Lyme Lessons Learned

About a month ago I promised to share some of the knowledge we’ve accumulated about Lyme Disease as we pass the two year “crapiversary”  since our diagnoses. (I say “OUR” because 3 of the five of us have had Lyme. ) I always begin with the same preamble reminding my (amazing) readers that I am in NO WAY a Lyme Disease authority. Sadly, my French and Spanish degrees did not qualify me to dispense medical advice. (Mais, pourquoi?) I can’t lose sight of the inspiration that originally motivated me to begin writing. From a practical standpoint, I had endured years of limbo, unable to connect the dots that finally led to a diagnosis. Newly diagnosed Lyme warriors don’t leave the doctor’s office with a tri-fold pamphlet detailing their treatment regimen. No one sits down with you to explain what needs to happen, or how long it will take.

But I also wanted to share the hope that drives this little blog, which is to say that we have a choice to make, to sink or swim. To keep pushing for answers and glimpses of hope when the days get long and progress is hard to measure. And the reality is that we are getting well.  We are getting well DESPITE the fact that a lack of consistent information initially impeded our diagnoses and recovery.

If you are at the beginning, and are looking for information on our diagnostic process and early symptoms, our story starts here.  As so many Lyme warriors do, at about 18 months into treatment we hit a wall. We had settled in with a Lyme Literate physician and a course of treatment that seemed to be working…until it wasn’t. Left with lingering and troubling symptoms, we were at wits end, or whatever one step farther from wits end is, and anyone who knows us can vouch for that. We needed a new plan, but there was no road map. I carved out a large chunk of time, taking a week to do a very deep dive to see if there were new treatments, studies, or physicians that we had missed. I interviewed doctors by phone, read approximately 273 books on Lyme recovery and found some of the most redemptive stories from physicians who’ve struggled with Lyme themselves and discovered that the treatment guidelines were woefully inadequate. Many of those physicians recovered after DECADES of illness and emerged with a resolve to change the course of Lyme treatment and education, armed with the understanding that recovery has to be more holistic than they ever imagined. And I wish I had read those stories two years ago.

But the most helpful and amazing direction came from friends of friends and IMG-6390friends of family who have RECOVERED from Lyme. Recovered as in zero Lyme in their bloodstream after years of being ravaged by the disease. I went a little nutty, huddled in hotel bathrooms on family trips, talking on my cell phone to people willing to share what finally got them well, scribbling notes and asking questions. And I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who participated in this endeavor.

We are back on track and the new plan is working. I’m going to throw some things out at you, in the stream of consciousness style that drives my husband insane, and I’ll come back with more details later. These are the things that I wish I had known from the beginning.

Allow me to step aside for a moment to reiterate that we are doing SO MUCH BETTER. Our original treatment regimen took us about 90% of the way there…but we were left with some hard to treat symptoms that made life difficult. I have full faith that we will also be among those 100% success stories, but what we didn’t know and what we didn’t DO did hurt us…and that’s why I’m offering my “lessons learned” along with some links. I encourage you to take a breath, do your own deep dive, and arm yourself with questions for your doctor. Our recovery is requiring a more holistic, comprehensive  process than we ever imagined, but it has also introduced life practices that we will never abandon. Once I wrapped my brain around this holistic lifestyle, we started to turn the ship around. You guys, we sit in salt caves and sip herbal tea on our front porch.

First of all: A positive diagnosis   is a blessing and a curse. For us, it was a relief because it explained a constellation of symptoms that confounded our doctors for several years.  There was finally a name for it…and we remain among the lucky few who were probably diagnosed within 2-4 years of contracting it. A positive diagnosis is an end to the constant preoccupation that something is really wrong with you. And it’s also the beginning of a marathon, as you begin to track down which co-infections you have and prioritize what needs to be dealt with first.

If I could do it over again,  I would take extended time off BEFORE TREATMENT to research treatment protocols, nutrition, genetics, inflammation, and detoxing. Learning about Lyme is like drinking water from a fire hose. We have found the most helpful resources from Lyme Literate doctors. Our doctor was on the board of ILADS, and she had a deep understanding of how genes, nutrition, and inflammation shape the course of illness and recovery.

I wish I had known that the same tick can bite two different people, and cause vastly different symptoms because of multiple factors at play. Dr. Bill Rawls, a Lyme survivor and author of Unlocking Lyme  calls these “immune disruptors” and they can change the course of your disease and your recovery. These factors include: poor diet (a diet full of processed foods), chronic emotional stress, toxin overload (exposure to mold and other environmental toxins), chronic inflammation, undiagnosed food sensitivities, job stress, job loss, leaky gut, energy stress (the overload of electrical devices, microwave towers, etc.), family stressors, or spousal illness. And some of us can say yes to all of the above. It’s not simply the ticks themselves that wreak all of the havoc on your body, but the inflammatory response caused by the above disruptors that can delay healing. I vastly underestimated the role of these immune disruptors, and we have had to peel back layer after layer to begin making progress again.

We were lucky that our doctor spent a very long time explaining the role of nutrition and supplements, offering a mini seminar on what the body needs in order to heal. She explained that you’ll know you are “getting it right” when your symptoms suddenly worsen. This means you are experiencing a “herx” – a die off of toxins, and you need to then go through a very specific detoxification process to eliminate the “bad guys” from your bloodstream and liver, otherwise you’ve invited the enemy out for battle and you just let them settle in. So yes, you get sicker before you get better. (I was skeptical of this until I experienced it, and witnessed family members experience it. But it does mean that it’s starting to work.) Often the detox protocol is tailored to specific symptoms and co-infections but the ones we’ve found most helpful are epsom salt baths, bentonite clay, infrared saunas, and various herbs to help with the die-off (herxing) symptoms.

