The Gift of Lyme…and Other Chronic Illnesses: An invitation to come home
So, if you found your way here chances are you are struggling with your own health crisis or you have your own story of recovery … welcome! It is a courageous, exhausting (and sometimes lonely) journey. I won’t spend much time on the medical or physical aspects of my illness because there is no one-size-fits-all experience with Lyme, but here are the nuts and bolts surrounding mine ...
No one knows for sure exactly which time or which tick “did the job.” I was bit twice in almost the same spot, in the exact same month, 12 months apart … November. It was a chaotic time in my family, and I was not very educated about Lyme. I discovered the tick, took it off, flushed it, and moved on. Knowing what I know today, a better plan would have been to: (1) Test the tick immediately and (2) Start a 3-week course of Doxycycline. But there was no bull’s eye so, at the time, I figured all was cool (Lyme Fun Fact: Only 20% of Lyme infected ticks actually cause a bull’s eye). I had a strange fever, and I do recall a weird rash (hindsight … ), but I just kept moving. Symptoms increased --- joint pain, swelling in my leg, headaches, exhaustion, brain fog, vertigo, motion sickness, visual impairment, and so on --- a familiar story to many.
Fast forward 6 months. That’s how long it took from the time I got bit to diagnose the Lyme. Six months for that little bugger (or Spirochete) to make a strong home in my body, unimpeded. My CD57 was a 19 --- this is one of the most significant markers of Chronic Lyme. It meant I only had 19 Soldiers left fighting for me. My immune system was over run. I also had Co-Infections, such as Bartonella and Ehrlichia, as well as several other viruses that the Lyme woke up and brought to the party (EBV, CMV, Mono and others).
I am not going to get into treatment here because I want to be super transparent that I am not endorsing ANY particular protocol. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all experience, I believe the same is true as far as treatment plans are concerned. What follows below is my take on MY illness as well as my general philosophy on life …
OK. Deep breath … and TRY to keep an open mind. I believe a chronic illness is a gift. I really do. It is an invitation and a catalyst to heal ourselves on so many levels --- Body, Mind, Heart, and Soul --- and it REQUIRES us to heal on every level if we are to experience a true sense of well-being and wholeness. Many of us would not take on this courageous journey willingly without being faced with such a health challenge.
“The Universe always answers our prayers ...sometimes we don’t see the gift because we DON’T like the packaging.”
Having lived with both Lyme Disease and Endometriosis, I know how natural it can be to disconnect from one’s body when suffering from a chronic condition out of self-preservation. Some of us may have even “checked out” PRIOR to the illness and may already be living in a world of distractions --- things like online shopping, social media, endless exercising, over-working, and even alcohol --- to avoid FEELING anything unpleasant … in which case, I challenge you to view your ‘getting sick’ as a REAL wake up call and requirement to get intimate with being PRESENT in your life and in your body. Because that’s where every path to total wellness begins. In fact, Healing only happens in present time … simple, isn’t it!?!
So, what is HEALING anyway?
This is a question I have prayed on daily for many, many months. Sometimes it goes like this: “God guide me and show me what needs to be healed in my life … .”
I don’t believe “getting better” and healing are the same thing. I don’t believe healing is linear. I don’t believe the goal of a chronic illness is to just make the symptoms go away and move on as if nothing happened, feeling robbed of precious time. What’s the point in that? Where’s the loving hand of the universe there?
From the depths of my soul, I view chronic illness as a Sacred Journey in which we are CALLED to heal on many levels. This kind of healing is not for sissies! This kind of healing will shake your very foundation! It causes all hell to break loose … thank GOD … so it can be put back together in a completely new, magnificent way. THIS kind of sacred illness is one in which you come out the other side completely transformed!
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”-proverb
For me, this means that the physical body is being used as a vessel or a tool for growth and healing … Mind, Body, Heart and Soul.
So, how can you start improving your quality of life even while you’re still living with ‘Dis Ease’?
