As I hurried off to class the other week, suddenly, I knew things were awry: it was that strange and all-too-familiar feeling in my head that foretells a drop attack.
Defiantly, I ignored it, kept running upstairs to the lecture hall, and made it all the way to the door without any issues. But after a few steps in the classroom, sure enough, my legs went completely limp, and I collapsed on the floor in front of everyone.
“Are you okay?” my professor asked, clearly alarmed.
“Yeah.” I stood up, totally unperturbed, as I brushed off my now-bruised knees. “I’m fine.”
And then there I was, nonchalantly taking a seat and going to class as if nothing had happened—as if it’s not a big deal that my body sometimes spontaneously loses muscle tone. I told myself…
Because I was in the middle of a PANS relapse, as usual, I didn’t retain anything my professor talked about that day. People would spew words from their mouths, but I struggled to put them together into anything I could interpret. In times like that, it’s as if someone has replaced my sharp intellect with a bowl of jello. I was there in class physically, but mentally, I was lost inside an inflamed brain. But hey, at least I’d shown up. This is fine, I said.
After eleven years of PANS, I don’t even remember what’s typical anymore. I don’t bat an eye if I suddenly have involuntary movements all over my body, if I can’t speak, and if I hallucinate. Most of the time, I don’t think much about the twenty pills I take each day and my after-school trips to infusion centers to get steroids or IVIG. This is all just part of my life.
I strongly believe that the way I’ve made it through over a decade of this disease is that I constantly tell myself I’m fine. It’s not that I’m in denial of my illness—it’s an assurance that PANS doesn’t define me.
When I say I’m fine, I mean that I’m still fighting, still hoping, and still trying to live as much as I can despite my condition.
When PANS gets really bad, as it has been lately, I have a sense that I’m alive, yet no longer part of my own life. PANS steals everything that makes me myself––my personality, my sense of humor, my love of living. It transforms me into a terrified creature that runs home from school screaming in psychiatric anguish. Nevertheless, I take my medicine, dry the tears, and go back to class the next day, over and over and over again.
When I pull myself together and carry on as best I can while my brain is on fire, I’m declaring that PANS won’t ruin my life. When I’m flaring, and I feel like someone else on the inside, the life I live on the outside is a reminder that the real me is still in there somewhere––and will one day resurface. When I say I’m fine, I mean that I’m not giving up on someday getting well.
Indeed, I’ve started weekly high-dose IV steroids, and after two treatments, I’m back to functioning at 90-95%. It’s as if I’ve returned from the dead. I feel like I can think again, and my mood is stable for the first time in months.
Unfortunately, my dramatic improvement from the inflammation-reducing steroids proves that my symptoms were caused by my immune system attacking my brain. I know that’s not okay. I know it’s bad that my body can turn against me in the worst ways imaginable.
Nevertheless, If I think about how disturbing this all is, I’ll be too unsettled to enjoy being well. So I assure myself that I’m fine, and I focus on the fact that I’m better… At least for now.
Once again, I survived a disease that took away my very self and tried to kill my spirit. PANS didn’t defeat me. So I’ll tell myself once more: