Even with PANS, Life Goes On — One Song, One Mantra at a Time

When we were in the midst of finding healing for our youngest, who began showing symptoms of PANS almost three years ago and was finally diagnosed at 11, my husband and I hardly had time to think about how the chaos one child created would affect the other two down the road. Well, if a recent car ride with my oldest tells me anything, it tells me that life really does go on. And for him, it goes on one song at a time. 

The two-hour drive taking him back to college could actually be turned into a podcast for other kids with PANS / PANDAS siblings. It was that insightful.

Evan drove and put the aux cord to good use, playing a consortium of songs by his favorite artists — from Frank Ocean and Travis Scott to Kid Cuti. I dare say that Evan would be shocked that I remember even this from our drive.

I remember that and a whole lot more. I remember Evan’s passion for sharing what the songs mean, literally — and what they mean to him personally.

I remember him stopping each song a few times to tell me what I just heard, and then telling me what some of the words actually mean in the the context of the lyrics.

I remember Evan turning up the volume one notch at a time, right arm pumping the air, left hand on the wheel. And to think that less than two years go I was preaching ‘two hands on the wheel’ from the passenger seat.

I remember him wiping the beads of sweat from his upper lip, never missing a beat in explaining the last bar sung.

Evan was fully engaged the 120 minutes we were together, and I was honored to be his captive audience.

So in my best Casey Kasem voice, I bring you the top three lyrical messages that will resonate with me for quite some time — inspired by my oldest son on Route 360.

Biking” by Frank Ocean comes in as a solid bronze, with a straightforward message about life’s twists and turns. Likening life to a forever long bike ride, this song paints a landscape of hills and valleys — highs and lows. Hard times will come — look forward and pump hard uphill. Life will throw all sorts of sh!t at you — swerve left and then right, but don’t overcorrect and stay on track. When you don’t expect it, life will give you a chance to shine — ride that ramp, flip that air trick, and land that bike. But don’t stop at the last trick, turn or trial — life stops for no one, and neither does this ride.

“Carousel” by Travis Scott, straight from the album ASTROWORLD, which dropped just days before Evan’s 18th birthday, is a solid second, spinning lyrics about the pressures of fame, juxtaposed by imagery of leveraging fame for the good of many. Travis first shares a message describing the cyclical, mundane nature of routine and habits. He equates fame to a carousel ride — around and around, watching life go by in a blur, always feeling like his fans want more and more, never able to stop life for a minute and think clearly.

Wait. Stop. Look at the same fame a few verses later through a brighter, more focused lens:

Brand new, brand new
This new place I got to . . .
New growth, new growth
All these fakes I outgrew

“Reborn” by Kid Cuti, highly acclaimed as my anthem by my disc jockey son, tops the charts, offering a poignant message of new-found strength, self-reflection and stability. In fact, the lyrics are so fearlessly insightful that they shall speak for themselves.

I’m so, I’m so Reborn. I’m moving forward.
Keep moving forward. Keep moving forward.
I had my issues. Ain’t that much I could do.
Peace is something that starts with me. With me.

Reborn. Peace. Me. These three words make for a beautiful mantra.

An Endearing, Musical Lifeline
Three songs, each with completely different messages and personal connections. Yet they hold their own place in our conversation and in how Evan identifies with his life experiences — much of which have been touched by his brother’s PANS journey.

Not only am I thankful for the car ride with Evan, I have a new appreciation for the artists who gave him a lifeline when I could not — either because I was absorbed with Aidan’s PANS or floundering in the aftermath on a personal level.

Evan also taught me something else about music and open-mindedness. ‘Too many people refuse to listen to music – especially rap – that uses cuss words and dark imagery. What folks don’t realize is that the language these artists use is part of who they are, what they know, and it’s okay.’

Stop the record right there. Drop the mic.

My son, who — upon looking back on our family’s journey — has had a lot to reconcile with and figure out on his own. Evan was five when Aidan was born. At seven, Evan said to me, ‘I feel like you give all your attention to Aidan because he cries all the time.’

He was right. And from Evan’s seventh year through his sixteenth year, we were still racking our brains trying to figure out how to heal Aidan.

Eleven years of Evan’s life were consumed with Aidan, and with mom and dad being consumed with Aidan. That is a lot of time consumed — by Aidan.

