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Walking on Sunshine

“Summer’s coming.”


I’ve been repeating this to myself quite a bit over the past two months.


Summer is coming. Realistically speaking. Which is extremely important when you live in a long-wintered place like North Dakota. It’s also very necessary when you’ve reached the ripe age of forty and absolutely cannot stand to be cold anymore. And it grows in utility as your joints continue to rapidly age and inflame based more upon serious steroid use and your wonky immune system than biology.


Summer’s coming. Metaphorically speaking. And that is a must to save my mental health.


In the context of autoimmune encephalitis, March meant that my interrupted and exhausting nights turned to full-fledged and all-out terrifying insomnia. April was the unraveling. May became a terrifying free fall. May also meant my last day of work at Stebbins Mulloy and as a trial lawyer, forever. May was me very near death. May was the loss of my mind.


But eventually, June arose. June meant a diagnosis. My brain came alive! The reckoning and absolution at the Mayo Clinic. Summer came and the sun began to shine.


Over the past five years post-AE, I have greatly struggled with the three springtime months. Long ago, especially in high school with the fun of prom and the excitement of track, I would have said spring was one of my favorites. It was full of new promise and an end to the North Dakota snowfall (usually...). In college, campus came alive in springtime. Rollerblades were back, frat boys were sans shirts, and everyone everywhere smiled without their binding parka.


Springtime was enjoyable. Until it wasn’t. AE ripped that sunny joy right out of my system.


I have taken drives. I have exercised. I have tried desperately to keep every waking moment somehow productive or accounted for. I’ve tried to sleep. I’ve had panic attacks. I’ve been darkly depressed. I’ve struggled through my baby’s April 1st birthday more than once. I’ve won and lost. I put out a book. I’ve done everything I can think of to take the sting out of March - May.


And I kind of thought I had it down. That I was past all that. Until this year.

Unfortunately, springtime 2024 hasn’t brought me tulips and dancing in the rain. Rather, it’s been low grade panic attacks, a dismal mood for a while, struggle, flashbacks, triggers, and the deep-seated desire to have never heard the words autoimmune encephalitis. It's also the wish that mental health didn’t affect me the way it does. And a lot of doctoring.


But here’s the good news: Summer’s coming!


This time around, I’m not new to my mind folding a bit. 2021 was disastrous and took me by surprise. It also showed how ill-informed I remained about mental health. I still had a lot to learn and understand. But I’ve worked at it long enough now that it’s deeply rooted in me. I know that these periods are seasons, just like the weather. I’ve learned to talk back to my anxiety and say, “We’re not doing this!” Or, “I hear you, nerves, but this isn’t your mind talking, Jackie. It’s the anxiety.” I appreciate that naming something takes away its power. And knowing what it is and how it operates helps control it.

For quite a while now, I’ve had to keep reassuring myself that just like I had to get through AE from March to May, to get to the beginnings of healing in June, I have to get through this spring season to get myself to the warmth of summer. And I’ll probably have to do it for all my years.


Life can be so damn hard. As Kate Bowler says, being human is a chronic condition. But as Jackie Stebbins says, if we never had to SuRvive and Recover, we’d never get the fun of Rebuilding.

I genuinely hate how much my brain has been interrupted. But it’s the hand I was dealt, and I need to keep playing it. I must always Just Keep Swimming to the promise of Better Days Ahead. And here’s my new secret to do just that: I will remember that summer’s coming.


Today is May 1st - which means that it’s the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month. Which means that I’m going to be on a month-long kick to remind everyone that they matter and that they aren’t alone. I see you and I hear you. I struggle too. 


I’m also here to nudge you to say it with me, “Summer’s coming!”

No matter where you’re at or how you’re feeling right now, I want you to believe it. Summer is always on its way.

Three cheers to you, my JM Stebbins friends! To good health; to positive mental health; to wellness; to happiness; and to the human condition. Let’s all be aware of mental health this May, together.


Luv, jackie

PS Watch all my social medias this month for the chance to win a stack of Pure Vida mental health bracelets. As I type this, I'm wearing my custom-made Unwillable bracelet, my bright green Unwillable-inspired bracelet, and one called Hakuna Matata that I purchased for good luck when I interviewed Susannah Cahalan. If you’re unfamiliar with Pure Vida, look them up. They’re really an attitude, not a company. And they’re super fun!

“Hey, alright now

And don’t it feel good!!

Yeah, oh yeah

And don't it feel good!!

“Walking on sunshine

Walking on sunshine

“I feel alive, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real

I feel alive, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real

“I’m on sunshine baby oh, oh yeah

I’m on sunshine baby oh” Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and The Waves


/ / The JM Stebbins blog is an autoimmune encephalitis blog by former lawyer and autoimmune encephalitis survivor, Jackie M. Stebbins.

Jackie M. Stebbins is also the author of Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim my Brain, a book about autoimmune encephalitis, resilience, hope, and survival. / /


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