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Treating Instead of Denying Yourself

by Jennifer Crystal

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal.  Many people engage in some kind of spring cleaning, whether it is airing out their homes or themselves. People open their windows and shake out their rugs. Some do a dietary cleanse. Even religious customs at this time of year are about cleaning out and letting go—Jewish people rid their houses of chametz, leavened food, for Passover, while Christians give up something in observance of Lent.

These customs have good intentions. I respect them and understand the purpose they serve. But this year, after reading a friend’s recent social media post, I started thinking about them a little differently. On Ash Wednesday, which starts the period of Lent, my friend announced that instead of giving something up for Lent, he was going to treat himself to one small, special thing each week.

I stopped to consider this bit of reframing. What if the season wasn’t about denying ourselves something, but instead about adding something positive to our lives? What if it was about nourishment, the way we nurture early spring flowers so they can grow? Refusing ourselves something can hold a negative connotation, but nourishing ourselves has a lovely ring of self-care.

As a patient of chronic tick-borne illness, this reframing especially struck a chord with me. Lyme patients already are denied so much. At our sickest, we can’t work; we can’t socialize; we can’t take care of our daily needs. We’re restricted, and that can make us feel guilty, sad, ashamed, and angry, on top of feeling physically wretched.

Treating Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses means giving up a lot: for me, it means refusing gluten, processed sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. I cannot stay up late, skip my afternoon nap, watch fireworks or a stimulating show, or over-exert myself physically or mentally. These are my needs and they’re in place for good reason. I’m grateful that they allow me to keep ticking.

But sometimes I do feel like I give up a lot—and certainly have given up a lot of bigger things over the years, like long-distance travel, friends’ weddings, financial security, and full-time work at a time when I was supposed to be starting my career and building my life. With those losses came depression, anxiety, and self-blame. It took me a long time to accept my needs and to love myself in spite of them.

This spring feels like an excellent opportunity to renew that self-love. Part of caring for yourself, of course, is recognizing certain things are toxic to you and you must get rid of them. Elimination of foods, stressful people, and negative emotions that hurt you— all are important for self-cleansing. If you are a Lyme patient eating batches of chocolate chip cookies, you are probably overloaded with gluten and sugar, suffering from a candida infection, and jeopardizing your ability to get well. Getting rid of those foods would be a good way to nurture yourself toward optimal health.

But what else can you add that is healthy and feels like a treat? There are lots of great recipes for gluten-free, naturally sweetened brownies and ice cream. These I still eat in moderation, but that makes them all the more special when I do indulge. Dark chocolate is low in sugar and has many health benefits. Eating one piece every day puts a smile on my face.

How else can you fill yourself up rather than deplete yourself? I recently started treating myself to monthly massages. I couldn’t have done this when I was in the throes of Lyme, since a massage likely would have spread toxins further around my body, but now that I’m in remission, gentle massage is good for me. I leave feeling relaxed, my nervous system reacts in kind, and I am able to nap and sleep better.

Your treat doesn’t need to be something big, though. If you are bedridden, there are still ways to nourish rather than deny yourself. How about flipping through photos of happier times, to remind yourself of what will again be possible once you’re well? Or writing down three good things about each day? Or rubbing a nice lotion on your hands and feet? Or finding a favorite new fruit or vegetable to add to your diet?

Cleansing is important. This season, I’m going to make sure the things I do get rid of are things I really don’t need, rather than things I want but am denying myself. In this way, giving things up will be a way of treating myself. In addition to getting rid of things, I am also going to add goodness, to think of more ways to be kind to myself, so that I enter summer ready to blossom.


jennifer crystalOpinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. She has written a memoir about her journey with chronic tick borne illness, for which she is seeking representation. Contact her at: [email protected]

Spring REALLY Will Come

by Jennifer Crystal

This time of year can be a tease. With daylight savings time, the sun is suddenly brighter, and there are hints of warmer weather coming, Not surprisingly, we start to think it’s almost spring. Birds chirp. Early flowers bloom. People are smiling again. Then a late-season storm hits. The flowers are buried, the outraged birds squawk, and people become more downcast than in the deepest throes of a January freeze. We curse and wonder if spring will ever come.

Every year when this seasonal give and take happens, I’m reminded of my long, uphill battle against tick-borne disease. At first, when I was bedridden and sick, it was always winter. I saw no hope of a metaphorical spring. But the longer I was on treatment and the harder I worked at adjunct therapies, the more glimpses of health I received. Eventually I started having strings of good days. My head was clearer; I could type and read short articles, I could walk short distances. My joints didn’t hurt. I sometimes made it a full week without a migraine. I felt like I was actually making progress.

Then I’d get walloped with a Herxheimer reaction. My body would get overloaded with dead bacteria killed off  by the antibiotics. This was a good thing, but the drugs were killing spirochetes at a faster rate than my body could eliminate them, which made me suddenly feel awful. I crashed as if I’d been hit by a freakblizzard.

These glimmers of health, of spring, can feel like teases, but they’re not. They are, in fact, signs of what’s to come. Eventually, my Herxheimer reactions became fewer and I had more good days than bad. That took a long time to achieve. I was almost a year on intravenous antibiotics. Then I felt good for two seasons before completely relapsing back to winter. But even then, my body fought its way back to remission.

The trajectory is different for each Lyme patient, because no two cases are alike, and co-infections can complicate treatment and recovery. Some patients feel better in a matter of weeks or months. Some are sick for years. Some “herx” every couple weeks and follow a relatively steady cycle of that pattern; some get shorter or longer periods between herxes, with little to no warning when they will manifest.

For all of these patients, remember, spring is possible.

I lost several years of my life to tick-borne illnesses. Even when it was beautiful and warm outside, I was in bed. I felt stuck in endless winter. Then I went through periods with teases of spring. But now, those wintry days are so rare than I can count them on one hand. With maintenance medication and therapies, I’ve stayed in remission for a decade, charting steady improvements each year.

No matter how many late season storms we get, no matter how long the snow lingers on the tips of daffodils, spring eventually arrives. Every single year. If you are a Lyme patient feeling stuck in endless winter, I assure you that your spring will come, too, and the sun will feel even warmer than you imagine.


jennifer crystal

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. She has written a memoir about her journey with chronic tick borne illness, for which she is seeking representation. Contact her at: 

[email protected]