I will write more on the role of detoxing  later – but one of the most important pieces of information to have on hand is whether or not you have the genetic make-up to actually heal and detox. Some of us are born with a genetic defect called the MTHFR gene mutation. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT TO KNOW ABOUT that I graced it with capital letters. MTHFR is the enzyme necessary for making glutathione, the enzyme NEEDED in order to get well and detox. If you have the MTHFR gene mutation, you don’t make enough glutathione and you will need to take supplements AND change your diet in order to produce it, so that you can actually detox when you start treatment. Otherwise you will take the medicine and be unable to rid your body of the die-off toxins. The MTHFR mutation  is discovered via blood test.

Guess what – we have the MTHFR gene mutation. We have another name for it that also uses the letters M,T, H, F, and R, but I’m not allowed to say or my mother will  d-i-e.

lyme

I wish I had fully grasped the importance of sleep. This is one of the biggest factors that propels Lyme warriors forward. And insomnia is one of the first symptoms to crop up. Solving sleep issues made life so much easier for us and it would have been SO good to understand that poor sleep significantly impedes recovery. (A cleaner bedtime routine, magnesium, less electronics, and better hydration have improved our sleep.)

I wish I had better understood  the need for a clean diet, free of pesticides, full of pure, filtered water, and very little cheating. As in very little/no alcohol or sugar, as both feed Lyme and worsen symptoms. (We are really fun dinner guests.) But we can have stevia! Stevia fights Lyme, so that’s great. And coconut ice cream. And herbal tea. But eliminating sugar, dairy, gluten, and (most) alcohol has made a huge difference.

I wish I had known about the dangers of electronic overload, mold toxicity, candida, and the benefits of yoga, meditation, and living smaller. An intentional decision to live smaller will help the adjustment to new nutritional limitations and requirements and the bucket of supplements that need to be worked into the daily schedule.

I wish I had known about herbal protocols. The “herbal route” seemed way too “off the grid” for us. But I’ve since learned that many Lyme fighters do multiple courses (as in months and/or years) of pulse-dosed antibiotic therapy and then switch to herbal protocols. Even the most well respected doctors in the field are turning to herbals to come in and “finish” the treatment and clean up the mess left by prolonged antibiotic use. And some use them to begin with. Herbals offer microbial benefits without the side effects of antibiotics. We did not “go herbal” lightly – we interviewed doctors, read books, spoke to now healthy people, and were finally convinced that this was the right path for us.

I know there’s more, but I think this brain dump will have to do for now. The bottom line is that life got better when our treatment got “bigger.” We had to accept the fact that swallowing a handful of antibioticus.jpgs and a cursory effort at healthy eating and detox was just not going to get us well. It required a new way of life that I predict will have us wearing daisy chains in our hair and chanting in the grass, following the path forged by brave warriors who embraced new avenues for treatment. And it also meant that we had to admit how sick we’ve been. For too long we tried to live with normal expectations for our careers, our relationships, and our social lives, fitting treatment into the busy lives we were trying to lead, constantly falling short somewhere. And I think that finally admitting how sick we’ve been has allowed me to let myself off the hook, move forward, and dance at our son’s wedding.

Lyme links that have helped us:

http://www.tiredoflyme.com/

https://rawlsmd.com/

https://www.ilads.org/

https://www.ilads.org/providers-and-members/lyme-disease-fundamentals/

https://www.ilads.org/patient-care/ilads-treatment-guidelines/

https://www.ilads.org/patient-care/provider-search/

https://iladef.org/education/chronic-lyme-dos-and-donts/

 


New Clothes…New Heroes…New Year.

This is kind of the “season finale” in my series about the year we just limped out of, where Jim and I have been sharing our zone defense approach to Lyme Disease. Or rather, Babesia, Bartonella, and Mycoplasma. I should probably show you a picture of what Lyme can look like a year into treatment. Jim took seriously the need to detox during treatment. When you agree to swallow the handful of pills that this war requires, you have to also promise to detox your body from the Lyme spirochetes that the antibiotics “chop” off to swim like poison in your bloodstream…until you take measures to eradicate them. Because if you don’t,  you become even more ill. Fighting Lyme is a huge commitment.

wineJim took up running, cleaned up his diet, starting fighting those bugs, and is now 60 pounds down and HE NEEDS SOME NEW CLOTHES!  (I hesitate to tell him he looks good because I love him big and small, but he really does look good. Please don’t tell him. )

One year post diagnosis, the reflux is gone, the gout is gone, the hypoglycemia is only intermittent, the brain fog has mostly lifted, but his neck still creaks, and sometimes the effects of Lyme treatment make days less than fun to navigate.

But here’s my truth: he is THE PICTURE OF COURAGE, and he is a bad-ass Lyme fighter.

Having Lyme is difficult. DIAGNOSING Lyme can take an average of three years. But TALKING ABOUT LYME….can be even harder, because you risk being labeled a hypochondriac/tree-hugging/attention-seeking histrionic.

Raise your hand if you are a Lyme-fighter who has been told by a doctor that “they don’t really believe in chronic Lyme” or  “those diagnoses are really suspicious.” 

Raise your hand if you are a Lyme-fighter who has been told that “you don’t look sick”  – which is meant to be nice but sometimes feels more like you are lying about being sick.

Raise your hand if you’ve been told that you “just need to clean up your diet” or “you’d be healthier if you were more positive” or “I don’t get sick because I don’t take any pills.” Well…that is fantastic! So happy you don’t have to take pills. (Really!!)

