The toxic effects of this unexplained condition affected my whole life.
What started as a sudden onset of panic attacks 7 years ago transformed into a laundry list of debilitating mental and physical ailments that I was forced to cope with daily.
The day before my explant surgery, I tallied 49 symptoms that I was actively experiencing. I had received misdiagnoses of mental health conditions, such as panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, and most recently, bipolar disorder.
I struggled with bouts of extreme insomnia, where I wouldn't sleep at all for 2 to 3 days on end.
Doctors had prescribed pretty much every combination of SSRIs, benzos, stimulants, and sleep medications on the market. The slew of debilitating side effects from these drugs landed me in the ER too many times to count.
I lived with symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and liver and kidney dysfunction, all with no conclusive diagnosis.
My feet and hands turned purple and were ice cold to the touch. My hair fell out in clumps in the shower, and the strands that remained were dry and brittle. My blood tests showed abnormal liver and kidney function, and my kidney grew a mass twice the size of itself. I experienced other unexplained symptoms, such as skin rashes, migraines, brain fog, and numbness and tingling in extremities.
The surgery changed everything
My entire life suffered from the toxic blow of this unexplained condition. Before I got sick, I was a college senior at USC, on the Dean's list, with an abundance of friends. I was in a healthy relationship and involved in every extracurricular activity I could fit into my overpacked schedule.
I was headed to Nashville upon graduation to pursue my dream job of working in the entertainment industry. I was free of mental and physical ailments. It was the last time I can remember being effortlessly happy. I continually asked myself, "What happened to my old life? Will I ever get it back?"
From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it's hard to explain.
It's difficult to put into words the dichotomy my life had become because, on the outside, I looked fine, but inside, my body was waging war on itself. The truth is that this illness took everything from me that I once recognized, admired, and valued about myself. My life bore no resemblance to the version I left behind almost a decade ago.
I spent entire days stuck in bed, ruminating on to-do lists I didn't have the energy or motivation to begin, let alone complete. I got so anxious at times that I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Each day I woke up with the hope that today would be the beginning of a new start. I put in what felt like 150% effort, while I watched others coast along.
I went to bed every night with the notion that I hadn't achieved nearly enough. I chalked it up to another day inside a body that wouldn't work and a mind that couldn't stop ruminating on the pain.
I fight for my health every day in a way most people don't understand. I'm not lazy; I am a warrior.
At the height of my illness, I was taking five prescription medications to manage the mental symptoms alone. I was taking meds to wake up, meds to concentrate, meds to relax, and meds to fall asleep.
My entire life was chemically induced, and none of my emotions felt like my own. I was also a regular in the emergency room, thanks to the physical symptoms that accompanied this illness.
Most recently, I was brought in for stroke symptoms and unexplained bleeding from my mouth. After hours of bloodwork and imaging, I was sent home with a generic, temporary Band-Aid in the form of steroids, Benadryl, and a prescription for Xanax, but no answers.
From rock bottom came the answers
I am learning to be thankful for my rock bottom, as it was the catalyst that brought me the answers I was seeking.
I went home that night, and at an all-time low, I put out a desperate Facebook post explaining my situation. I was met with a reply from a college friend, directing me to Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole.
After hours of scrolling through tens of thousands of women's stories that sounded all too familiar to me, I reached a verdict. I was sure that my breast implants were the culprit.
"Save yourself a surgery," the plastic surgeon who fitted my implants told me when I enquired about having my 7-year-old Mentor-brand, textured, silicone breast implants removed.
"I have been in practice for over 30 years, and you are the first person who has ever wanted them taken out. You aren't going to like the way you look without them, and you will want them put back in."
I strongly believe that the proper removal of my breast implants was key to my recovery.
I still have regrets about that day. After weeks of self-conducted research, I regret not bringing him the facts I had uncovered about certain implants. Some silicone breast implants contain carcinogens, neurotoxins, and cleaning agents, among other things.
Now, I don't claim to have an MD, but it's hard to believe that the almost identical symptoms that myself and thousands of other women with breast implants experienced were merely a coincidence.
There is a growing body of research suggesting that breast implants can cause autoimmune disorders in some women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a worldwide recall of Allergan textured breast implants last month in a bid "to protect women from breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma."
If you have breast implants, don't panic. First, focus on identification of your symptoms and then move to explant.
I strongly believe that the proper removal of my breast implants was key to my recovery. An international list of recommended explant surgeons can be found here.
The detoxification process can take up to 2 years, so even though I have removed the source of my suffering, the symptoms still come and go like a clingy house guest who doesn't pick up on social cues.
Recovery and rediscovering myself
I am now 2 months post-op and am already seeing improvements. Before my surgery, I had bloodwork done, and my liver enzymes were indicative of someone with lifelong alcohol dependency. Recently, my bloodwork has miraculously normalized.
The symptoms seem to be falling away one by one. The physical symptoms I mentioned, such as skin rashes, stroke symptoms, flu symptoms, and liver and kidney issues, have all gone. I have lost 30 pounds already, all of which was inflammation weight. I have even started weening myself off of antidepressants, as I feel so much stronger mentally.
For the first time in a decade, when I look in the mirror, I recognize the person staring back at me. We all have the same hours in a day, and this illness has taught me how to live them with purpose, to treasure every alert moment, and relish every second of pain free bliss. My perspective is shifting from hopeless to limitless.
The best part about recovery is when we get to rediscover ourselves, to find our passion, and to find our purpose.
I am still learning how to be thankful for my struggle because, without it, I wouldn't have stumbled across my strength. I am learning that I'm not a victim for sharing my story, but a survivor setting the world on fire with my truth.
I am no longer ashamed of my journey, as I have emerged with an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills me with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern for others.
In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.
I have learned the hard way never to let external factors dictate my sense of self-worth. If you needed to hear this today, you are beautiful just the way you are.
Your sheer existence is a miracle, and the sooner you accept that and start creating your life accordingly, the better.