This month is a very important anniversary, one that I was seriously scared of never coming to.
As some of you know, I have a weird autoimmune disease. It's not something that's well-known, like lupus, but it fits the definition and the mechanism. Basically, if I don't take an antihistamine every day, I will break into hives. It's not environmental, it's not a reaction to anything I've ingested. It's not anything; I'm just actually allergic to myself. And I have been since April of 2004.
For a while, everything was under control as long as I took my antihistamine. But eventually, it wasn't enough, and I had to switch from pill to pill to find something that would keep the hives under control. One drug made me so sleepy, moreso than Benadryl, that I finally had to tell my jackass of an allergist that he had to switch me to something else, or else. Since then, I've been on Zyrtec, which is much more expensive than most antihistamines, and was for several years perscription only with a $45 copay.
Sometimes, though, I'd have what I call flare-ups, when no antihistamines can prevent me from getting hives and deep tissue swelling, known as angioedema. Some days, besides having God-awful hives everywhere, making me so uncomfortable, but I'd also have massive, obvious, and disfiguring swelling, and often somewhere very visible. Sometimes I'd skip class because my eyes were swollen almost shut, or because one of my lips looked as if I'd been punched in the face.
And the only thing that my allergist would prescribe for me for flare-ups was prednisone, a corticosteroid. I'd have to take massive doses to get my swelling to go down, but it would still take 8 hours to work. And by the time I'd been taking it for a few days, I'd have to taper the dose to avoid shutting down my adrenal glands. But while I tapered, my symptoms would worsen, and I'd have to up the dose again. I hated taking pred; I'd be exhausted all the time, but be unable to sleep, and I'd be really hungry constantly, and gain weight regardless of whether or not I ate. It was AWFUL. It's a terrible drug.
My illness fell into a pattern. I'd go about 4-6 months without any issues, just taking my antihistamine every day. Then I'd have a flare-up lasting 1-2 months, when I'd take so much pred, I'd often have to get refills mid-flare-up. I'd be miserable, legitimately depressed for those two months. While I couldn't prevent the flare-ups, I could make them worse by eating shellfish, nuts, or peanuts, none of which I'm actually allergic to, but none of which I can eat anymore. Eventually, the 4-6 months of peace kept being shaved down until it was really only4 months, and the flare-ups began to spill into 2 and a half months.
I finally switched allergists; as I had suspected, prednisone was a completely inappropriate drug to treat my illness; it should be used for acute swelling, not chronic swelling (for example, it worked wonders when I had mono, since my tonsilitis was acute). My new allergist even wrote me up a plan for which drugs to take if a flare-up started, specifically the order and the dose, and she told me that if after 2 weeks, I wasn't better, to call her. I can safely say that this doctor saved my life. I was at the end of my rope with this illness.
Of course, since I saw her, last October, I haven't had a flare-up. I've had hives, yes, but never lasting more than a day, and never recurring.
This month, I'm celebrating 1 year of no flare-ups, something that I've never experienced since flare-ups began back in the fall of '04. I kind of want my mom to take me out to dinner to celebrate.
It gives me hope that maybe in another year, I'll be able to eat the foods I love and miss, and that in another year after that, I can stop taking my antihistamine. We'll see, obviously, but the hope is there. I haven't had hope in so long.