Tag Archives: my lyme life

lyme diet

Adjusting to a Lyme Diet

by Emily Croot
#MyLymeLife

Learning to Love What There is to Eat When You’re on a Lyme Diet

 

For anyone familiar with the Lyme diet, you will know that while it is a useful healing tool, it’s also incredibly restrictive and difficult to adopt. Most Lyme patients are usually told to reduce foods that cause inflammation and this means eliminating gluten, lowering carbohydrate intake and limiting or entirely stopping dairy and sugar.

When I first made the transition to the Lyme diet I was a new college freshmen. The day after the doctor prescribed the diet I remember walking into the dining hall and letting out a cross between a laugh, a groan and a sob. There was absolutely nothing there I could eat. Spaghetti? Nope, for it contained tomatoes and gluten. Tacos? No again, corn and cheese. A veggie burger perhaps? That contains beans and wheat. A simple sandwich then? Well, not one with either chicken or bread.

Sitting down to eat with my plate of lettuce and carrots I suddenly experienced a very strong desire to throttle my doctor. She said that making the transition might be difficult, but that eventually I would adjust. But this diet was impossible! When exactly is ‘eventually’ anyway? Would that be before or after I died of starvation? Two minutes later I stalked out of the dining hall and proceeded to down a pint of ice cream while watching Parks and Recreation followed by a 30 Rock marathon in my dorm.

This was not a good start to my new Lyme diet.

Although I had been a healthy eater before Lyme, starting at Phase 1 of the diet seemed less of an uphill battle and more a cliffside plunge. Gone were my precious black beans, tomatoes and bell peppers. Locked away were my bananas, yogurt and peanut butter. And I hadn’t even begun to mourn the loss of ice cream, chocolate, and cookies!

As my Lyme disease advanced, I was forced to medically withdraw from college and return home. Despite the setback, I continued to plug along with the doctor’s orders. Breakfast was the easiest meal, eggs and a smoothie, but I missed slathering jam over English muffins or sharing extra cheesy homemade corn grits with my mum.

Lunches and dinners were a nightmare of endurance. Although we had Recipes for Repair: A Lyme Disease Cookbook, my family and I longed for our old standbys. Almost every one of our old recipes had an inflammatory ingredient and most of my dinner preps would end with me letting loose a couple choice expletives (though this  exercise was not limited to the kitchen).

During one such meltdown my mother gently coaxed me out of the kitchen to the living room, promising she would take care of dinner. She made me a cup of tea and let me cool off before joining me. She had noticed my increasing frustration with the diet and, though she supported my efforts, she recognized it was doing more harm than good. My mum agreed that gluten, dairy and sugar needed to be reduced but she recognized we couldn’t handle going all the way to Phase 1 of the diet. Moreover, after consulting a second doctor, we concluded my case didn’t warrant Phase 1 and switched to my mother’s more sensible dietary plan.

The next day we went on a grocery store shopping spree followed by a raid of our library’s cookbook section. When we returned home with our arms full of books and shopping bags, we were ready to tackle some new recipes. Our kitchen was now stocked with berries of every color, a forest of leafy greens, a myriad of strange and exotic vegetables, nuts and seeds of every shape and size, and spices from around the world.

With my cast-iron skillet in hand and a renewed enthusiasm for cooking, we figuratively ate our way across the planet. One night, as I wiped my eyes from the stinging onions and pungent garlic, the lights from St. Peter’s Basilica twinkled outside my window. The next night we sat on a New England beach, the salty breeze stinging our eyes as we slurped seafood chowder (dairy-free and gluten-free naturally). In the mornings we inhaled the sweet air of the English countryside over a bowl of fresh oats, honey and blueberries. And so each meal brought us to a different corner of the globe.

The anti-inflammation diet had become less of a schlep for me through culinary purgatory and more of a gastronomic expedition around the world. Although  are still times when I slip up and sneak a fresh baguette or a wedge of extra sharp cheddar into the grocery cart, those times are rare and enjoyed on only very special occasions.

Since starting mum’s dietary transition, I have fewer bad days and can manage my symptoms more effectively. Now I hardly give my restrictions a second thought. Who cares that I can’t have pizza when there’s Moroccan-spiced salmon, chana masala, or delicata squash soup?

