The movie, Brain on Fire (2016), based on the memoir by Susannah Cahalan entitled Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (2012) ended abruptly. In the movie’s final scenes, Susannah, played by Chloe Moretz, recovers from her ordeal—her “month of madness”—and several months of rehabilitation, and returns to work…The movie ends there, and in all honesty, I felt as if I were left hanging; perhaps, because I knew that this is where the more amazing story began…
With my birthday coming up in a couple of weeks, my 20-year high school reunion in the books and the five-year anniversary of my battle with encephalitis in the rear-view mirror, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about age and mortality.
Since my diagnosis and treatment of anti-NMDAR encephalitis four years ago, I’ve come to realize two very important things.
In light of Father’s Day tomorrow, this post is dedicated to my dad. Thank you for always showing up!
A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Christopher Reeves
Recovering from a brain injury takes an extraordinary amount of time and patience. In the case of anti-NMDA encephalitis, even the most optimistic doctors speaking of best case scenario patients will forewarn at least 12 months of rehabilitation. For most of us it is much longer, with bits and pieces of ourselves reappearing along an unpredictable timeline that spans an indefinite number of years. This extended length of rehabilitation can often cause further frustration, stress, and anxiety and it can feel as though you take one step back for every two steps forward.
Nearly four years ago, the very beginning symptoms of anti-NMDA were slowly beginning to fray the edges of my physical and mental health. And, though it would take a few months to fully unravel and then, even after extensive treatment, it would take more than a year to recover, this time of year always brings to mind the very beginning of this journey. I find myself reflecting on where I’ve been and where I’m going.
There are many moments in this crazy thing called life that are wrought with hilarity – when circumstance and happenstance collide in perfect comedic timing to deliver a small moment of unadulterated joy. In these precious moments, we smile, giggle, chuckle and laugh for a number of reasons. But ultimately, we laugh because, for the most part, LIFE is fricking FUNNY. Sometimes it’s funny-ironic, sometimes it’s funny-peculiar and sometimes it’s funny-ha-ha.
And, sometimes, life is not funny at all, and yet, we STILL laugh – as a way to cope or escape, as a distraction or to hide more intense emotions. Sometimes we laugh simply to keep ourselves from crying. We laugh in the face of adversity because on some days, it’s all the emotion we have left.
I recently visited my hometown in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The brief trip was a welcome respite from life as I currently know it and, if only for a short time, it allowed me to escape back to a time and place that I’ve always considered the “good ol’ days.” During the visit, I caught up with long-time friends at one of my old favorite hangouts. Simply spending time around people and places that feature so prominently in my cherished memories of the time BEFORE any hints of illness existed was good for my soul.
I used to HATE the words Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis (ANMDAre)! The name, similar to the disease it represents, is complicated and mysterious. It offers no insight to what the disease entails, unless you are a physician and, even then, you may not have ever heard of this illness, only recently identified in 2007, by Dr. J. Dalmau.