After weeks of waiting and hoping and worrying, the time had finally come for my appointment with the mysterious expert neurologist. My parents and I arrived half an hour early to a spartan waiting room with an almost-eery quiet. A single tub of building blocks and several stuffed panda bears made me wonder if the staff really understood that they had allowed an appointment for an adult.
Forty-five minutes later, this concern was allayed when the doctor emerged to call me back without batting an eye when she saw my nineteen-year-old self. But all at once, I felt my stomach do a somersault as it occurred to me that she could be my last hope. Eight years of misdiagnoses had led here. Could this surprisingly soft-spoken woman finally be the one to help?
For six years, I kept a secret that I was determined to take to my grave. I pretended I wasn’t constantly afraid. I made excuses when asked about my unusual behaviors. I was so hell-bent on avoiding being found out that I did everything I could to fool every psychologist, therapist, and doctor I encountered. No one, including myself, knew for all these years that what I suffered from was Pure-O OCD, in the form of scrupulosity or religious OCD.
And the whole disaster started with one thought.
When I was eleven, while lying in bed, something along the lines of “F– G*d” popped into my brain. As the good-girl church acolyte that I was, I felt horrified. What did it mean that a sacrilegious thought like that could appear in my mind? I felt like I had to do everything I could to keep it from coming back or else that meant I was a bad person. I already felt incredibly guilty that it had happened even one time.
But as the days went on, the more I tried to resist thinking that thought again, the more often it happened and the more it evolved and mutated into increasingly offensive thoughts until they had some of the most explicit, blasphemous, sexual, and violent content imaginable. Everything I didn’t want to think, I ended up thinking. I fell into complete and utter despair.
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?
This week, legislators in Wisconsin have the opportunity to save hundreds of lives and millions of taxpayer dollars: a bill to establish an advisory educational council on PANS/PANDAS is under review. New York is also considering similar policies, and several others including Virginia have successfully implemented them.
I’ll never forget the day I first set foot in a Lyme clinic, as I watched other patients with pale, exhausted faces roll into the waiting room in wheelchairs. I’d just finished another semester of college and a ten-mile run that weekend. I remember thinking, I can’t possibly be sick enough to have Lyme Disease. What am I doing here?
For the last eleven years of my life, I’ve battled a debilitating yet misunderstood autoimmune disease called PANS. It’s a disorder where an infection or an environmental trigger confuses your immune system into attacking your brain. This leads to all sorts of problems like OCD, anxiety, depression, tics, involuntary movements, cognitive problems, and many more horrible things. It affects at least 1 in 200 people, but you’ve probably never heard of it. Many doctors haven’t, either.
On Thursday morning, I woke up and immediately knew something was very wrong. My whole body ached. I had an awful headache. I was dizzy. I was too nauseous to even think about food or water. It was that familiar set of symptoms that meant one thing: I was in for a terrible Lyme herx.