye infections. Did the cognitive symptoms come after or around the same time as the eye infections? If so, have you read much about adult-onset PANS or other forms of autoimmune encephalitis? I had Epstein-Barr Virus last year and then all my cognitive symptoms and TOS pain got significantly worse–because the virus triggered an autoimmune reaction in my brain. It kinda seems like a lot of people with TOS develop it after infections or viruses, which is interesting…
Hope you figure things out! I wish you the best, too!