Thursday, September 1, 2016

My Lyme Road

For those close to me, you probably know the transition my health has taken over the last several years. But for those who are new to my life or those who may just be on the outskirts or might not understand how my Lyme disease has affected me, I want to summarize it. It also helps me to put things down on paper so I can see the progress I've made on days when it feels like all I do is move backward.

I want to state blatantly, though, this post isn't for sympathy or for someone to tell me how strong I am. I'm not. I'm a survivor. That doesn't make me strong. Please lend your understanding, but keep the sympathy for someone who deserves it.

Lyme disease is caused by spirochete bacteria (they look like little corkscrews) called borrelia bergdorferi. They are typically vomited into the body by a tick after it bites and feeds on your blood. Sometimes there's a rash and flu-like symptoms. In my case, there were not and I don't remember the bite. So, I could have had it from just a few months before testing positive, or I could've had it since I was a kid...or anywhere in between. Symptom wise, I believe I was infected somewhere between 2004 and 2007. For those who are immediately diagnosed, treatment is quick, usually simple and while the antibodies are always there, generally speaking, it's "cured" by most definitions. Testing is incredibly difficult because accurate testing has not been developed. It's a hit-or-miss kind of thing, so the fact that my tests came back positive is miraculous enough. Most Lyme patients don't get solid proof that they have it.

For those of us who are bitten and don't realize it, it turns from acute Lyme disease to chronic Lyme disease. It's also incredibly difficult to treat because the CDC does not recognize chronic Lyme disease as an actual disease. They (along with most medical doctors) believe that once a round or two of antibiotics is administered that the disease is cured. Any symptoms beyond that treatment is considered "post-treatment Lyme disease treatment" and "in rare occasions lasts more  than six months". Considering the hundreds of thousands of people with ongoing Lyme disease, this is not the case. It's not "rare" that it lasts longer than six months. Almost everyone who has been treated for Lyme disease beyond the immediate period following an infected tick bite goes on to suffer from months and years of ongoing symptoms, if not a lifetime of fighting relapses and risks of reinfection. It's important to know that while the CDC is one of the most knowledgeable sources on most diseases, for years they refused to recognize the sheer volume of patients diagnosed with Lyme disease. They hid the truth from the public, and they've hidden treatments, tests and other truths about the disease itself from those who suffer from it. I caution anyone with Lyme or if you think you may have Lyme to research as much as you can, but seek treatment from a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor. These doctors have been specially trained and certified for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease and its co-infections.

Anyway, back to my truths...

Those corkscrew bacteria are Satan in a molecule. They are like teenage boys: they screw EVERYTHING. Cells, organs, blood, tissue, muscles, brain, eyes, name it and it's going to penetrate it. In the late-stage chronic lyme sufferers (like myself), when it penetrates the brain, it literally drills into the gray matter in your skull and permanently damages everything in its path, microscopically speaking. For me, it started in my thyroid and moved up my spine, through my cerebellum and into my temporal lobe. It has affected memory, hearing, speech, body temperature balance, ability to think of correct words and phrases, moods, and caused me increased sensitivity to noise, temperature and smell. I have muscle fatigue, pain in most of my joints, exhaustion in general as well as everything I mentioned above. Sometimes, I have good days. Most of the time, I'm average. But my bad days are bad. Those are when I stay in bed, limit my interaction and sleep - not just for recovery, but for the sake of saving relationships because my moods are volatile and I can't control them well. Anxiety attacks can come out of nowhere, last for hours and take days to recover from. So can bouts of rage and anger. These mood swings zap energy from me and it takes me a long time to get over them, much less the repercussions of the people who are in the path of my tornadic destruction.

It also affects my balance, my equilibrium, my organ function, my immune system, my breathing/cardio abilities, and my energy levels. You'll sometimes hear me refer to having -or not having- spoons. That's based on the Spoon Theory, which describes what many chronic illness sufferers deal with: http://www.butyoudontlooksick. com/articles/written-by- christine/the-spoon-theory/

Again...the symptoms aren't all the time...and not all symptoms at once (usually)...but my bad days can cover quite a few symptoms in varying degrees of strength.

As far as the timing of my diagnosis, I can only go off of what my symptoms were and when they developed. While depression and anxiety have been lifelong issues for me, the majority of the other symptoms began in the mid-2000s. My mother-in-law remembered me talking about being bitten by a tick in 2004 after we'd taken in some baby bunnies who'd been abandoned by their mother, and I remember picking numerous ticks off of them when we first brought them inside. I don't remember the bite, but my MIL did. By January 2008, I had dealt with several episodes of Bells Palsy (where it looks like somebody's had a stroke and half their face is sliding off their skull), which is usually a symptom of late stage Lyme. I had major health issues in 2012 when my reproductive organs began failing. I lost my right ovary in Feb 2012 to a dermoid teratoma tumor, then lost the uterus and cervix in May that year. Six months later, I went back under the knife a third time so the doctors could repair what didn't heal correctly. Menopause began shortly after that and I've dealt with numerous hormonal changes. This was also when the major mental and emotional issues began. They never seemed to get better. I blamed all the anesthesia, but as it turns out, most likely, it was Lyme related. I was finally diagnosed in 2014 at the urging of several friends, and it has pretty much consumed my life since then.

I have taken a plethora of antibiotics, both oral and intravenously. I have changed dietary habits, added numerous vitamins and supplements, hormone replacements, anxiety and depressive medications as well as hordes of natural and homeopathic regimens to help ward off the symptoms I deal with.

I have, during the course of my treatment, felt suicidal and hopeless more often than I care to admit. I also push people away who either aren't strong enough to deal with the ugliness of this disease or lack the strength of dealing with me while I fight this disease. I am incredibly difficult to love right now. I tend to keep to myself as often as possible.

Again, I don't want sympathy or pity. But I will happily take your acceptance. I'll take your attempt at understanding. I'll take your commitment to learn more about it. I'll take your proactive approach to preventing it in your own lives and the lives of your pets and children. I'm not strong. I'm not a hero. And I don't deserve your admiration for persevering through this hideous disease. But I will gladly help you learn more so you don't wind up like me.

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