The toxic effects of this unexplained condition affected my whole life.
What started as a sudden onset of panic attacks 7 years ago transformed into a laundry list of debilitating mental and physical ailments that I was forced to cope with daily.
The day before my explant surgery, I tallied 49 symptoms that I was actively experiencing. I had received misdiagnoses of mental health conditions, such as panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, and most recently, bipolar disorder.
I struggled with bouts of extreme insomnia, where I wouldn't sleep at all for 2 to 3 days on end.
Doctors had prescribed pretty much every combination of SSRIs, benzos, stimulants, and sleep medications on the market. The slew of debilitating side effects from these drugs landed me in the ER too many times to count.
I lived with symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and liver and kidney dysfunction, all with no conclusive diagnosis.
My feet and hands turned purple and were ice cold to the touch. My hair fell out in clumps in the shower, and the strands that remained were dry and brittle. My blood tests showed abnormal liver and kidney function, and my kidney grew a mass twice the size of itself. I experienced other unexplained symptoms, such as skin rashes, migraines, brain fog, and numbness and tingling in extremities.
The surgery changed everything
My entire life suffered from the toxic blow of this unexplained condition. Before I got sick, I was a college senior at USC, on the Dean's list, with an abundance of friends. I was in a healthy relationship and involved in every extracurricular activity I could fit into my overpacked schedule.
I was headed to Nashville upon graduation to pursue my dream job of working in the entertainment industry. I was free of mental and physical ailments. It was the last time I can remember being effortlessly happy. I continually asked myself, "What happened to my old life? Will I ever get it back?"
From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it's hard to explain.
It's difficult to put into words the dichotomy my life had become because, on the outside, I looked fine, but inside, my body was waging war on itself. The truth is that this illness took everything from me that I once recognized, admired, and valued about myself. My life bore no resemblance to the version I left behind almost a decade ago.
I spent entire days stuck in bed, ruminating on to-do lists I didn't have the energy or motivation to begin, let alone complete. I got so anxious at times that I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Each day I woke up with the hope that today would be the beginning of a new start. I put in what felt like 150% effort, while I watched others coast along.
I went to bed every night with the notion that I hadn't achieved nearly enough. I chalked it up to another day inside a body that wouldn't work and a mind that couldn't stop ruminating on the pain.
I fight for my health every day in a way most people don't understand. I'm not lazy; I am a warrior.
At the height of my illness, I was taking five prescription medications to manage the mental symptoms alone. I was taking meds to wake up, meds to concentrate, meds to relax, and meds to fall asleep.
My entire life was chemically induced, and none of my emotions felt like my own. I was also a regular in the emergency room, thanks to the physical symptoms that accompanied this illness.
Most recently, I was brought in for stroke symptoms and unexplained bleeding from my mouth. After hours of bloodwork and imaging, I was sent home with a generic, temporary Band-Aid in the form of steroids, Benadryl, and a prescription for Xanax, but no answers.