As my two-month IVIG follow-up approached, I was sure I would have bad news no matter what. It would be bad news if my doctor decided I needed an invasive plasmapheresis treatment. It would be just as bad if she told me we had to “wait and see” if this second IVIG worked, because certain symptoms were still making me miserable.
Well, I didn’t exactly get either piece of news. We made a plan that involved neither option…
This week, I have wonderful news… Instead of moving home for the summer like I’d planned, I’ve decided to remain at school to take classes and work.
While this may sound like a “normal” summer for an almost-20-year-old, for me, it’s a huge victory. Not too long ago, I hated everything and wanted nothing more than to go home and spend my summer lying on the couch or in bed (just like last summer). But now, I want to keep pursuing my dreams in this city—dreams that I’d pushed to the back burner for far too long because of my illness.
Recently, I signed up to run in my first half-marathon. I was planning to cross the finish line this summer as the ultimate way to overcome PANDAS. I was hoping to be able to say, “Nine months ago, I couldn’t walk, but today, I’m totally healthy and symptom-free!”
But my plans have been ruined, and my dreams have been shattered.
When I underwent high-dose IVIG therapy in August, for the first time since I got sick eight years ago, I was hopeful about making a full recovery. I knew it could take up to a year for me to get completely better, but I didn’t mind. As long as I was getting better, no matter how slowly, I could keep hoping.
When I look back at the last few months and think about everything I’ve been through, I’m often surprised by my own resilience. What keeps me going? Why do I not give up? And I think to myself, “How in the world do I stay so positive?”
The answer? I don’t.
In our society, there’s a faulty idea that being strong and tough means holding in all emotions except the pleasant ones. We salute the people who go through terrible things and still smile and look on the bright side at the end of it all. We are forever being told that as long as we can be optimistic about life and stay positive, we’ll get through whatever comes our way. Although no one ever says so, to me it often seems like crying and grieving and expressing pain is frowned upon. Everything will be okay. Just be positive!
It’s been over four months since I had IVIG—and six months since the abrupt onset of my tics and other movement problems. On the whole, I’d say I’m much better. I’ve even started tapering off the steroids. The way I put it with my family is that I finally feel like a person again. I’m almost back to where I was before I started flaring two years ago—with the addition of tics, some walking issues, and hypersomnia. It’s not all forward progress, though. It’s really more of a two-steps-forward-one-step back process.
This time of the year is always difficult for me. Seven years ago at this time, I had the worst PANDAS flare of my life and descended into a terrifying world of OCD, odd behavior, insomnia, and depression. For a time, my symptoms completely tore apart my family.
I’ll never forget when I first made my parents cry. I was twelve years old, and we didn’t even know I had OCD, let alone PANS. Had we known, things never would have gotten so bad. My parents were almost as terrified as I was at the change they had seen in me.
It’s been more than three months since I’ve been on Prednisone. I hate the steroid, but I love it, too, because I know it’s the reason I’m able to live a somewhat normal life right now. I would never want to take Prednisone unless I absolutely had to, though, because the side effects are pretty awful: weight gain, increased appetite, insomnia, moon face, acne, decreased bone density, increased susceptibility to infections, etc… But I have to take it to keep the inflammation down and help stop the autoantibodies from attacking my brain’s basal ganglia.