Here’s my experience…
I didn’t expect to get sick. I don’t think anybody does. One of the first real lessons for me was to admit (to MYSELF) that my body wasn’t cooperating any longer with what my WILL wanted it to do. It simply wouldn’t push through, and THAT was certainly a new experience. Slowing down wasn’t my thing. My gears were stuck in 5th to overdrive … I did everything fast even when I wasn’t in a rush. So, learning to slooooowwwww down created a lot of shame and anxiety for me. I felt unproductive and very grouchy (just ask my kids). I had no idea at this point that some of the greatest gifts were about to unfold out of this HUGE discomfort. The truth is, I think my emotional body and mental body were in WORSE shape than my ACTUAL body!
Ahhhhh, the lessons:
Letting go of expectation. Over and over each day I would set out to do FAR more than most HEALTHY people could do, and I would run out of steam over and over again, feeling like a failure … until I learned to do less and stop judging myself according to my OUTPUT. I was such a conditioned HUMAN DOING instead of a HUMAN BEING … so cliché, but there is a reason clichés come about now, huh?
Oh, yes, and then there was the doozy of a lesson called: Learning to accept help. Can you relate yet? I was always the giver…much more comfortable that way…but as I learned from author, Brene Brown, true giving can only happen when we learn to receive. In time, I started accepting help. Actually, that is so not true. ON MY KNEES with exhaustion and left with no option, I reluctantly asked for help with rides for the kids, help with meals, etc.
“No one said growth was going to be easy, only that it would be worth it.” Tony Robbins
And there were other gifts to follow. I needed to dig way deeper into this “healing stuff” rather than just survive the day-to-day perils of a disease most couldn’t even visibly see. If I had a dollar for every time someone would see me out and about (after naps of course) and say, “Well, you LOOK great!” … I really wished that meant something. But, luckily, I had evolved enough at this stage as a 40-something year old to realize “looking” great means NOTHING without actually “feeling” great.
So back to digging deeper. I discovered that I had my own sneaky version of “checking out” and not wanting to be in my body. Here is how it looked …Lesson 432: Living from Authenticity & Faith
It always started with me hyperfocusing on “feeling yucky” in my body. From there? Let the domino effect begin. Feeling yucky quickly triggered massive fear for me … fear of the unknown, fear of never being well, fear of being no fun, fear of being worthless etc. I REALLY didn’t like feeling physical discomfort … which led to feeling intense EMOTIONAL discomfort (more fear). I felt unsafe in my own body. So, at this point, my MIND would come in to control the whole situation (fear AND denial - a perfect match). I’d smile A LOT and pretend I was fine. And get really busy just being busy. Authenticity? Out the window! I’d set out to accomplish more in my day than my body would allow (more denial).
So, what’s missing? What was the solution? My body was freaking out. My emotions were out of whack. And my HEAD was just making it all much worse (sound familiar?). Round and round we go … until I remembered a principle I learned in church basements: Fear is a lack of FAITH. Ahhh, yes. My spirit was completely missing from this whole merry-go-round.
Lyme has also taught me how to just sit with discomfort in my body … to almost be an observer, without panicking. I can notice the sensations in my body now without judging them as BAD or DANGEROUS or triggering CATASTROPHIC thinking. It also showed me other situations in my life that I was perhaps over reacting to. Learning this skill enabled me to keep my situation in perspective. The truth was, in that moment, there were many people feeling MUCH better than I was feeling...AND there were MANY people much sicker. This, to me, was a down and dirty lesson in true ACCEPTANCE. Not the kind of acceptance we tie with a pretty bow. This had grit, compassion, and honesty for the reality of my current situation. Accepting Life on Life’s terms!
Approaching my life and my illness from this NEW perspective was yet another gift and blessing in my life. It allowed me to move towards the next lesson ☺ Look at all these opportunities for growth --- isn’t this amazing? (Side note: The alternative to viewing Lyme as a gift in my life was to choose to move through all of this feeling like a victim).