Ticks are tiny, but Lyme is invisible. Until you walk into a Lyme-fighter’s bathroom, you don’t realize that they tell time by the color of their pill case.IMG_4625

Jim had begun his own fight against the Lyme that had taken up residence in his brain, joints, and digestive system. I was jumping through hoops trying to beat back the bugs that lined my bladder and kidneys, and threatened my liver.

sleep

Really. He slept for 36 hours..in the middle of our little cabin in Maine.

And I’m going to hold my breath through this one because it still hurts to linger on, but with permission, I am sharing what I alluded to before: we had no idea that Lyme would continue its assault on our family. Our amazing, funny,  smart favorite third son accepted a scholarship to swim for the University of Virginia in June before his senior year of high school. We were thrilled to see his hard work pay off and his dream become a reality. We cheered when he got his Olympic Trials cut and we laughed when he slept for 36 hours straight afterwards. It was a bright spot in a dark time.

And then he started getting sick. Every three weeks. Every time he ramped up training, added a practice or a dry land session. And it started and ended the same way every time, with body aches, a fever, sore throat, cough/bronchitis, and an ear infection.

His entire senior year was plagued by a cascade of different issues –  different,  but kind of the same. We watched him pick himself up and restart his training so many times we lost count. He fought respiratory infections, migraines, groin and tendon injuries, and even a dangerous infection following a routine vaccine. He endured months of frustration when he wanted to be training and enjoying life before the real work of college and Division 1 swimming began. We LITERALLY saw dozens of specialists and appointments. And yet again, highly pedigreed experts kept assuring us that these were  isolated and easily fixed issues.

The domino effect came to a crash landing with Dylan’s diagnosis of Lyme disease in May.  I still haven’t found a way to describe how it felt to have my own illnesses, a spouse in treatment for Lyme… and a really sick kid. Except to again say that I’m so glad we went first.  When offered a longer, but more tolerable course of treatment, my new hero said “No way, I want to swim, hit me hard.” Watching him tolerate the side effects of treatment while his friends were at beach week completely undid me. I unraveled so quickly and so completely that I’m still not totally…raveled. Not in front of him, but as soon as his back was turned,  and at times to the point that my favorite second son had to literally pick me up off of the floor.

And I still cannot fathom the fact that WE DID NOT SUSPECT LYME in him until months into the crisis. We kept thinking we were at the finish line.

It did not occur to us that it could be Lyme…BECAUSE IT LOOKED SO DIFFERENT. Imagine…both parents in treatment for the same disease, yet WE were still shocked by the answer. This is a problem.

We did only what we could manage: we drew in, closed the circle, unable to engage in life beyond work and Lyme-fighting. I became completely  out of touch with my own issues – my mind disconnected from my body, swallowing the pills but not at all focused on my own healing. Aware that the only thing that propelled me was adrenaline and the churning of my stomach, trying to get a sick kid ready to go to school, study engineering, and compete at the highest collegiate level. I could respond to the urgency of the moment, but I crumbled and wept when not “on duty.”

dylan

This is what got us through…we held on and tried to smile.

Our definition of success is not what it used to be. Despite a strong start, our new hero decided that he has a different dream. He wants to be happy and healthy, and experience all that life in a rigorous program at a top-tier school has to offer. Swimming while fighting lyme and taking a grueling course load was too much. And life is too short.  Bravery looks different to each individual….but to us, it looks like an 19-year-old deciding that he has a different dream, and watching him step forward to own it when it might not be the popular decision. 

I realize that by going into detail about my Iron Man and my 19 year old hero, I’ve neglected the other heroes in our story, the ones who have propped us up. The 23 year old who held his insane parents together when we moved out of our home 48 hours after dropping our last kid at college. The 26 year old hero and his fiancée who shower us with hilarious stories and thoughtful gifts and look for ways to make us laugh. Friends and family who moved into our mess and noted, but kindly ignored, how insane and distracted I was. Loves who sent cookies and ham and magic mac and cheese, and painted giraffes, and painted rooms, and packed boxes, and let us fill their yard with dumpsters full of trash. Friends and family who understand that while we are at our core the same loud people who love and laugh and talk over one another, we are also wounded and guarded and sometimes we have very bad days.

We have a long way to go, but we have come so far.

And we’re not going to keep quiet about it because our story is being repeated in homes all over the country, and especially all over our state. Our kind doctor has shared that she has entire NEIGHBORHOODS in Northern Virginia who are sick with Lyme. Not just entire families – but NEIGHBORHOODS. And we’re not hearing from them because THEY ARE UNABLE TO EXPLAIN IT.  I’m meeting new doctors in our new town, and I’ve already had two of them whisper that Lyme scares them to death…because of what they don’t know. And when they share the treatment protocols they are required to offer, it makes me scared for Lyme patients who think that their two-week course of doxycycline will knock out terrifying neurological Lyme symptoms. And if there is one person in a family with Lyme, chances are pretty good that at least one of your other family members has it as well…since you tend to hang out in the same places.  And trust me, it can and does look different in each person. Lyme is a family epidemic.

23755137_10214539546424021_6756643078523320436_n

Sometimes we pile on all of our warm clothes to catch a sunset.

 

The hard edges of our lives don’t make life all bad. I know some of this will be redeemed.  Anne Lamott writes that

 “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up”. 

It’s a choice to keep laughing, to keep getting up, to seek daily joy, and to keep looking for answers. Our “wins” look different now, with a sunset picnic on skyline drive, or an evening of Netflix after working all day. WORKING. We can WORK! THAT is amazing.

