by Jennifer Crystal
Many Lyme patients can’t enjoy the wonders of the fall season.
Autumn in many places is beautiful. In New England, leaves ignite in rustic colors and then fall in fun jumping piles. Out West, the Rocky Mountains are kindled with bright yellow aspens. Across the country, people are donning flannels and boots, picking apples, going on hayrides, watching football, and drinking pumpkin-spiced everything.
Many Lyme patients can’t enjoy the wonders of the season. They’re too ill to pick apples or carve pumpkins, too neurologically impaired to watch a football game, and too tired to go leaf-peeping (let alone leaf-jumping—especially with the fear of ticks!). Some children with Lyme are even too sick to start the new school year. Instead of buying notebooks, meeting teachers and friends, and playing at recess, these kids are stuck in bed. Fall, then, for those with Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, comes to represent what the word implies. It conjures up images of dead leaves trickling to the ground in sad brown clumps.
Summer, metaphorically, represents the best days of our lives; long-term illness can make you feel like you’ll never get that time back. When you miss a season and can’t stop the next one from creeping around the corner, the shift feels like an actual fall. You sense that life is passing you by. You wonder if you will ever get well as the anxiety and depression that often accompany Lyme start to churn in full force.
The loss of sunlight doesn’t help. Shorter days are tough on anyone’s psyche, and we all dread turning back the clocks. Early sunset can spawn sadness in the healthiest people, and the loss of an hour can really impact a neurological Lyme patient whose circadian rhythm is already disturbed.
What, then, are we to do with fall?
Fall FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out—requires a shift in perspective. The essayist Joe Bonomo writes, “It’s the charge of the autobiographical essayist to turn himself slightly, to alter his gaze so that it faces a direction other than inward…to produce something fresh, startling, and vividly human.”
When you’re sick with Lyme, it’s hard to imagine yourself as the author of your life because illness directs so much of your narrative. But we do have control over perspective. Appreciating where we are, even—especially—at our lowest points, requires the slight turn that Bonomo calls for.
Actually, if we think about it, it’s what the season calls for. What is a seasonal change, but a shift? Instead of looking at this time of year as a period of impending darkness, what if we saw it as a season of beauty? It doesn’t require good health to appreciate the changing leaves. To see their vividness out the window, from the confines of bed. To drink a cup of hot cider—or pumpkin-spiced something—and smell and taste the season. To look at autumn as a new beginning and think: I survived the heat of summer, and now I have the beauty—not the desperation—of winter to look forward to. (After all, winter has the word win in it!).
If we make this shift, we turn autumn into something fresh and startling. Most importantly, we take charge of our personal narratives. And that’s a win not just over a season, but also a win in the battle against Lyme.
 From “In Defense of the Ordinary”, published in Brevity, April 2013
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.
Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. She is working on a memoir about her journey with chronic tick-borne illness. [email protected]