“The most powerful choice we can make is to either believe everything in life is being done TO us … or FOR us.” - interpretation from Albert Einstein
SO by being honest each day about how I was physically doing, I could then realistically plan my day (much easier freed from the extra emotional stress). This taught me several things. One was to evaluate my priorities and then to make intentional choices based on those priorities. I only had so much gas in the tank...SO #1 was guarding my quality time with my family by napping periodically when my body said stop. If I pushed too much doing less important errands or tasks, I risked being too tired to enjoy any real connection during our family time.
I also learned that physical discomfort did NOT equal emotional discomfort. Translation: Feeling tired did not give me permission to be impatient or snappy with the kids or with random people in traffic. Once I stopped making X equal Y when the equation wasn’t actually true, life got a lot smoother around the house. I was committed to reshaping this destructive pattern by being vigilant in spotting it and then reshaping it...often speaking (praying) out loud, “My Body is separate from my Heart & Soul! Right now I feel sick. AND I am still in charge of my attitude...help me choose patience and kindness.” I was actually learning some solid Patience sprinkled with a little Grace. Those alone were invaluable lessons.
Another BIG hurdle was self-care! I used to think self-care was CODE for “going to the spa to waste time and money!” Seriously! (No judgement – spa days have their purpose too). I needed to learn that it was OK to take care of myself. In fact, it was MY job to do so. But what did that actually look like? It meant making healthy food choices to support my body (no soy, dairy, wheat or corn,etc). It meant getting a good night sleep...regularly. It meant actually taking the physical cues to rest when my body started shaking instead of ignoring it and ‘whipping’ it to DO more. I learned that sometimes my need to rest had to take priority over my daughter’s “need” to go to the mall. Getting used to slowing down and doing things to nourish my body took time. I had to be gentle with the old sabotaging tapes running in my head. You know, the ones that say, “I should be more productive,” “I’m no fun,” “I should be tougher,” “Everyone else is going to work today,” etc. So, little by slow, I gently and diligently re-wired these tapes with Mantras: “I am worth it,” “I am healing,” “My body is wise and resilient”.
“I will NOT do for you what YOU can do for yourself.” - unknown
The BONUS here is that through learning how to care for myself, my kids also learned to be more thoughtful of others’ needs. They learned about give and take, and we all grew into a more cooperative family unit. No more MOM as a MARTYR. The kids stepped up in many ways around the house. The truth is, I was doing too much for them anyway. So, another unexpected lesson and gift was that the balance of responsibility was restored in our home.
And, now, let’s break for another commercial endorsement for Reiki Healing xox …
Many people with chronic illnesses become hardwired to FEELING BAD. Moods are darker, tolerance is thinner, fun-drive is lost, motivation is lower … we are used to feeling unwell and generally heavy. Our vibration is literally energetically lower. This becomes our normal. For me, it was absolutely essential to LEAN HEAVILY on my spiritual tools (yoga, meditation, community connection and, of course, Reiki) in order to rewire my “normal” from a place of malaise and low vibration to one of VIBRANCE and high vibration. There is a reason it is called a PRACTICE! The benefits don’t miraculously occur the first time you meditate. It happens by returning to the practice, time and again, through-out one's life.
Reiki was particularly important though...it helped me re-groove the neural pathways in my brain (specifically the amygdala) from one of Dis – Ease to a feeling of calm, peace, and genuine ease … even when there was still fatigue and discomfort present. I learned to SHIFT my attention back to my spirit, again and again (literally breath by breath at times) to allow my innate energy to shine forth.
I had to learn to make peace with my body … to learn that I have value and worth that isn’t determined by the health of my physical body. I had to learn that my body was a safe place to be for my heart and soul and that I was strong enough to tolerate discomfort. Reiki helped me learn how to stay Home and Present in my CURRENT body!
“The universe does many things on all levels at all times.” - Jonathan Glass
So, in the end, for me, Lyme was NOT an unfortunate hand to be dealt or a challenge to bear and move through. It was an opportunity for so many blessings to come into my life … so much growth … so many levels of healing. This was the GIFT of Lyme!