So much love. Happy New Year. God bless you all good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jim’s Story – Part 4: The Lyme Stigma

physicalI had my annual physical this week. We recently moved to a new area, so it was a new doctor, obviously unfamiliar with my medical history, so I came equipped with my story and my experience with Lyme Disease. For what it’s worth, I liked the doctor a lot and he’ll be “my guy” moving forward. That is, for everything other than for Lyme Disease.

This doctor, like so many other doctors and others with whom I’ve engaged over the past three years, doesn’t seem to “buy into” the concept of chronic Lyme Disease.

The physical began, as these things usually do, going over my vital statistics. As mentioned in a previous post because vigorous exercise is a great way to detox during Lyme treatment, I have been exercising like a maniac over the past year. Beyond detoxification, there have been other positive effects of the exercise. My weight is down considerably and, with it, my blood pressure and cholesterol (OK, there’s part of me that’s just bragging right now).

Unfortunately, the exercise has done nothing to cure my bald head (there, how’s that for corresponding humility?)

doc.jpgWhen the doctor asked what else we needed to talk about, I took about five minutes to talk about my Lyme diagnosis and where I am in my treatment. The doctor asked not a single follow-up question about it. Within a few minutes we were back to talk of LDL/HDL, diet and exercise, and college basketball.

Again, I’m taking nothing away from this doctor because in all other ways, he seemed completely awesome (I took some exception to his insistence that it was time for a colonoscopy, but I don’t consider him to be a sadist or anything).

The doctor’s seeming indifference or lack of curiosity about my Lyme came as no surprise.

lymedocMy previous general practitioner, whom I also consider to be awesome, often said this: “When I hear hoof steps out the window, my first thought is ‘horse,’ not ‘zebra.’” What he meant by that was that his first thought is to seek the answer that makes the most sense. That effectively was his rationale for he and his colleagues swinging and missing on my Lyme diagnosis for two full years.

That is why, when I arrived to that practice with acid reflux and neck pain, they recommended Prilosec and Advil. When I arrived with the terrifying symptoms of hypoglycemia, they suggested smaller, more frequent meals. When I came to them with brain fog and word-recall issues, they checked my records and chalked it up to a Vitamin B-12 deficiency. And when I came to them with excruciating pain in my feet and shoulder, they diagnosed it as gout, this despite the fact that my uric acid levels were normal.

When I put it all together and suggested that Lyme Disease might be the culprit, they ordered the standard test that never would come back positive for someone with “chronic Lyme.” So they shook their heads – “No, you don’t have Lyme Disease.”

westernAnd, finally, when I came back to them with the results from what is called a “Western Blot test” that showed I was positive for Lyme, they finally acquiesced. My Lyme diagnosis now met the criteria for Lyme established by the Center for Disease Control.

If convincing doctors is that tough, “believe me” when I tell you that explaining Lyme to friends and family is even more difficult, partially because it is difficult to describe, especially while under the effects of brain fog. It’s also difficult for others to imagine and understand how much havoc Lyme can wreak. Eyes start to glaze over if you begin listing problems ranging from brain fog to sore feet. Invoking the CDC during a family-dinner conversation will not generate understanding. The next sentence is more likely to be, “Pass the carrots,” than “Oh, the CDC, now I understand what you’ve been going through.”

And I think I understand. Before three members of my own family were afflicted, I knew precious little about Lyme. It seemed like the “go-to” malady of the week for the hypochondriac set. “Guess what old Aunt Myrtle’s says she’s got this time? Apparently, she’s got that Lyme thing!”

lyme spellingIf you have cancer, that’s readily understood. If you have a broken leg, hey, there’s the cast – how could you doubt it? If you have pneumonia – “oh, pneumonia!” – people can identify with THAT.

But Lyme Disease?What is that? That must be all in Jimmy’s head.” Putting aside the fact that Lyme actually WAS “in my head,” I can tell you that the stigma associated with “chronic Lyme” makes it something that I, at first, didn’t want to tell anyone. Once I did, the judgment I’d anticipated would accompany the diagnosis was palpable.

I found this passage from “Psychology Today” that provides a relevant perspective:

Being repeatedly told that we look and sound fine can lead us to think it’s our fault that we’re sick or in pain. We can be overcome with guilt, as if we’re failing those we care about, and we can feel embarrassed that we’re not living up to what we’ve convinced ourselves other people are expecting of us. The culture around us reinforces these feelings of guilt and embarrassment by sending the message that no one need be sick or in pain. We’re bombarded by news stories and advertisements telling us that we need only do this or do that in order to be healthy.”

Just have a positive attitude and it will all go away.

lyme2That’s how I felt when the symptoms I described were dismissed by doctors and by many others. Just last week, when I met with my “Lyme doctor” and I told her that I would be having the aforementioned physical the next week with my G.P., she suggested that I be purposely vague about my Lyme treatment. This was something I was unwilling to do, but seeing my new doctor’s indifference to what I was describing, well, it was both familiar and understandable.

And I want to emphasize that point a third time: I understand why people don’t understand. This isn’t to point fingers or seek sympathy. I’m speaking directly to the people with Lyme and who have the symptoms of undiagnosed Lyme. Many of your friends and family will NOT understand. Just this week, after reading my first blog post about Lyme, a family member emailed me and asked “Why did you keep this to yourself?” I presented two or three examples of when we had talked about it and (I think) the light blinked on.

