A FUNCTIONAL NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER STORY

2017. Was. Dramatic.

Cliché?

Oh well. I started 2017 sick. Sick in the head, sick in the mind, and sick in the body.

You see, in December 2016 I had been diagnosed with Functional Neurological disorder. The brain of someone who has this diagnosis is structurally normal, but functions incorrectly.  It is a mental condition where a person experiences blindness, paralysis or other nervous system breakdowns that cannot be explained by medical evaluation. Apparently, the world people have got me. Symptoms include impaired coordination or balance, weakness or paralysis, loss of speech coordination, non-epileptic seizures or convulsions, tremor or movement disorders, gait problems, loss of consciousness or blackouts, impaired vision, impaired hearing or deafness, loss of pain sensation. It can be treated, it can be lived with, but it cannot be cured.

The day I got this diagnosis, denial kicked in as is expected, but only lasted about an hour. I had wanted a diagnosis so bad that I was ready to accept anything. I had already been wrongly diagnosed with postural hypotension, cataplexy, hole in the brain, tumor in the brain, all stuff I never heard before.

I had been placed on this drug that cost thirty thousand naira for 30 tablets; to be used for 60 days. And it was the cheaper one! The other brand was two hundred and fifty thousand naira. LMAO. Please join me and laugh. Okay, you can stop laughing now; It wasn’t really funny then, or now. I had almost gotten nicotine patches. I drank hundreds of cans of energy drinks!

Let me take us back to December 2016. I had slumped at a wedding I was attending. Everyone thought it was exhaustion. If you’ve been on the bridal train of err…. not exactly selfless brides you would probably understand this part. People filled my mouth with sugar and salt and sent me home. I bet the bride’s mum was grateful I didn’t ruin her daughter’s wedding with the scene I caused. The following day I called my boyfriend to take me to the hospital. The boyfriend, who proceeded to not talk to me or see me for a week, because I didn’t put respeck when I was asking him to give me a ride. Oh well…

All I remember typing was, ‘I think I’m dying, I need to go to a hospital.’ And it did feel like death. I would experience this heavy wave of weakness in my limbs and my whole body and bam! I’m on the floor, unconscious. I proceeded to black out every 3 hours or so, and because no one knew what was wrong with me, no one was sure I would even wake up after each blackout. Everyone around me was scared. They saw me lose consciousness over and over and over and I saw the fear in their eyes. My regular doctor at First City Lekki said he could not do anything for me anymore after 4 days in the hospital, so he referred me to a neurologist at Good Tidings Hospital in Surulere.

The neurologist, Dr. Agabi, made me talk about EVERYTHING! He questioned my sleeping pattern and said I had a terrible one Yeah, I know. I had sleep paralysis at least 4 times a year. He said it was not normal. He said something about REM and NREM. I was not getting to that sleep level where I actually shut down. Then he sent me for tests; Ultrasound or something, EEG, ECG, then MRI. These tests cost a lot of money, and I realized then, what a shi**y job I had with an equally bleh HMO. My office just denied me love sharply, already sending me emails that I had exhausted what was left of my leave days for the year, and after the sick leave days, every other day I’m absent is a no-pay. Nope, they didn’t want a normal sick leave note because I had that; they wanted a full medical report to know why I couldn’t come to work for many days. Some evil people had apparently spread the news that I made up my sickness because I wanted to avoid the stress of the Black Friday period at work. I wish. My HMO couldn’t cover all my tests. There was a lot of back and forth! See, when they pray for you that you should not spend money on illness, just say Amen very well!

I could not do anything by myself. I could not predict my blackouts. I could not be alone. I had to sit in the shower to have my bath so that if I would faint, I would at least minimize some of the damage. I could not walk on stairs without someone beside me. I could not stand alone, any, frigging, where. When I go out of the bedroom or the house, I always look for the closest seat. I faint while sitting too and I sprained my neck a number of times. I hit my body on different surfaces a thousand times. But thanks to the loss of pain sensation i now had, it only felt like an itch. I never felt anything during blackouts. Prick me with a pin, slap me, pffft nothing. I was paralysed and fainting simultaneously.

Oh but I fell. A lot! Fell while eating, while talking, while laughing, while walking. I fell like rain, unpredictably, unstoppably. I ran tests at Clinix and I had to be put on a wheelchair because it was easy to transfer me around rather than carry me or use a stretcher. I was always exhausted. Doing nothing in life but fainting and being worried and scared. And the headaches! Even when I was not unconscious, I was always tired!

Oh, but my friends were awesome!! Oma you were amazingly amazing! Jogun, Rome, Freghene, my sister!! I can’t ever repay you. To everyone who was praying along with me… where do I start! God, please bless these people. That my calabar ex-boyfriend? Nah he didn’t do jackshit. Didn’t cater to my fainting self, didn’t help pay jackshit, just kept filling me up with excuses of work and busy-ness and I had to deal with that heartbreak too on top of everything. My friends were disappointed in me. Like how do I end up with these kind of guys. Truth? I was scared of breaking up with him. I knew I would never find anyone who will want a relationship with my fainting self in this life. So let me manage what I have. Yes, I settled. Already, I was work. Add fainting to my relationship CV and, well… the applications wouldn’t pile up anymore.

