Tag Archives: changing seasons

Seasons of Lyme

By Jennifer Crystal

The change in seasons is usually an exciting time for most, but the jump from season to season can be especially trying for Lyme patients

In the past couple weeks, many people have told me that the recent change of the clocks to Daylight Savings Time is really getting to them. They feel tired and sluggish. While the Equinox should mark a positive shift towards spring and sunlight, the transition can actually be difficult for healthy and sick people alike.

I used to hear the term “spring fever” and assume it meant I was supposed to feel restless and excited for the upcoming season, like the people I saw running and playing outside. But I just couldn’t summon their energy. For me, spring fever manifested itself as malaise and, sometimes, an actual fever. All I wanted to do was sleep. I was not alone.

I’ve learned that while some people are able to jubilantly jump into a new season, it’s more upsetting for others, especially Lyme patients. For those of us suffering sleep disturbances, changing the clocks just one hour can seriously impact our circadian rhythms. I always experience an uptick in my sleep-related symptoms when I shift to Daylight Savings or back to Standard Time. I have more difficulty with insomnia, I have more nightmares, and I have trouble falling asleep for—and then getting up from—my afternoon nap. It can take me a week or more to get used to the new schedule.

But even without a time shift, simply the jump from season to season can be especially trying for Lyme patients. In my case, it may be my system is so compromised and is working overtime to fight infection, that it overreacts to the slightest changes. If I need to adjust a medication, I have to do so incredibly slowly, tricking my body into thinking that no dosage change is happening at all. If I get too hot or too cold, my body has a much stronger reaction than the non-Lyme sufferer would; I can overheat without warning, needing cool compresses all over my body, or I can get suddenly hypothermic.

Since climate change has altered the Earth’s ability to raise or lower temperatures based on the season, we’ve experienced heat waves in February followed by freezes and blizzards in March. That’s enough to send anyone’s system into shock, but for Lyme patients, these erratic weather patterns can cause the hyper-reactions I describe above. Many Lyme patients find that symptoms such as joint pain, fevers, and headaches—already difficult to control—become almost impossible to predict during seasonal fluctuations.

And it’s not just during the shift from winter to spring. Lyme patients struggle with every seasonal shift. I personally get more babesia symptoms such as air hunger and headaches in summer, while other Lyme patients might have worse joint pain in fall or winter.

Even though our bodies might react strongly to seasonal fluctuations, one advantage we Lyme patients have is resilience. If you really think about it, we experience internal season changes every single day. We can feel spring-like—energetic, full of possibility—for a morning, and then slip into a winter-like hibernation in the afternoon, often without warning. Lyme symptoms can vary daily if not hourly, and we have to learn to adapt to that unpredictability. If we can handle these shifts multiple times a day, we certainly can handle them a few times a year.

There are small steps we can take to help ourselves through seasonal fluctuations. I find it helps to be especially fastidious about my sleep hygiene during these times, making sure I stick to the same schedule, even if the clock changes by an hour. I allow myself a little extra time for rest during these periods. I wear more layers than most people do when it’s very cold outside, and cancel outdoor activities when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. I carry a water bottle with me where ever I go. I also sometimes have to change my medication or supplement doses seasonally, knowing that certain symptoms flare or subside depending on the weather.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to handle these shifts; they can be extremely frustrating. One hour we can be happy and hopeful, the next exhausted and depressed, later that day anxious and angry. We can experience summer and winter and fall and spring several times in a day, in no particular order, and that can make a patient feel really off-kilter.

If you’re in a tough season of Lyme, remember what we say in New England: wait five minutes, and the weather will change. Longer, brighter days really are ahead.


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. Contact her at  jennifercrystalwriter@gmail.com

Seasonal Fear of Missing Out

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.

when-youre-sick-with-lyme

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.”[1]

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.

[1] 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. jennifercrystalwriter@gmail.com