It is that general lack of awareness and the corresponding stigma that contributes to the proliferation of Lyme Disease. There’s not one single, tell-tale symptom. Lyme will masquerade as one or many other things. And the general misunderstanding, the perception by many that it’s not “real,” and the associated label of hypochondriac or “perpetual victim” that accompanies it, well, that hurts. As you’re beginning your ascent out of what can be a deep hole, negative perceptions and doubt of those around you make you feel that much more isolated and hopeless during a time when you need support the most.

lymeBut that can’t stop you from seeking diagnosis and treatment. Because chronic Lyme will NOT go away without sustained treatment. Find the right doctor. Look for the right types of support groups. Find trusted resources that will lead you to the right diagnosis and the right treatment. It’s really tough. And, don’t expect that those around you are suddenly going to sprout the ability to listen, comprehend, or respond.

This is particularly true because, if your experience is like mine, you first told people you had several other things wrong with you. “I have arthritis.” “I have acid reflux.” “I have gout.” “I have meningitis.” “Oh … wait … I don’t have any of those things; I have Lyme.”

You’re the boy who cried wolf. You’re Chicken Little. You’re Darth Vader. OK, maybe you’re not Darth Vader … but C3PO, yeah that fits. C3PO was an incessant worrywart. So, you have to think about people looking at you like Han Solo looked at 3PO during the Empire Strikes Back. When 3PO was screaming about everything that was wrong on the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s response was to scream: “Shut him up or shut him down.”

So, maybe, my whole point is just this. Figure out who the R2D2 is in your life and talk to him.

 

 


A Lyme Chapter Stuck in Edits

edits.jpegToday begins the story that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) openly share with the whole wide internet  because it isn’t my story to tell. With permission and careful rendering, I’m coming out with a chapter that has been stuck in edits for almost a year.

Last fall, as part of my comprehensive lyme treatment, my doctor insisted that she also needed to test Jim for Lyme. (My personal version of  lyme had bypassed my joints and tendons to take up residence in my liver and kidneys. I didn’t understand why testing Jim, who had no issues with his liver or kidneys, could make a difference to my treatment plan.)  And then she explained that couples can “share” lyme. You know… the way couples share things.

therapy.jpegWell, crap. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. For now.  Until we warn our kids and set up some  therapy appointments.

When I approached Jim about being tested for Lyme, he was relieved to turn the research over to the experts. (In our case, the experts are “LLMD’s” – Lyme Literate Medical Doctors.)  He had been scouring the internet on his own for answers for what seemed to be constant, but separate issues for over a year.

When we finally added it up, it seemed extreme to us that in the span of one year, he could develop hypoglycemia, frequent episodes of gout, recurrent heartburn, a strange, creaking neck pain, but most disturbingly, issues with word recall. He was repeatedly reassured by his medical team that these were isolated issues, each with an independent explanation.

Jim and I knew before the lab results were in that we had an answer.

JHoneyim had Lyme disease. As I wrote in May, Lyme doesn’t just give you one “disease.” It’s not like strep throat where a course of antibiotics knocks it out. Once you get a positive Lyme diagnosis, you have to start looking for the possibility of hundreds of different infections you could have been given, triage the most severe ones, and commence treatment. I remember calling him when the tests came in, and it felt like I was giving him good news. How twisted is that?

bulls eye

With a label like this, you’d think more of us would have the rash. You are lucky if you do!

 

Like me (and over 70% of lyme patients) Jim cannot recall having a tick bite. He never had a bulls-eye rash, because only 30% of people in the U.S. actually have that rash. But the number of symptoms he experienced suggest that he had been living with Lyme for at least three years. Wanna take a guess as to when my health really began to decline?

A diagnosis of Lyme is never good news. But finally having an explanation for a set of symptoms that makes question your own state of mind offers a giant “TOLD YOU SO” to practitioners who patted you on the head and sent you off with Tums.

hindsightFor us, relief and grief were knit together, with shock and fear intertwined. How were we to write the next chapter of our future while fighting a disease that threatened our future? And if you go back and re-read last year’s blogs with this year’s knowledge, our struggle (and erratic posting) makes a lot more sense. Stupid hindsight, instigator of regrets.

The next chapter is not my story….but because nine people have been tested and diagnosed as a result of this erratic little blog, Jim has bravely offered to tell his story – because it is very different from mine. And because we want to shout to the world the fact that no lyme diagnosis is the same.

We were devastated to learn that you can have two people in the same house at the same time suffering vastly different symptoms, caused by the same enemy.

And by now you can probably tell that I’ve moved from embracing to being pissed. I promise I’ll try again. But now, I will turn this blog over to my very own Iron Man.jennyandi

 


Lakes, Ribbons, and Changes

Has it really been since May, when the baby giraffe was new and summer was just beginning?

 

I began writing last year to share my story of an unusual path to some unexpected diagnoses – a place for seekers to land when they google things like “liver function tests” and “lyme” and “immune deficiency.” It took more than two years to untangle my myriad diagnoses, and I could have used information paired with hopeful reality during the fun months of limbo where we had no idea as to what was going on. My issues are rare enough that the likelihood of finding someone with the same constellation of illnesses who also happens to blog about them is as likely as my sons voluntarily replacing a toilet paper roll. (And Kristina Alcorn, I had already written this when you posted about this same topic on FB)

 

lyme-slices-for-successful-treatment-recipe-e1466303620638-660x330I chose the name “Embracing Plan B” from a long list of titles – things like “Living the Life You Didn’t Expect” or maybe playing off the lyme theme with something like “When Life Hands You Lyme” or my mother’s favorite which is “What to do When it Seems Like Everything is going to Hell” but that one didn’t really convey the open posture and positive vibe I was going for.

