8 Ways to Help a Loved One with Chronic Illness During Holidays

This Thanksgiving week, at a time when almost everyone is stressing out over travel and preparations and relatives, for those of us with chronic illnesses, the season brings additional sets of challenges.

Chances are, if you don’t have a chronic illness yourself, then one of your family members that you’re about to see does. It can feel awkward wondering what you should and shouldn’t say to this person, but as someone with both physical and mental health challenges, I’ve assembled a few tips for loved ones.

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Why I Don’t Care What You Call Whatever’s Wrong with My Brain

It was a typical Sunday morning a few weeks ago when it happened. My mom was cooking me an omelet, and dad was reading the paper. I was rummaging through the cupboard to get some honey to drizzle on a banana when I heard it:

“CLAW.” And then there was whispering in a female voice I couldn’t make out, which I somehow knew was about me.

“What’d you say, mom?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

I paused for a moment. “Did you say something, dad?”

He shook his head.

“So neither of you heard it?”

“Heard what?”

A chill ran down my spine as I suddenly realized what just happened: Continue reading “Why I Don’t Care What You Call Whatever’s Wrong with My Brain”

Could This Antibody Be Stealing My Life?

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.

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The Criminal No One Can Stop: When Illness Is a Crime Scene

“Choose one,” the masked man growled as I stood in the doorway, frozen in fear.  “It’s either the painting or the pearls.”

I tried to get the words out, but the mere sight of the crowbar in his hands and the open window had already stolen my voice.  I reached for my purse to find my phone, not daring to lose eye contact, but before I could call 911, he whisked out a lighter from his back pocket.

“You have five seconds to pick one or I’ll burn the whole place down instead.”

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What Mental Health Awareness Means When Chronically Ill

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.”

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The One Thing That May Never Recover After My Chronic Illness

With Easter Week and Passover upon us, I’ve found myself face to face with the very thing my chronic illness has changed the most: my faith.

For years, I would’ve told you it was the most important thing in my life.  All through high school, I was a leader in my youth group and involved in several ministries.  I used to read scriptures daily because I wanted to learn more about God.  I used to pray often because I wanted to be closer to Him.  I even used to be enthralled by dense theological tomes, started to teach myself biblical Greek, and at one point considered going into ministry full-time.

But then I got ill.

At seventeen, I suddenly developed an extreme case of OCD. I’d already had OCD smoldering in the background of my mind for six years, which I’d concealed from numerous therapists due to shame, but out of nowhere it became incapacitating and all-consuming.

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The Plot Twist I Never Expected… And How I’ve Learned to Accept It

After just one stride, I knew something wasn’t right.  I’d always run through anything—be it sickness, rain, or depression—but today was different.  Today, in the midst of training for my second half-marathon, my whole body felt like it was made of lead, and no matter how hard I tried I could barely pick up my legs.

I shuffled down the road for two miles before the frustration of a terrible performance got the best of me, and I dragged myself home, now dizzy from exhaustion. I went to bed in the hopes that I could sleep it off… Continue reading “The Plot Twist I Never Expected… And How I’ve Learned to Accept It”

Why Autoimmune Encephalitis Doctors Need to Stop Ignoring PANS

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? 

Continue reading “Why Autoimmune Encephalitis Doctors Need to Stop Ignoring PANS”