What Cracked First, the Chicken or the Egg? Part III

The Fateful Day my Brain took a Crap

If you haven’t read the intro to this “Medical Mystery or Mental Health Mishap” series, I suggest you start → here. If you’re a return customer, welcome back! Let’s get on with the case study.

These next few installations will cover the physical (body connect), the coo-coo (mind connect), and then finally the woo-woo (soul connect). I’ll try to wrap up the findings with a conclusive analysis once I sort through it all. It’s strange typing this all out, now that I’ve got some distance from it. I wonder if I’ll unlock something here that I’ve failed to notice before.

For a large part of last year, I had the date of onset wrong (by 24 hours). I could have sworn that the crucial event occurred on June 28th (Re: June 28), when in fact it was on June 29th, 2014. (Dear James, Part V). To the typical person this minor detail would probably be irrelevant, but to my OCD brain it was a world of difference. Each year as the date approached, I would hyper-focus on what had happened. How far I’d come. And how far I still had left to travel. The calendar was there to remind me that it wasn’t over.

Leading up to the day-

I had just finished my first year teaching as a college professor. This was a major move for me, as I’d worked in the lab for eight years prior and had no higher-ed teaching experience.

The day my daughter was born (2013) I was offered the position. So, I navigated the life of a new mom along with my new career with little to no help from my husband. I didn’t have time to worry though. I had things to do.

A lot of things.

The college required me to go back to school for my doctoral degree as part of my tenure agreement. Against my will, and my bank account, I signed up for the program. I would now be juggling a one-year old, a full-time job, and a per-diem position while also pursuing this advanced degree.

My cape was torn and dirty, but I really thought I could do it all.

Until I couldn’t do anything at all.

The day before my breakdown, my sister and I had gone out to eastern Long Island for a day trip. We took my daughter on a carousel ride, then went to a pub for lunch. I remember feeling nauseous after eating. In the days after I wondered if I had picked up a bug from our trip? Maybe this was viral? Or, the ride messed with my equilibrium? Inner ear drama? I was desperate for a reason, and left clawing at anything and everything to find the culprit of my symptoms.

I don’t know why I never wrote about that day. Most of it is a blur, but some details are permanently etched into my brain.

It was a Sunday morning…

I was home with my daughter who had just turned one at the time. My husband already had left for work earlier. His friend who had stayed over was getting ready to leave the house. As he was putting on his shoes, I sat on the couch near my front door.

We were chatting. My daughter was playing on the floor. I suddenly felt an itch on my shoulder. I looked to my left. Under the spaghetti strap of my black tank top a few welts appeared.


Up until that point, I had never experienced hives. I showed my husband’s friend, and he confirmed. Yep, looks like hives. No big deal. Take some Benadryl.

And he was on his way.

Hives. Spreading. Allergic Reaction. Anaphylactic Shock. I’m alone. My baby. Death. I’m going to die.

That was the path my brain took. And it wasn’t a leisurely stroll. It dug in deep, trenching, gouging.

Endless rumination.

My feet began to follow suit. Pacing frantically back and forth between my kitchen and living room. If it had been dirt I could have probably made it through to the core of the Earth. (Okay, sure I’m being dramatic. Maybe I would have only made it half way down.)

I called my husband.

He couldn’t come home.

I called my sister, a nurse. Also working. She assured me that it wasn’t a serious problem, likely just a reaction to something I ate or touched.

Brain didn’t like that.

Cue the beginning of the panic attacks.

Episode one. Started about an hour after the onset of hives. Hyperventilation, heart pounding out of my chest, dizziness to the point of feeling that I’ll pass out. After one attack would end I was left with a slight reprieve. But my body didn’t have much time to recuperate. The attacks continued every few hours for the rest of the day.

I remember sitting on the bottom stair with my daughter holding on to my leg, trembling to dial the phone.

Mom, husband, sister, mom, husband, sister. On repeat. Talking me off the ledge.

Someone, I need you please.

Did anyone come? I don’t remember anyone coming. But I also can’t remember anything at all from the rest of that day. It’s a wash.

Sunday passed. I thought a good night sleep would ward it off. No such luck.

Once again, I woke up covered in hives and filled with panic. I called the doctor’s office and made an emergency appointment.

Anything new that you ate?


Did you use new soap, moisturizer, laundry detergent?

No. No. No.

Stress hives?

Is this a thing? Apparently.

Here’s some Xanax. Chill for a little while. You’ll be fine.

The hives continued for six weeks straight. No relief. They didn’t stop until my daughter passed on a case of the coxsackie virus, and my body realized it actually had something to do other than attack itself. We had an invader.


As much as coxsackie sucks, it offered me a solution to the hives and I was grateful. Once the virus cleared up so did the hives. And I was able to at least check one thing off the list as being resolved.

The panic attacks didn’t let up though. Only got progressively worse. At its worst, I documented having up to 20 or more in a single day. The derealization (DR) went along with it. First coming in and out like a kaleidoscope, until finally it settled in to stay for the long haul. After the first few days, it changed from episodic to permanent. Now almost nine years later, it is the only symptom that persists, a gentle reminder every waking minute of my day.

The lab results from the day after the initial attack came back normal. However, as the months went by with no relief, my doc ordered a more thorough workup. About four months in, we thought we finally had the answer.

My thyroid hormones came back elevated.

Wahoo! Hyperthyroidism!

(It’s strange when you actually welcome a diagnosis because it allows you to drop some of the shame that it’s all in your head.)

Well that makes sense! Increase thyroid hormones correlate with weight loss, irregular heartbeat, palpitations, GI symptoms, ANXIETY…

Okay, so we found the problem. Let’s fix it!

Not so fast. It’s not that simple.

On to the medical mumbo jumbo.

Check out Part IV here:



Science meets mysticism. Come play on the monkey bars of my brain. Hopefully I leave you with more questions than answers.

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Science meets mysticism. Come play on the monkey bars of my brain. Hopefully I leave you with more questions than answers.