The Elephant in the Room Pt. 1...

In my case, the elephant is 10 tons and fluorescent pink. Sure I have a lot of other things I'd prefer to write about but I'm feeling stable this morning and just want to get this out of the way. The thought of not addressing what's happened never even entered my mind but it had to be in my own time. And because it affects me on so many levels, I feel that if you're going to deal with me you deserve to know my state of mind.

2011 was a doozy. I had felt "off" since the beginning of the year. My blog posts were getting further and further apart, I was on edge all the time, I was having a hard time concentrating, and things were slipping my mind, but I figured it was stress.

By the end of July I thought I had come down with mono. I didn't have insurance and had had it before in my early 20's so I "knew" what I was in for.  I spent August and September in bed sleeping for 16 hours a day which was par for the course but my memory was getting worse. My body ached, my ears hurt, my vision went blurry occasionally, and I had constant migraines. Even sick, I was trying to get a little painting done but holding the paintbrush steady was becoming a problem. I finally gave up after it took me 3 hours to paint a pair of nipples and even then, they were asymmetrical.

It wasn't the physical symptoms that scared me though, it was the mental ones. It was becoming harder to find my words, I got confused easily, had severe ADD, could no longer multi-task and was severely depressed. I joked that I felt like I'd lost my female superpowers and now had become a "guy" but honestly I was only 38 and had the mind of an elderly person.

By the time October came, I was basically invalid. All of my previous symptoms were getting worse, I would spontaneously burst into tears, and now my memory was shot. You know that feeling when you walk into a room and you forget why you were there? Apply it to everything. I had a memory recall of 5-10 minutes. I would start cooking, wander off, and forget I was cooking until the smoke alarm went off. If it didn't happen in front of me or within our walls then it didn't register and even then I'd forget as soon as you told me. I was totally Drew from "50 First Dates". My husband would come home from work and ask me what I did that day. I'd look at him and shrug with a smile, "I have no idea!". I say "with a smile" because literally I no longer had a care in the world. Nothing mattered, nothing existed. The lights were on but no one was home.

I not only lost myself, I lost my friends. Not that they weren't around, but in my head they didn't exist. I had the worst time stumbling through conversations..."You know that thing? The thing, you know, it's got those round things on them....WHEELS! They've got wheels and they....shit, I forgot what I was talking about." I had no means of communication because inevitably half of what I was attempting to say would be played in charades form. And phone calls? As soon as we were done I forgot we even talked. At first it was frustrating. Then it just became life. I had my son and my husband, that was it.

It finally got to the point where I acknowledged I needed medical attention. (I know, I know, I should have done it back in July but I really thought it would mend itself. What can I say, I'm stubborn that way.) So the beautiful man I had spent 8 years with officially asked me to marry him. We were wed and I made an appointment with a doctor within the week. Pre-meno was ruled out, every test known to man was run and when nothing came up, I was scheduled for an MRI.

During this time, I had learned of two other women who came down with symptoms like mine. Both thought they had mono. Both were diagnosed with MS. One was 18, the other 22. At 38, I thought I was screwed. I looked up YouTube videos of people with MS and bawled. "FUCK!", I thought. Is this what I had to look forward to??

On the day of the MRI, I decided I was going in fighting. I prettied up with a bright pink lipstick, chose a really cute outfit and met it head on. I refused to cry but on the inside I was shaking. It took two long weeks to get the results and when they came back clean, I burst into tears and thanked the clinician profusely.

But what the fuck was wrong with me???

We hadn't wanted to worry my grandmother who lives in Australia so we didn't say anything about my illness until it got really bad. At that point she asked me, "Do you drink diet soda?" "Um, only 4-8 every day for the last 13 years!", was my response. She told me to cut it off immediately and check out a website called http://www.sweetpoison.com/. Of the 92 symptoms of Aspartame poisoning, I had 35, some of which mimic MS. I was bewildered. Although I was skeptical when artificial sweeteners made their debut, I figured it must be safe to be on the market that long so I started taking it in, not only in diet soda but also adding it to my tea. But I'd never heard of them making people this sick!

The prescribed detox is a clean diet of water, fruits/vegetables and organic meats. I was almost as devastated as I was when I thought I had MS! I know it sounds ridiculous but seriously?? No take out?? No drive-thru?? No frozen food?? No sodas or tea or lemonade or ANYTHING??? I had to drink water???? UGH! It dawned on me that I was going to have to throw out half the pantry and learn to cook, something I swore I'd only do when I died, I hate it that much. Yeah, you guessed it, more tears. But I made the changes immediately, only with my food and beverages though...everything else was the same, meaning I didn't change my routine, didn't start exercising 5 hours a day, wasn't taking obscure Chinese herbs, etc. Within 2 weeks my symptoms went from 35 to 3. I still had the migraines, confusion and memory loss but everything else went away. It was nothing short of miraculous for me.

I was still going to specialists to find out if there was another cause. Not only didn't they find anything, they completely dismissed the idea that Aspartame had anything to do with my illness...wouldn't even entertain the possibility. I was shocked that they wouldn't even look into it, but ultimately so relieved that I was getting better on my own that I let it go. Once I learned that MSG is the salty equivalent to Aspartame, doing the same things to your nervous system, I became diligent about avoiding it and my last three symptoms improved greatly.

I don't remember months from 2010... hardly anything from 2011...and just bits and pieces until late 2012. The only reason I can relate my story at all is because I've repeated it over and over and over so that it's ingrained. I've literally been shown pictures of work done during that time which I'm not able to recognize as mine. I don't know if those memories will ever emerge. I'd feel sad or bitter but I literally don't know what I'm missing out on so no harm, no foul for now. I still have a little problem with memory. Things tend to slip my mind but I don't sweat it. I'm just grateful to be a regular ole multi-tasking girl again. ;)

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