Why would this happen? How could I get worse while getting treatment?
Years ago when I started this blog, every time I had a symptom flare-up, I’d ask myself these questions over and over again sure that if I thought about them hard enough it would all make sense.
Unfortunately, when you have an illness which science has only recently begun to understand, you rarely get the satisfaction of knowing why you’ve gotten sick and what exactly will work to get you better. Sure, well-established, proven guidelines for diagnosing and treating PANS exist (though they didn’t when I started), but all too often, I relapsed without knowing why and had no objective test to prove how sick I was; I’d lose my entire personality, but the autoimmune markers you might expect in someone suffering from brain inflammation never showed up.
As someone with a chronic illness that was once misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder, but who also does have mental health issues, it’s a constant balancing act trying to understand my brain while convincing doctors that mental illness is only one of my problems.
For eight years, the conclusion was that I was sick because I was depressed.(Since when did depression cause visible joint inflammation?) Even as a kid, I knew better than to believe that.
I was only thirteen the first time a doctor misattributed my physical illness to my poor mental health, but I knew that I knew myself and my body better than a doctor who’d just met me:
“I’m not sick because I’m depressed,” I growled.“I’m depressed because I’m sick.”
Today is World Encephalitis Day, and I want to take a moment to shed some light on a certain controversy within the PANS and encephalitis communities:
Is PANS a form of autoimmune encephalitis, or is it something else?
Back in 2014, in a matter of weeks, I went from being a typical college student earning straight-A’s to a psychiatric cripple who was afraid to eat and didn’t want to exist anymore.I also lost the ability to walk, was overcome with constant involuntary movements, and couldn’t stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time.
How could a person develop sudden-onset Tourette’s, narcolepsy, bipolar symptoms, and severe coordination problems simultaneously in isolation from each other?
As I opened my eyes to the morning sunlight peeking through my blinds, for a feel blissful seconds, I forgot the many reasons I shouldn’t feel as calm as I did in that moment.But not a minute later, it all came rushing back, and my stomach did a somersault.
For the last eleven years of being sick, time has been my enemy.
The first sign I was ill was that I started moving in slow-motion—I lost awareness of time passing. Doctors thought it was late-onset Attention-Deficit Disorder. Instead, as I’d find out eight years later, my immune system was attacking my brain.
These messages come to my inbox nearly every week from kids and teenagers who think PANS or Lyme is the end of the life they once loved; from adults who’ve been fighting for years, unsure how much longer they can go through the cycle of relapse, treatment, and recovery; and even from parents who are tired of being too strong for too long.
Three months ago, as I drove away victoriously from the IV infusion center for the ninth, and final, time that semester, I almost dared hope I’d left behind the last three years of treatments and relapses… Almost.
It was the end of my college career, and I’d just spent its entirety fighting Lyme disease and an autoimmune condition that doctors still aren’t sure how to treat—or what the long-term prognosis is. I’d not only juggled exams and papers and weird living arrangements for four and-a-half years, but I’d been battling through countless procedures and medications and appointments—always in the naive hope that my illness would soon be over. Continue reading “Is There Hope in the Unknown of Chronic Illness?”→