According to my tests, everything was fine. We went to an herbalist (who gives herbs instead of modern medicine) in Ibadan who told my mum to pay almost 200k for some 4 bottles of something that will make it all stop. I did this magnetic full body test and he simply told me the same thing we already suspected, blood was not circulating to my brain and my brain was tapping out. Yeah yeah bla blah, I said to my mum: “mummy if you pay for this drug, you’re the one that will use it!”

The day I got my lucky break was when I met with Dr. Agabi in LUTH. I remember walking so fast to get to the complex he was, so I don’t faint on the way. I was alone that day. I had ordered this medical bracelet that’s supposed to help people around me when I had an episode to know what to do, and I always carried an ID card, my phone had emergency numbers lined up on the home screen so they don’t do something stupid to me if I blackout alone in public. or take me to a morgue. THAT scared the beejezus out of me.

Dr. Agabi was with fellow neurologists and trainees that day. They all assessed my test results and were observing me as I sat. I had apparently also developed Anxiety disorder; agoraphobia, panic attacks, and I’m like, cool cool; could it get any better than this! And in between these 6 doctors, I was told my problems were more psychological than neurological. And then I got referred to the psychiatric unit where I met another doctor, whose name I weirdly cannot remember as I write this! He looked at me, had me tell him EVERYTHING, and gave me my precious diagnosis of Conversion disorder. He said I had too much psychological trauma and exhausted all my defence mechanisms, I had suppressed too much, and my mind and body had caved and could no longer handle it. My body gave up on living. I could carry on but my body couldn’t.
It was then, the worst news of my existence.Treatment included an intervention, Cognitive behavioural Therapy, Medication, and I needed to go through drug induced therapy to make me recollect some of the traumatic events I had buried so deep I couldn’t even remember they had happened to me.

Well then. I got a one-week dose of diazepam and escitalopram; and I didn’t talk to my neurologist or psychiatrist again.
My social life plummeted. I could not go out, I could not embarrass myself. The only place I went was work. They told me to go on a medical sabbatical; Unpaid leave.. Like they were that nice in Jumia, hahaha. They were always hiring and firing, and God knows I wasn’t much of an ass kisser, so no hope for me. In fact, a lot of people claimed the glory for this sabbatical offer that I didn’t even take. The HR lady, my manager, everyone wanted to console themselves that they did right by me.
Well I finally resumed. None of my colleague-friends came to check up on me while I wasn’t at work! I guess that’s why it’s called friendship of convinience.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I had to resign due to this sickness anyway. I needed to save up for just 3 months. When HR had insisted on the full medical report and diagnosis, my doctor advised to kick against it. You see there was no way to couch it; I would be declared unemployable with my condition. I was going to be a dependent for the whole of 2017 and the rest of my life. I was never going to be able to drive a car, cook, or even live on my own. I would not find employment! The drugs were worse! I would have hallucinations and behave like a mad woman for the first 10 minutes of using it. Then the diazepam would make me sleepy and tired all day long because I was taking morning and night doses. I wanted to keep going to work! I had to stay with my sister for the whole year!

Why did I stop talking to my doctors? Why did I not use proper medication? How did I cope at work? It was very complicated. I was not interested in drug induced anything to remember. There’s a particular reason I buried these memories no? Drugs were making me feel worse. No way! Therapy? I was not ready to share. Still not, but 2018 I know I will start therapy. I know I need it. But when I walked into Harvey psychiatric hospital Yaba and I saw different patients, I was scared! This can’t be the rest of my life! I wasn’t so spiritual either. 2016, me and God didn’t go well in the same sentence somewhere in my head.  I was not waiting for God to heal me. But I kinda also was.

My team mates were very helpful. So we devised a method. I refrained from walking around except bathroom breaks. I’ll black out peacefully on my seat. Sometimes with eyes open; sometimes closed which was more of paralysis. I would sleep whenever I needed to, and whenever I had panic attacks I’d just stay put till it passed. Emeka helped with my daily targets, bless your heart! And I went on like this for months. I would hang out with colleagues and proceed to faint, everyone just sorta got used to it. I told them it was stress. SOme thought i was “abiku” or a sickler. How do I begin to explain what FND was to everyone? How do I explain that what I had was an actual mental problem? I was depressed. I was very suicidal. I was having panic attacks. I was angry! FND Hope was my favourite website. I started trying to live right, eat right, sleep right, think right. Watching YouTube videos of people with this condition gave me some weird hope. Mentally Aware Initiative Nigeria also had this support group I joined! Really helpful!

I assured myself that I was too vibrant a human to become useless! I could not do things I loved?! I remember in between when I had to do this surgery and we thought I had cancer. My family was so scared it could all go wrong! Fainting and surgery didn’t go hand in hand in our heads! But we were all so strong!

But guys, guess how this story ends?

2017? I had FND, and I got “cured”! When I get woozy, Mercy says NO.

2017? I was declared lump free! Surgery went GREAT!

2017? I broke up with Calabar boy. I didn’t need that negativity. I’d rather be single.

2017? I met the love of my existence. Who stood by me all through my FND brouhaha. Who saw a mental case, and didn’t run the other way; carried my limp body numerous times, up numerous stairways. Who knew all of me and loved it anyway!

2017?  I lost my job a month after my birthday; and proceeded to turn down at least 4 job offers like a boss till I found the job of my Nigerian dreams. My sister thought I was crazy.

2017? I took a huge step with the largest fashion accessory e-commerce website – hephiebrown.com. I officially became an entrepreneur, my own boss.

This is officially my happiest year end recap ever written! Felicitate with me!

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