Aleena, Age 23, Maryland

Hey! I’m Aleena. I was working at a preschool at the time and was attending a community college. I was really struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies, which impacted my academic performance. I started feeling drained around December 2015 and once January 2016 came, I hardly had the energy to move. I remember texting my friend and telling her my head was pounding, which is the same thing I told my mom when I woke her up one night mid-January. The last few memories I have are of me laying in my bed, feeling as if though a metal door was closing in on my head. After that, all I can recall is being taken to the hospital and being asked a series of questions by a doctor. The next time I was awake and conscious was around April 2016. During the months prior, I suffered from a series of seizures, being in a coma for some time, and having a breathing and feeding tube inserted. I remember bits and pieces of that time, but it’s honestly a blank page for the most part. I truly thought I was in the after-life so that is how I was treating my circumstance at the time. I can recall on my stay at the rehabilitation center and all the different therapies I did to learn how to function again. There are many things I just blocked out because I don’t like dwelling on bad memories. It was not until much later when I was in the right state of mind that my family told me I was diagnosed with something called ANTI NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. My neurologist said there is no explanation as to how it happened to me, but I was told my immune system was basically crashing during the time I was taken to the hospital in January 2016 and ultimately, my body began to shut down, causing my brain to suffer as well.

I graduated in December 2019 with a bachelor’s in English. I am currently 23-years-old and work as an Editor/Transcriber. At my other job, I tutor children in reading, writing, and grammar. In my free time, I love to write, watch movies, hang out with my family and close friends, visit museums and listen to music. My brain disease changed many things for me, my voice especially because it is raspier now due to the feeding tube. I sometimes suffer from PTSD because of what happened and the bad memories coming to my mind during random moments. But I was able to be treated in time for a disease that almost took my life and have been encephalitis free for almost 4 years now.

Experiencing the disease changed my outlook on life. I’m always appreciative to God for getting me through it and for a second chance, but the support system I had during it really carried me. I’m forever in debt of the people who were there when I wasn’t. I wish I could take their painful memories of that time away, especially because I cannot recall the two months they witnessed and I didn’t.

Encephalitis is a very rare disease and something that is often mistaken for schizophrenia and other psychological disorders. It was never something I was aware of until it happened to me. Unfortunately, some people never truly recover from it and there are lives that have been taken because of this disease. My neurologist told me for quite some time that there was a chance the disease could come back which kept me in constant fear. The second I would get a headache, I would panic because I thought it was happening all over again. And that’s the scary thing about this disease. It can easily be mistaken for a simple headache. I urge everyone to give even the smallest of symptoms importance.

Going through any form of trauma, you will never be the same person you once were. But that is okay because if given the chance, use it to become an even better version of yourself.