“I was going to say you’re stupid, but you’re not.”
I exhaled. Loudly. For days, now, she had been doing this. It had been a long week. Georgia and I had come down with a mean sore throat on New Year’s Eve. Teddy was teething and screaming and clingy. Both cars were having trouble. And work had started back up on Thursday.
“I was going to say you’re ugly, but you’re not.”
“Georgia, you need to stop. You can’t say these things.”
“But I just keep having these thoughts. Like I was going to say Jane’s stupid, but she’s not.”
My neck muscles tightened each time she said it, each time I couldn’t get her to stop. On Thursday night, it reached its pinnacle, and I reached my limit. She sat on the tile floor of the kitchen, her knees pulled up to her chest. “I was going to say I hate you, but I don’t.” Her eyes were wide and unblinking. I yelled. I screamed for her to stop. I was inches from her face, and I had her by the arms. But she just kept going.
“I was going to say I don’t love you, but I do. I was going to say I hate you, but I don’t.”
I cried. I didn’t know what else to do, so I cried. I curled up in my bed and I cried. I told her not to talk to me until she could stop saying those awful, awful things.
But that was the problem; she couldn’t stop.
I heard her crying in her bedroom. My husband’s voice was low, almost a whisper. But Georgia’s voice was high-pitched and teary. “I can’t think good thoughts. I’m trying but I can’t.”
She cried until her face was splotched red, and her blue eyes seemed to glow. The hardest part was watching her struggle, watching the sadness take up residence in her face. And to know that there was absolutely nothing I could do. She told me, “Mommy, I love you more than anything.” I held her, I squeezed her, I told her how much I loved her. And when I tucked her in, she said, “I thought of killing you, but it was because you were wearing a disguise.”
“No, Mommy. I dreamt it right now.”
“Yes, when I closed my eyes.”
I sat in the darkness of her bedroom while she slept. I listened to her breathe. She was sleeping deeply, almost snoring. She was exhausted.
So was I.
I thought that I had lost my child, the child I knew. My sweet, smart little girl. Something was very wrong. She had never said anything like this in her six years of life, and now she couldn’t stop. I thought of how difficult her life was going to be from now on. I thought of how different all our lives would be.
At work on Friday morning, I was glad for the distraction. And then my husband sent me a message: “You’re not going to believe this. Look up PANDAS.”
So I did. And of course, the first thing that came up was a Wikipedia site describing the endangered black and white bear. But the second site was this.
I searched through site after site. My eyes moved over the words faster than my mind could process. What if that sore throat had actually been strep? What if that was the source of this sudden compulsiveness?
I called the pediatrician’s office. I knew that I sounded like a crazy person as I described my daughter’s symptoms. My voice wavered as I explained to the receptionist about the downright scary things Georgia had said the night before. And I knew that I sounded desperate when I said that I needed to know if the behavior was linked to the illness, when I said that I didn’t know who else to call.
The receptionist got the nurse, and I explained it all again with the disclaimer, “I know this sounds crazy.” The nurse got the doctor. Yes, the two could be linked.
On Saturday morning, I held her arms again, this time while the physician’s assistant swabbed her throat. I never thought I’d be relieved to hear a doctor say that a test for strep was positive.
So that was it. We had had strep, and I hadn’t known it was strep. (In retrospect, I suppose that I should have. But we’ve never had strep, and by the time I was ready to take her to the doctor, she was feeling better.) And now, after twenty-four hours on antibiotics, she’s acting like herself again. Just like that.
I’m not writing this to be dramatic or woe-is-me. I’m writing it because I had no idea that PANDAS existed, and that must mean that other mothers and fathers don’t know, either. And that maybe, there’s a parent out there right now, Googling desperately in an attempt to figure out what has happened to her child. Perhaps she’ll land here and find a bit of hope.