I hoped that the act of Embracing could set the tone for the way I hope to live under a new normal. Embracing is different from surrendering…. or even accepting. Embracing implies a sense of welcome. Arms opened, hands outstretched, proceeding with acceptance while seeking a silver lining. Settling into a new normal the way we sink into the comfy chair. When you embrace change – any change – you stop railing against it, and you open yourself to the new opportunities the change brings. Even a diagnosis provides opportunities to find joy if you are determined to throw confetti during the storm.

My type A self found satisfaction when plans unfolded….as planned. When hurdles were jumped, contingencies mapped, and budgets met. But more often than not, life rarely happens according to plan, and in order to survive and move forward in any area, we have to nurture (and embrace) a sense of resilience.

But, if we’re being honest here… it became harder and harder to write because we had a year where the unexpected came from every direction. Where almost every single corner of life was in limbo, and writing it all down made it much more real. I’ve re-started this blog so many times I’m like a teenager learning to drive a stick shift. But every time we flipped the page to a new month a new issue cropped up. Lyme and its companions have so profoundly affected my family that the last thing I wanted to do was to write about it during my spare time. But a recent visit to our family doctor reminded me that I was gifted with a voice, a laptop, and an annoying habit of googling things and telling everyone about it; because he very humbly shared that the events of the past year (among my own family) has changed the way they view, diagnose, and treat Lyme disease. We’ve shaken them to the point of seeking additional training, and they’ve asked us to use our voice to seek funding for education and treatment, so perhaps it’s time to get back to this.

And when we do finally get to the end of the story of 2017, you’ll understand why my writing has been so unpredictable. But now it appears that I need to get back to this place, where I share how Immune Deficiency, Liver Disease, and Lyme collided in a way that answered many of my questions, but also raised more than we ever imagined.

And when you ARE sick…life would be so much easier if you could just freaking be SICK. But it seems that you still need to make a living, feed the children, pull the weeds, and sort the socks.

But since we last chatted, we’ve launched a new business, sold one home, and found

lake

More on the new place…let’s just say the view looks like this, and all are welcome 🙂

another. We’re chasing a lifestyle that feels simpler, and is allowing us to make a living, feed the children, and pull the weeds. And ever since we unclenched our fists and said “yes” to this new idea, and embraced the fact that this story – OUR story, was going to be an honest part of our future, the doors have continued to open.

 

Right now, three of us (AND OH MY WORD ARE WE MISSING THE OTHER THREE) are in Maine. The place where my soul lives. (At least until August 21st – when my body and belongings will move to another place that feels very much like Maine, and also very much like YES. More about that later. Back to Maine.) Here Jim, Dylan, and I are recovering from the craziest nine months we’ve ever experienced.

We go to sleep to the sound of rain on the tin roof, and wake to fog lifting over the water, the dock inviting us to bring our coffee down. We watch Dylan do his dryland routine on the deck, and dive into ice-cold Maine water to get stronger and chase his dreams, stroke after stroke. As you may have noticed, 18 year olds who are about to go off to college tend to be extremely smart, and are definitely wiser than their ancient parents. Dylan does not escape this same sense of “worldliness” that must make it really difficult to tolerate us.

mom and dylSo please don’t tell him until much later that he has joined the ranks of those I call hero, demonstrating resilience, wisdom, and a depth of character revealed by months that forced all of us to dig deep, try again, go against the grain, and find new paths through uncharted waters. Which is why it’s so good that we are here. In waters that we know. Suspending time for just a little bit longer before

Honey

I think we’ll handle the empty nest just fine. As long as we get Jim to use sunscreen.

we send him off to “go get it.”

So it seems that I am back, you will here more about our story, and I will keep talking about Lyme – how to fight it, how to find it, how to prevent it, and how to live with it. But for now, for a few days, our youngest is still with us. And because we’ve done this a few times now, we know that these few days are just a little sweeter. Here he comes now, wearing only a speedo, sperries, and a backpack, and looking a little bit ridiculous. And I love it. Talk Soon.

So much love.


LymeSplaining Part 4: (Diagnosis)

Lyme ribbon1This is my fourth installment on Lyme disease, as Lyme awareness month wraps up. (But I’m in no way finished talking about it.)  If this is your first time stopping by, you may want to back up and start here. The connections I’ve made with fellow Lyme warriors have further illustrated the fact that everyone in the Lyme community has a long story to tell about their path to diagnosis. Each narrative is different, and yet achingly similar. Contrary to popular belief, most Lyme warriors have no idea when they were been bitten (which means we can’t answer the “when did the tick bite you?” question;) we don’t display a bulls-eye rash (only 20 % of people in the United States are lucky enough to display the rash), and – like myself – have experienced months, or even years, of seemingly unrelated symptoms before we find out that the underlying issue is Lyme disease.

key-lyme-pie-diseaseWhen I received confirmation of my own Lyme diagnosis, I joined a club with over 300,000 “members” diagnosed with Lyme each year (a number that is estimated by the CDC.)  ILADS (the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society) suspects that it’s much higher, with cases being vastly under reported or as yet undiscovered, hovering around 440,000. Let that number sink in for a moment. I will wait.

300,00 new diagnoses. Every. Year. That is higher than the annual rate of breast cancer diagnoses, estimated at 250,00. It’s more than the number of new cases of melanoma, which is around 87,000. And the only diseases that seem to eclipse Lyme are heart attacks (660,000 per year!) and diabetes, with 1.2 million diagnosed every year. You get the point. You have a new diagnosis, and a lot of company.

