I laid awake in bed, hour after hour, night after night. 

I suffered from insomnia. 

My mind raced and I feared the worst. 

The worst was that if I didn’t snap out of it, I was going to lose my job, my livelihood, my business and the life I was building. 

I was terrified.  

While I suffered from insomnia at night, I was a busy trial lawyer at my own law firm by day.  Because of the stressful nature of our job, many lawyers become depressed.  I believed that I too was suffering from depression.  And then anxiety set in, a clenched jaw and tremors.  I decided to take a week’s break from work and believed that I would be good as new in no time.  

Unfortunately for me, I never returned to work as a lawyer or to my law firm.  After I left work, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations, full body tremors, short term memory loss and cognitive failure developed.  I did not speak, I stared.  I didn’t know the date or time.  I checked myself into the psychiatric ward hoping to find relief from my complete dysfunction, but did not find that relief and was instead misdiagnosed with mental health conditions.  

Upon my release from the ward, my health and behavior got remarkably worse.  My husband of ten years and my young children watched me slowly slip away.  I was only thirty-four years old.  

It was finally the wisdom of a local nurse practitioner at the behavioral clinic who believed I had a neurological condition and expedited my referral to a local neurologist.  She saved my life.  The quick thinking of my neurologist was also lifesaving, as he believed I had a serious and rare brain illness called “auto-immune encephalitis.” In the infancy of my diagnosis, I had a grand mal seizure which was the grand finale of my diagnosis.  

My name is Jackie M. Stebbins and I am an auto-immune encephalitis survivor.  I have lived a nightmare of such a grand scale, that I’m still in disbelief.  I didn’t think it could happen to anyone, much less me.  I had never even heard of auto-immune encephalitis.  My psychiatric issues, confusion, memory loss, physical debilitation and seizures were all symptoms of the disease.  

Auto-immune encephalitis is a significant brain illness related to malfunctions of the immune system.  According to the Encephalitis Society, encephalitis is inflammation of the brain.  It is caused by an infection or through the immune system attacking the brain.  Anyone can be affected by encephalitis, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.  It affects 500,000 people across the world each year.  Survivors can be left with an acquired brain injury which changes lives.  

78% of people across the world do not know what encephalitis is.  To commemorate World Encephalitis Day on February 22, I organized the inaugural BrainWalk in Bismarck at 9 a.m. at the YMCA track.  Through this walk, I wish to spread awareness about the rare and devastating brain illness that alters and take lives.  Please join me in the BrainWalk on February 22!

Jackie M. Stebbins is a former criminal defense and family law attorney.  She started JM Stebbins, LLC as a writer and motivational speaker to spread awareness about autoimmune encephalitis.  Jackie was born and raised on a small farm/ranch in Bowman, ND.  Jackie will always consider Bowman, home.

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