Bon Appétit!


Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Emily Croot is a student, writer, and cook splitting her time between New Hampshire and Union College in New York. She wants to help others and change her little corner of the world one person at a time. 

Meditation and Lyme: How it Helps, How it Doesn’t

by Kerry Heckman
#MyLymeLife

Without a cure, meditation can provide a relief of Lyme symptoms.

 

Sometimes meditation is offered up as a cure-all for chronic illness. This is certainly not true, and occasionally dissuades people from trying it. In my experience, it hasn’t cured my Lyme disease, but the benefits have been remarkable.

Meditation became a part of my self-care routine during my ordeal to find a diagnosis. I was so anxious about not knowing what was going on in my body that I was having frequent panic attacks and couldn’t sleep.

The slow process of speculating about a cause, scheduling tests, and then waiting on the results was so stressful I couldn’t focus on anything else. To take my mind off the waiting game, my integrative doctor suggested a mindfulness-based stress reduction class.

On my first day, I walked into a room of about 10 people. I was surprised to see a group of average looking adults. We went around the room and shared with each other why we were taking the class. We all had different reasons for being there, health issues, stressful jobs, relationship problems, but the common theme was the same—anxiety was taking over our lives.

The class was an educational seminar run by a psychologist. He showed us a powerpoint presentation that taught us about the “fight or flight” reflex. This response of the autonomic nervous system is only supposed to activate when there is an immediate threat to our lives. However, in people with anxiety it’s turned on all the time. The problem for people with chronic illness is that when the fight or flight reflex is turned on, the immune system is turned off; therefore, the body is not able to heal. This was a huge wake up call for me. I knew I had to do everything I could to put my body in a healing state.

At the end of class, the psychologist led us through a guided meditation in which we visualized putting our racing thoughts on leaves as they passed by in a stream. It was the first time in months I felt like I could let my worries go.

Each week I went back and learned a little more about the nervous system, the brain, and mindfulness strategies to use throughout the day.

The psychologist provided us with a digital recording of a 10-minute meditation we could listen to between classes. Whenever my heartbeat would start to increase signaling an impending panic attack, I put on the meditation and tried to breathe through it. Occasionally, I had to listen to it twice, but it was always helpful.

A few times when I was talking to my husband, he could tell my thinking was spiraling downhill. He suggested I do the meditation and then we could resume our conversation. Once I’d taken a 10-minute pause from fear-based thinking, I was able to rationally discuss the situation and decide on the next step.

Meditation will not fix everything. I’ve heard some Lyme patients get annoyed because people encourage them to meditate as if it’s a quick fix to a complex, serious illness. Meditation will not cure fatigue, vitamin deficiencies or swollen joints, but it does help with some symptoms. Meditation has had the following benefits for me:

Calms the “fight or flight” reflex: Prior to practicing meditation, I spent all day and night in “fight or flight.” Meditation and mindfulness taught me how to use my inner voice to talk myself down from imagined threats.

Prevents emotional extremes: I used to go off on my husband and say mean and hurtful things. Eventually, I learned this was because of “Lyme rage,” a symptom of neurological Lyme. We tend to become very frustrated and then unleash on those we love. After regular meditation for about three months, I noticed I wasn’t losing my temper anymore. I still became frustrated but my emotions stayed in check.

Helps with sleep: Insomnia is one of the hallmark symptoms of Lyme. Before I started meditating I couldn’t fall asleep or stay asleep. In combination with a very detailed nighttime routine, meditation has taught my brain how to shut down and prepare for sleep. When I have difficulty falling asleep I turn on a guided sleep meditation and it usually does the trick.

Taught me how to breathe through pain: Meditation has not changed my level of pain, but it has helped me cope with it. Remaining in a relaxed state, even when dealing with high levels of pain has prevented my thoughts about the pain from making it worse. If I stay mindful, I’m able to think clearly about what I can do to minimize the pain.

My practice consists of sitting for a guided meditation for five to 20 minutes first thing in the morning, followed by a few yoga poses to loosen up my spine. There are smartphone apps and websites that offer guided-meditations or meditation music. I learned that if I don’t do it first thing in the morning I won’t do it at all. Now it’s a part of my daily self-care routine.