'Doctors scare me.'When I finally had actual, “verified on paper” proof that I had Lyme disease I experienced profound relief, grateful for an explanation for years of symptoms that didn’t seem to connect. (And, if you’re like me, you didn’t want to keep telling people that there is something else wrong, because you sound like a broken record. Or a hypochondriac.) I kept threatening to steal my Aunt Katherine’s line for her tombstone, which was: I TOLD you I was sick.” Recently a fellow lyme fighter, while waiting for test results, lamented that “If this ISN’T Lyme, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”  It was Lyme, and it ended three years of myriad symptoms that no doctor could put together.

My initial consolation was short-lived, because I quickly learned that I was at the beginning of a marathon, instead of reaching the end of a diagnostic mystery.  It’s a relief to be able to name the reason that you’ve had a strange collection of symptoms for so long….but because ticks infect you with multiple diseases, once you have a positive Lyme result, it’s time to start digging even more – because you have to discover what “gifts” the ticks left for you, and where they hid them. It’s like the worst scavenger hunt ever. And depending on how much time has elapsed from that tick bite, you will require different levels of care.

surgerycartoonI recently spoke with a doctor who said that she diverges from much of the mainstream medical community because when she sees patients within her specialty area and notices a cluster of other symptoms, she directs them to get tested for Lyme. This is the exception – not the rule. And she is diagnosing at least one new case per week. (And she is neither a Lyme Literate Doctor or an Infectious Disease Specialist.)

Consider the following stories – from my real-life and my online Lyme communities:  I know one brave soldier who suffered for two years with debilitating anxiety, insomnia, word recall issues, GERD, neck pain, hypoglycemia, and gout. Sensing something was wrong, he went to his doctor for every single symptom – which was not his typical response. Multiple times he brought up Lyme as a possibility and was summarily dismissed. Another lyme fighter in my circle had years of respiratory infections, bouts of bronchitis , migraines, strep throat, and repetitive sports injuries – all of which necessitated multiple doctor, specialists,and pt visits. None of which raised his Primary Care Doctor’s concern that it could be Lyme related. My own story echoes the same patterns – I had years of chronic UTI’s, searing pain in the bottom of my feet when I woke up in the morning, and unbearable exhaustion. None of the five specialists (gastro, rheumo, endocrine, family doc, urologist) – wait, that’s six. None of the SIX doctors I was seeing raised the possibility of Lyme disease. In all three of these cases, the Lyme question had to be initiated by the patient.

The doctor I mentioned above is lightyears ahead of her colleagues, understanding that our area is “ground zero” for Lyme, and when she sees patients with a constellation of symptoms, she says that she has to at least consider underlying Lyme infections.

But here’s the other problem….unless you were bitten by the nefarious tick within two weeks of any diagnostic bloodwork, the labs ordered by mainstream physicians are unlikely to produce positive results, even if you DO have Lyme…..which is why you need to find a Lyme Literate Doctor who understands the intricacies and the art of putting together a comprehensive panel of testing to unravel the chaos wrought by something the size of a grain of sand. And, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, LLMD’s (Lyme Literate MD’s)  rarely take insurance. Doctors have to contract with insurance companies, who allow maybe 15 minutes per patient, and they have to have a high rate of turnover to stay afloat. (I am not at all blaming doctors, by the way – this is the system in which they have to operate.) But it’s part of the “beast” that is Lyme.

To the delight of my sons, last fall I wrote about how I reached a diagnosis with a title that made them super popular with their friends. But the short version is that for two years, I had daily symptoms of a UTI, but only tested positive on the FIRST doctor’s office “dipstick” test. Though I remained symptomatic and miserable for two more years, I never again tested positive for a UTI, and was told that it was inflammation – or interstitial cystitis. But I knew it was caused by a pathogen, because every time I had to take antibiotics for other things, my UTI symptoms abated.

overwhelmedAfter pouring through some very helpful online patient boards  I found a group discussing interstitial cystitis, and many of them were seeing Ruth Kriz, a nurse practitioner who practices in DC, and was gaining some traction treating women with interstitial cystitis. Except, it isn’t really interstitial cystitis because there are actual pathogens that can and should be treated with antibiotics. Ruth found that 98% of her patients have one huge thing in common: Lyme Disease. Many of the people on the Inspire boards were flying ACROSS THE COUNTRY to see her. Ruth found a lab in Texas that does testing at the molecular level, and low and behold, I mailed my pee to Texas and finally got some answers. Layer upon layer of bacteria – E-coli, klebsiella, pseudomonas, and enterococcus. One year later I’m not symptom free, but I’m 75% better thanks to Ruth.

If you have recently received a Lyme diagnosis, or are suspicious of Lyme, here is a link to another lyme fighter  who had Ruth as a “guest” on her blog one day, to explain why the diagnostic process is so complicated. And her second guest post is here, spelling out approaches to treatment, and offering helpful resources.

If you are newBreathely diagnosed, you probably feel like you are drinking water from a fire hose. If you are a seasoned “brave soldier” (to borrow my friend, Kelly,’s phrase) you are probably sick of being sick. But I am confident that if we keep pushing, and keep sharing our stories, the “Plan B” that Lyme brings doesn’t have to wreck our futures. I believe the mainstream medical community will eventually catch up, but we have to keep advocating for better diagnostic tools and a cohesive body of knowledge about treatment that will help 1) get people diagnosed more quickly and 2) get them well a whole, whole lot faster.

lymeadeThe key, I think, is to try to make lemonade out of Lyme. To search harder for silver liningsThis tiny blog has led at least 9 people to get tested and diagnosed with Lyme since I began writing. I’ve cleaned up my diet. I’ve learned to say no to things to conserve my energy for the people who need me. I’ve lowered expectations for myself. And I’ve experienced such love from people who didn’t have to lean in during this time, who owed me nothing, yet poured themselves into making my life easier and lighter and bearable.


