Tag Archives: Lyme disease Q and A

lyme warrior

Dear Lyme Warrior…Help!

by Jennifer Crystal

Every few months, Jennifer Crystal devotes a column to answering your questions. Do you have a question for Jennifer? If so, email her at [email protected].

I have tried several different medications for Lyme and am not getting any better. Do you think I just need to own up to the possibility that this is simply my reality and I should resign myself to it?

No! Treating tick-borne illness is complicated. It often takes a lot of trial and error to find the right treatment protocol, especially since what works for one patient might not work for another. When youre not feeling well, its especially hard to be patient with the process. You just want to get better, and you dont have the energy to keep waiting and trying things. I understand that. But difficult as it is, if you give up now, you will make your current situation your longterm reality. There were so many moments in my journey with Lyme disease and two other tick-borne illnessesbabesia and Ehrlichia—that I wanted to just throw in the towel. Thank goodness I didnt, though. After many different medications over many years, I have been in remission for over a decade, and my life is better than I ever thought it could be.

I suggest keeping a daily log of your symptoms so that you can chart any small change, good or bad, and so you can also give a detailed report to your Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD), who may be able to tweak to your protocol to address any new issues. So many times my LLMD would say something like, Oh, now that Im hearing how brain fog is bothering you, I think we actually need to switch to an antibiotic that is better for neurological symptoms.” Or, The symptoms youre telling me about indicate inflammation, so I think we need to add an anti-inflammatory medication.” If this fine-tuning isnt working, it may be time to seek a second opinion from a different LLMD. Sometimes it helps to have someone evaluate your case with fresh eyes. Be sure that you have been checked for all tick-borne diseases and are being adequately treated for any co-infections since a single tick bite can give you multiple infections.

Finally, its important to remember that medication is only part of the equation when treating tick-borne illnesses. Other factors like diet, sleep hygiene, and stress play a role in your bodys ability to heal. You may want to try complementary therapies such as integrative manual therapy or neurofeedback to help your medication work more effectively. There is always something new to try; never, ever settle!

What does the future look like for you?

This is a great follow-up to the last question. The answer is, I dont really know, and thats a good thing. When I was completely bedridden over a decade ago, the future looked bleak. I never thought Id regain my independence. I wasnt even sure if Id ever be able to walk around the block again. But now I am living on my own, working, socializing, and exercising, and enjoying a full life.

My path to health wasn’t linear. After regaining some independence, I relapsed all the way back to the starting line. If the future looked bleak before, relapse made me feel downright desperate. But I made it through, and have been in remission for over a decade, now that I know how to really manage my life in the context of these chronic illnesses.

Each year of this decade has been better than the last. There have been dips, of course: flare-ups of Lyme or babesia, acute illnesses like COVID-19 (link: : https://globallymealliance.org/corona-with-a-twist-of-lyme/). But overall, Ive made incredible strides since moving to Boston and starting graduate school in 2011. I can teach more classes now than I could after earning my M.F.A. in 2014. I can read for longer periods of time without getting neurologically overwhelmed. I bounce back faster when I push my body too far. I can ski more runs, swim more laps, paddle for more hours than I could a few years ago.

So, who knows how much more progress I will make in the next few years. Maybe Ill be able to juggle even more work projects. Maybe Ill be on a book tour. Maybe Ill reduce some of my medications. Maybe I wont need an afternoon nap. I cant say for sure what the future holds, but Im confident that more will be possible than I can currently imagine.

You mentioned that you cant work a traditional full-time job, so you work a few part-time jobs that fit your schedule. How did you find those?

One of the hardest parts of living with chronic illnesses was accepting that I wasnt going to be able to go back to the rigorous schedule I kept before I became ill. In order to maintain my health, I have to pace myself physically and neurologically. I also need to do adjunct therapies every week, which eat up time in my schedule, and I need to nap every afternoon. These needs—which I had to learn to see as just that, needs and not restrictions make it impossible for me to work a 9 to 5 job.

So I had to think outside of the box. What did I love to do, and how could I do that work on a flexible schedule? Instead of my old full-time high school teaching position, I now teach as an adjunct, at a creative writing center, and at colleges. My classes are scheduled in the mornings or the evenings, and class prep time is on my own. I was able to combine my passions for Lyme awareness/advocacy and writing into these weekly blog posts. I do one-on-one consulting work with writers, reviewing their work at home and then setting convenient meeting times (thats even easier now, with meetings happening virtually).

