What It’s Like.

I hadn’t heard of Grave’s Disease until the morning I began drug therapy to treat it, so I don’t mind when people ask me what it’s like or what it is. The issue becomes when I have their full attention and I see the light go out of their eyes because I’m not delivering the goods. A Grave’s overview doesn’t exactly bring the heat.

“Well, one night last year, as summer was really getting going, I had trouble falling asleep,” I’ll begin. “And then, I noticed an odd tremor in my right shoulder, followed by increased headaches.”

By the time I launch into when the anxiety was full-blown and I was sweating all the time, the crowd has mysteriously dispersed to the bar for another round. Or to check their phone. Or to wait what were you saying again?

So, Grave’s Disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid and causes it to over-produce. When the thyroid is in overdrive, the body goes berserk – it causes your heart to beat too fast, your thoughts to race. It causes insomnia, sweating and tremors, your eyes to bulge out. Before I knew I had the disease, I actually thought I was going insane. At first, the symptoms are easy to rationalize away – Oh, I live in New York, of course I can’t sleep and am anxious. Oh, it’s summertime, no wonder I’m having hot flashes…at age 30. Eventually, the symptoms culminate in such irrational thoughts and behaviors, you wind up at the doctor or in the emergency room. That was my experience. I’ve talked to a number of wide-eyed folks who share the same. (Yes we know, our eyes are huge).

What There Is:

Dizziness, fogginess, anxiousness

Wondering if it counts as illness when you feel OK. Wondering if this is the best it will ever be when you don’t

Occasionally wearing sunglasses at night to use the computer

Frequent eye drops. More ibuprofen. Less booze. Sweating with caffeine

Knowing the location of every public restroom near the 4/5 train stops on your commute to work

Waiting for Missy Elliot to agree to a Walk for the Cure, for godssake

Occasional growth of things where they don’t belong, like nodules. Occasional loss of things where you’d prefer they stay, like hair

An entry point of conversation with Sia

What There Isn’t:

Bleeding, dying, smoking

General clinging to life

Things falling out, or off

Consistent information on what not to eat (or wear, for that matter)

A cure

Better answers

Certainty

At present, I don’t look sick. Today, thankfully, I do not feel sick. When I explain that I am being treated, there is the collective and conclusive urge to wrap it all up, to proclaim “You’re well at last!” And for me to say “Yes, it’s OK!” so we can end our conversation and move on.  To discuss an ongoing and incurable disease is to agree to a narrative without climax. My particular illness moves in fits and starts. One morning early last winter I woke up with an odd feeling in my head, and blacked out mid hallway shuffle to the bathroom. Other days I shell out exorbitant amounts of money for New York spinning class and feel like a tigress.

This is what it’s like.

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I Have Two Words For Missy Elliot

I know what you’re thinking. “Caira, you and Missy Elliot already have so much in common besides Grave’s Disease. I was surprised when I learned she had it last week, but given your likeness, I am now less so.”

That’s not what you thought at all.

I’ve been waiting for Missy Elliot to come back. The first second thing I did the day I got my diagnosis was Google “Celebrities with Grave’s Disease.” A semi-informative read from 2011 stated Missy had the disease and had been out of the spotlight for several years because of it. Save for her best-of compilation released in 2006, the last time she had a new album on the charts was 2005. “She’ll be back,” I thought. I need her to come back and talk about this – because no one knows what this is and she’ll give voice to it.

And then all of a sudden, there she was – Katy Perry’s sharks be damned.

Oh, hey

 

In the days following, the Internet produced myriad reactions to Missy’s reemergence –  her inextricable ties to the context of today’s female rappers, vapid musings on her weight loss, .GIF-ication of the the word “chocha.”

But I only have two words for Missy Elliot.

One morning in early December I awoke feeling strange. I imagine it’s what you’d feel if someone left a heating pad plugged in, but in the inside of your head. How did this rock get inside my head, I wondered? What’s this dark center doing in the middle of my cranium? I rolled over, too quickly. I saw the room through strips and when I blinked they didn’t move. Well, this is a problem. Walking to the bathroom I lost control of the muscles in my legs and was on the floor, cheek against the tile. When I moved it was blurry.

It turned out that after months of excessive racing, my heart beat had taken a warm dip in the other direction.  My first suggestion was coffee – I’ll take 24 caffeinated cups to go, please – but the doctor felt a boring day at the hospital hooked up to a monitor was a more reasonable course of action.  After several groggy hours, the final test was administered.

The technician, she smiled at me and pointed to the ultra sound. “You get to see your heart today,” she said in accented inflection. I was Dorothy.  The reason for all the fuss appeared on the screen. A pulsing blob, beating soft, low, alive. Innocent.  “That’s your heart, she said. “Take good care of it.”

“I will,” I said.

I watched it beat until they peeled the patches off my chest, leaving gummy rings behind. “Thank you,” I said, as someone appeared to wheel me away.

It’s what I said when my friend arrived that morning to my apartment, to help me from my couch to the hospital – both of us having made the inexplainable choice to wear neon shoes.

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It’s what I said on the first day of 2015, when I realized it’s never straightforward and always better because of it.

And it’s what I said again as Missy returned to the stage in all her slick, racing-suited glory – moving, rapping, having a ball. Thank you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.