Meditation may not be right for you, but you can still practice mindfulness. Try to stay in the present moment while doing dishes, going on a walk, or reading a book. Every moment in the present is an opportunity for healing.

Read Kerry’s previous blog, “Chronic Fatigue or Feeling Tired?


Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Kerry J. Heckman authors the wellness and lifestyle blog Body Mind Lyme. Kerry was [finally] diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2016, her journey with invisible illness began over 10 years prior.

How to Be Your Own Health Detective

by Kerry J. Heckman
#MyLymeLife

Getting an accurate Lyme diagnosis can take years. With poor diagnostic tools and limited support patients are often forced to be their own health detectives. Here are six tips to help in the process.

 

The test result email popped into my inbox. I was driving and couldn’t look until I was stopped at a red light. This was it. The final clue in a seemingly never ending mystery. The diagnosis I’d been waiting almost two years to get. Two years of crippling health anxiety, and a slow steady decline, all resting on one simple blood test.

Many people who are eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease spent years leading up to it searching for the right diagnosis. Because of poor diagnostic tools, we’ve had to learn to be our own health detectives.

My journey started almost three years ago.I’d been ill for many years prior, but doctors assumed all my symptoms related to an autoimmune condition, Grave’s disease. Then, in May of 2014, my right leg started to feel “heavy” and was aching. I looked down and noticed it had blown up like a balloon. I ended up in the ER. At first, the doctors took it seriously, because they thought it was a blood clot. After the test came back negative, I was quickly discharged with no answers.

I went to my primary care doctor and she told me to wait a month and see how I felt. I immediately found a new doctor and he told me that unless the swelling was more than two inches different from the other leg I should simply ignore it. Ignore it? I was just supposed to walk around with a swollen leg for the rest of my life? No tests were ordered, no follow-up appointments were scheduled, so I moved on to another doctor, and another, and another.

Like a detective on an important case, looking up symptoms on the internet became my full-time job. I’d get lost down a Google rabbit hole for hours on end. My husband would practically have to pry my fingers from the keyboard. Every time I discovered a new lead I would follow it as far as it would take me, usually to another annoyed doctor, who’d send me away with an exasperated look. This continued for six months. Then I developed a new strange symptom a stabbing pain in my side. Again I went to the emergency room. This time I was admitted after a MRI revealed what looked to be an infection in my spine. It took the doctors five days to determine the infection wasn’t spreading rapidly enough to cause immediate concern. I was discharged again with nothing but another piece of paper with the diagnosis left blank.

From there I was passed between a rheumatologist and infectious disease doctor for another six months. When I went to see the rheumatologist, he said it was an infection; when I went to see the infectious disease doctor he said it was rheumatological.

But I didn’t give up. I found an integrative medicine doctor who was willing to think outside the box. She ran some preliminary tests for Lyme disease, and when they came back suspect, she referred me to a Lyme-literate medical doctor.

Those two years were some of the most difficult in my life, but I had to stay on the case. Here’s some advice on how to keep moving forward even when the puzzle seems impossible to solve.

How to Be Your Own Health Detective:

  1. Start thinking like one

From the very first symptom, everything is a clue. Keep an ongoing list of every symptom you experience. Even if it doesn’t seem like an important one, write it down. Keep a folder of all your test results. Compare and contrast the results over time. You never know what will end up being the missing link.

  1. Ask the right questions

Make a list of all your doctors. When a question pops into your mind, write it down under the heading of the best doctor to answer that question. By the time of your next appointment, you will a have a thoughtful list of questions to ask.

  1. Be confident in your symptoms

Before I had a diagnosis, I found that many of my symptoms were minimized or ignored by doctors. Some of these symptoms seemed small on the surface, but ended up being the most important clues. Don’t allow a doctor to tell you a symptom isn’t real,  is all in your head.

  1. Set boundaries when using the internet

Google and Internet forums are a good tool for health detectives. The problem is it can become an enormous waste of time and energy. Some good boundaries to set are to spend no more than 15 minutes a day researching symptoms or asking questions on forums. Make sure you verify everything you read with a trusted doctor; there is a lot of dangerous misinformation on the internet.