If you are a new Lyme fighter,
you owe yourself time to grieve before you make that lemonade. You will become that brave soldier, consuming rivers of information and medications, learning to advocate for yourself, and watching for side effects and detox reactions (known as herxing). Give yourself a few days to eat ice cream and watch movies, and then start thinking about how you can weave  joy into your new lifestyle. At least now you know what you are fighting, and you can write your own Plan B.

So much love,

happy place

My doctor prescribes two weeks of Maine lake therapy each year.

Jenny

I am battling Lyme, in addition to Immune Deficiency and Liver Disease. But…I actually feel pretty good. More about Jenny HERE

 

 

 


Welcome, May….and Lyme Disease Awareness! (Lymesplaining Part 1)

Hi readers and friends,

I am reposting our Lyme stories with Lyme Awareness month halfway gone. We are still fighting lyme, with good days and bad days, with grit and determination. But the CDC is warning that this year could be a pandemic year for lyme, and it’s being labeled a health “crisis.” Because it is. So without further ado…Our Intro to lyme. (And new content coming this week)

ZebrastrongIt has become obvious that this little site is becoming a connecting point for others who are either battling Lyme themselves, or suspect that either they or a family member may have Lyme disease. And humor me while I add a necessary disclaimer – I am by no means an expert, mostly because of my zero medical degrees. This is simply my story, and because it’s a rare and twisty account, I have found that baring my soul to the masses bears the fruit of making connections with others who are going through similar things, and we are always better when we learn from one another. So if doing a search for “Lyme” or “Interstitial Cystitis” brought you here, welcome, and I’m sorry you had to google it in the first place. But it works well for me, because last month I rejoined my blogging community to help raise awareness for CVID, the immunodeficiency that kind of kicked off this domino effect of illness and autoimmune issues. (April was CVID awareness month, which flows perfectly into May – which happens to be Lyme disease awareness month.)lyme awareness

Because it has been awhile, a brief (HA!) refresher: My backstory is important, because we are learning that any one of the issues I have can cause a cascade of other issues. This all started because I have a rare immune deficiency that is called, oddly enough, Common Variable Immune Deficiency . Last January I was also diagnosed with Primary Biliary Cirrhosis/Cholangitis (PBC) an even more rare autoimmune liver disease, and then, as luck would have it, last May I found out that I also have Nodular Regenerative Hyperplasia, a second liver disease…..which, turns out, was caused by….

lyme-slices-for-successful-treatment-recipe-e1466303620638-660x330

And not the LIMES we put in margaritas.

frigging LYME.

The CVID was triggered by an e-coli infection that I contracted 6 years ago. It’s kind of a “chicken or the egg” type of thing because we don’t know if the CVID caused me to be at risk for the PBC, or if the E-coli caused my liver to declare war on itself. And it really makes no difference, except that other warriors who have any one of these conditions need to understand their risk factors for co-morbid (a really morbid way of saying co-existing”) conditions.

don'twannahearLiver Disease number 2” – the Nodular Regenerative – Hyperplasia(NRH) is caused by chronic infections, and the chronic need for medication. The infections and the medications lead to bile duct injury, which causes Portal Hypertension very bad things. People with CVID tend to have lots (and lots and lots) of infections. In my case, I was having constant UTI’s requiring constant antibiotic treatment and pain management support. And no one could figure out why I got a UTI every time I stopped taking antibiotics. (There she goes talking about tinkle again.) We were warned by my team at NIH that unless we found the root cause of these chronic infections, and STOPPED THEM, the NRH would progress. (BTW – “Liver Disease Number 1” (the PBC) is actually behaving right now, responding to the Ursodiol and milk thistle that I take every day, and my liver numbers are finally in the normal range. Go, PBC Awareteam!)

I began an exhaustive search for an expert on chronic UTI’s and Interstitial Cystitis, and as luck (or providence) would have it, I came across a practitioner in DC who originally opened her practice to treat women for Interstitial Cystitis, which is the term for bladder pain caused by unknown pathogens. And after years of practice, she began to realize that the common denominator, the root cause of Interstitial Cystitis, is Lyme Disease. 98 %of her patients have Lyme Disease. At first I had a very hard time believing that I could have Lyme Disease in addition to everything else. But think about it- I have virtually no immune system. I was the perfect hostess for this intruder.hobby

Before this, I knew that Lyme was a very, very bad thing, and that was the extent of my knowledge. So here begins my attempt to break down this complicated illness and explain it in a way that at least I can understand…because so many of us think, “Tick bite, rash, antibiotics, good to go.”

This is getting really long. Shall I break this into two parts? But before I get into my Lyme lesson…let me just add my 2 cents.

cloak

Lyme Biofilms are not as cool as Harry’s Invisibility Cloak….but they are more difficult to penetrate.

We need to lobby for a name change. It should really be called Lyme DiseasES. I don’t have Lyme Disease. I have Lyme DISEASES. Ticks aren’t hit men who bite you once and move on. They prefer slow torture, and specialize in working undercover for years – and I mean, literally UNDERCOVER because they form protective shields called biofilms – like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, allowing them to remain undercover and very dangerous, and move about wreaking havoc under their cloak of invisibility biofilms.

But I digress. Let’s stop for today…it’s important to know the backstory of my Lyme disease, because one diagnosis led to another, which is an important reminder to stay vigilant without becoming obsessive. (Good luck with that.)

Tune in tomorrow for an exciting chapter on “What ticks feed on during their larval stages to contract so many diseases.” It will either inform you, or help you reach your weight watcher point goals.

14051735_10210153069284834_8145779128675517410_nSo Much Love,

Jenny

More About Jenny Here