The current climate is difficult because the economy was closed for so long, but its also a good time for patients like myself with unique scheduling needs because so many jobs have shifted to work-from-home. Therefore, you may now be able to find part-time work that offers a more flexible schedule than it previously did.

Moreover, I recently learned about Chronically Capable, an employment platform that aims to connect chronically ill patients with remote work-from-home jobs. I have no personal connection to or experience with this platform, but you might want to check it out. Its important to think about what you can do and what skills you have to offer, instead of worrying about what you cant do. 

That said, working while chronically ill is not easy. You may not be able to cover all of your expenses. To address that Global Lyme Alliance has put together a financial resource page where you can find information on federal and state assistance programs and other resources.

jennifer crystal_2

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her at [email protected].

lyme warrior_lyme Q&A

Dear Lyme Warrior…Help!

by Jennifer Crystal

Every few months, Jennifer Crystal devotes a column to answering your questions. Here are her answers to some recently received questions. Do you have a question for Jennifer? Email her at [email protected].

How do I force myself to eat healthy, despite severe cravings for bad food, and an emotional response (shame, guilt, anger) when I eat it?

When you’re feeling sick and so much is going wrong in your life, you reach for comfort foods, something that might temporarily make you feel better. Beyond chicken noodle soup, you want ice cream or cookies or things that taste good. But  eating such foods can actually make Lyme disease worse. Lyme bacteria thrive on yeast and sugar. When you consume such foods, you’re not just feeding yourself—you’re also feeding the bacteria, encouraging it to grow and spread. The bacteria want more of it, which is what causes you such intense cravings. Moreover, yeast and sugar can cause intestinal yeast overgrowth, which can weaken your immune system. So not only are you increasing the Lyme bacteria, but you’re decreasing your body’s ability to fight it.

If this isn’t enough to keep you away from bad food, there is, as you mentioned, the emotional response to it. The high of a tasty cookie is quickly lost when you feel upset about eating it. Tick-borne disease already causes plenty of guilt, shame, and anger—for being sick, for being dependent on others, for not being able to meet social expectations. You don’t have control over many of those things.

Food is one thing you do control, and I encourage you to look at that as a positive tool for returning to health. Nourish your body with fuel that is full of nutrients, foods that advance the healing process rather than impede it. And when you deserve a treat, find a recipe for gluten-free, sugar-free cookies, or eat a small amount of dark chocolate. Find a treat that works for you and enjoy it sparingly, as a reward for fueling your body correctly.

How difficult was it for you to admit to yourself that you couldn’t work full-time?

Very difficult. I still struggle with it from time to time. When you’re once independent and successful, it’s very hard to become dependent on others. Society expects you to keep going, to achieve more, to earn more. When you’re healthy, you have the ability to stay on that track. Chronic illness throws you off, and that fall can really hurt your pride. I have wrestled with a lot of guilt and shame about becoming dependent, and even as I’ve been able to start working part-time, it still bothers me that I’m not fully returned to the independent, high-achieving track from which I fell.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. The first is that getting a tick-borne illness was not my fault. I didn’t ask the tick to bite me. I didn’t suddenly say, “You know what, I just don’t feel like working anymore.” I didn’t make any bad choices (besides maybe pushing myself too hard!) that caused me to lose my job. It’s essential to forgive yourself for being sick and recognize that dependence is not a choice but a necessity..

When I first started to get well, I wanted to dive back to my former independent lifestyle, and I worked way too hard as an Editorial Assistant for a magazine. I put in too many hours, and that took a toll on me physically and mentally. Within three months, I relapsed. I was back at square one, bedridden and unable to work. I learned that jumping right into full-time work pushed this Lyme patient too far and was counter-productive.

Once I recovered from my relapse—a two-year battle—I re-entered the workforce in a different way, with a different mindset. I realized that tick-borne illness was always going to be with me, and I had to find a way to live my life in a way that took my health history into account. I took on part-time jobs slowly. As I built my health up over time, I added  commitments as I could take them on, always  ensuring that my health was my number one priority.

Because I have to rest in the afternoon, I won’t ever be able to work a 9-5 job, but there are other jobs with more flexible hours (like teaching and writing) that I can do. What can you be able to do that works within your limitations? You may find that there are more opportunities than you might have realized in your healthier days.

jennifer crystal

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. She has written a memoir, One Tick Stopped the Clock for which she is seeking representation. Contact her at: 

[email protected]