That is why I absorbed every lyric that I could even partially understand and every syllable of Evan’s explanation and life connection. Never have I wanted to learn from my kids more. Long gone are the days of walks with little ones, pointing out the birds and leaves. Long gone are the bedtime stories and lullaby songs. I will always hold those memories close, but what I yearn for now is learning from my teenagers about how they relate to life and the journey our family has lived. It’s part of who they are, it’s what they know, and YES, it’s okay.

I know for certain that I am forever changed by Aidan’s PANS illness, years of misdiagnosis and searching for answers. I also knew that growing up in a home with a sibling whose psychiatric condition never seemed to ease would have lasting effects on my older two.

Evan’s five-year age separation from Aidan, his involvement in travel and high school soccer, and friendship circle played a big part in how he coped as well as he did. I also now have a glimpse into how music has influenced his life, helped him relate to life, and affirmed that he was not alone.

Isn’t that what everyone wants? To know that we are not alone and that someone before us made it to a better place in life?

In all transparency, that’s what I want. Also, in complete transparency, after I helped Evan unload his duffle bags of clothes, sound bar, computer monitor, and bags of groceries, I hugged and kissed him good bye, and easily fell into the comfort of a drive home listening to Keith Urban and his many songs from the late ‘90s until now that have made ‘memories of us’.

As parents of kids struggling to be themselves and find healing, in the end we are left with a lot of memories. Many we want to erase. Some we want to rewind. Others we want to cherish.

My ride with Evan back to college will be one that I cherish — one song at a time — for a very long time. Thank you for the memory, Evan.

And for my new mantra.

Reborn. Peace. Me.

MJ Keatts is a mom of three – one of whom inspired her to start this blog. A journalist by trade, minimalist at heart, and a stunt girl in her dreams, MJ proudly admits that she’s learned more from her kids and husband than she could ever teach them herself. She loves to laugh – especially at herself – and one day hopes to amaze her husband and be ready on time.


  1. Beautiful. Totally agree w Evan… music sometimes is the only thing that helps me relate and relax from the nightmare. I was so moved by What about Us I wrote to P!nk!
    It’s hard to explain, but music and singing have always been a saving grace throughout my whole life. I am so glad you had the time to share w Evan, and the music kept him moving through the turmoil of living with PANS!


  2. Thank you so much for sharing. This affects the entire family on multiple levels. My Panda’s younger brother wanted nothing to do with our family during his illness and even set up his own play dates. My Panda’s older brother had an amazingly calm effect on all of us. He could reach his brother when we couldn’t. Over a year later, my Panda, his older brother and my husband are doing great. His younger brother and I are definitely taking longer to heal but we are getting there!


  3. Well, MJ, you did it again! Once again, you took an experience and made it relatable. I think as a parent we are always concerned about what we are doing or not doing and how that will affect our children’s experiences while they are growing up. While our PANDAS kid was the oldest, we worried how his little sister watching the destruction he created all around her play out in her little mind. Since she is still young we will not know the effects of her reality for awhile but after reading your post, I see that this life she has been put in is part of her journey, one that we have some input in and even less control in how her mind makes sense of what she sees now and how her mind will use this information and shape how she sees these same things in the future. For us, our faith in God and how He uses All things for His good for those who serve Him helps us cling together in the worst of this PANDAS journey, our sense of humor because, man, some of the crazy things these PANDAS kids do will make you want to laugh out loud. I mean, you cannot make up some of the crazy stuff these kids say and do! And I never thought of it much until you mentioned it but, music and dancing got us through alot of days! The kids would take turns putting on a performance for us, singing and dancing. It was all they had to give and we were all they had! Remember how small our worlds were when our kids were in crisis. Thankfully, we are in a better place now but we can’t ever forget were we were. It’s a part of who we are now and that is OK. We will all be OK!


  4. Thank you for sharing MJ ~ and Evan. Your journey has made you both stronger!


  5. Beautiful, MJ. I had several really meaningful conversations with Evan while he was home on Christmas break. This young man has a real depth and understanding that I’ve rarely seen in someone so young. Although PANS affected his young life, it also took him through his metamorphosis … and now … with your guidance … he can fly. Love you!


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