  1. Talk about your illness

When you talk about your symptoms with other people, sometimes they have good input. For example, back when my leg first became swollen, a friend of my mother suspected an infection. This was something none of the doctors had mentioned, but I kept it the thought in the back of my mind. It turned out she was right.

  1. Never, ever, ever give up

The worst thing you can do for your health is to give up. Sure, you’ll hit brick walls, but you’ll have to learn to break through them. Nothing is more important than your health, so you have to keep exploring until you feel satisfied with your care. If you can afford it, get a second opinion (and a third, and a fourth). Determine how far it is reasonable for you to travel and how much it is reasonable for you to pay, and then go to the best doctor you can find who fits within those parameters.

I was stopped by that red light for just long enough to open the email. I was scared to read it. What if it’s just another negative test to add to the list? But it was “positive.” After two long years of no diagnosis and countless doctors, I had my answer. I had Lyme disease. When you receive a diagnosis it can be a strange mixed moment of emotions. You are devastated to have the illness naturally, but even more so you are grateful to finally know what it is. My detective work paid off.


kerry-j-heckman-profile-picture_thumbnailOpinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Kerry J. Heckman authors the wellness and lifestyle blog Body Mind Lyme. Kerry was [finally] diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2016, her journey with invisible illness began over 10 years prior.

Dreaming of Better Days

by Susan Pogorzelski
#MyLymeLife

Do you dream of the day when rest is a choice, not a need? And when your friends and family truly understand the toll that Lyme disease takes on your body and your mind?

 

It’s eleven in the morning as I write this, a full ten minutes since I’ve woken up from my first nap. My life is routine these days, thanks to Lyme disease. Wake at seven, let the dogs out, force myself to eat breakfast so I can swallow a handful of antibiotics, then back to bed because the fatigue lies heavy, like a blanket on both my mind and body. Only then, when I awake a few hours later, am I finally able to function.

Then there’s lunch, supplements, household chores or working on the new novel or, if I’m having a really good day, a much-needed trip to the grocery store. These activities are always followed by an afternoon nap. If I’m feeling well, it’ll last two hours at most. If I’ve pushed myself beyond my known limitations, I’ll sleep well past dinnertime, waking up only when my dogs nuzzle me with their reminder to feed them, waking up only because they need me.

My friends used to joke about my napping, and because I had a pretty good sense of humor back then, I laughed along with them. I wasn’t blind to how ridiculous it seemed. I was young, seemingly healthy, with passion and ambition guiding me forward in life. So why was I sleeping my life away?

Every day after school, I’d fall asleep on the couch until my parents woke me up for dinner and homework. I remember becoming irrationally angry with them, wondering why they couldn’t let me sleep until I was ready to wake up. I didn’t understand it then, but I recognize it now: my body was refueling itself, and waking up before my energy was fully restored meant that I wouldn’t have enough to get through the night and into tomorrow.

When I was in college, with a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I wisely scheduled my classes as far apart as possible so I’d have enough time to rest in between. I didn’t know I had Lyme then, and I didn’t understand the implications Chronic Fatigue Syndrome could have on a life. I only knew that sleep restored me while life seemed to drain me.

“Were you taking a nap again?” my friends would ask, their voices filled with amusement.

I’d shrug my shoulders and laugh along with them. “You need coffee, I need sleep,” would be my reply.

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While everyone else spent their evenings readying themselves for a night on the town, I made sure I had enough time to rest before getting dressed. When I entered the working world, early bedtimes became a staple, and I turned down more than one fun day out on the weekend because I knew I needed to conserve my energy for the week to come.

When I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease, the reason for this inherent need for sleep finally became clear to my family and friends, though there are still days when they struggle to understand why I can’t accept their invitation for a spontaneous night out. Even now, they’ll send me cute memes and funny cartoons about napping, and I’ll laugh along with them because it is cute and it is funny, and I’m grateful to have my sense of humor back. But sometimes I wonder if they will ever really understand that this is a need, not a choice. I’d never choose sleep over friends.

I’d never choose this life with Lyme.

I wish more than anything I had the energy to be a part of the world like I want to be. I’d spend my time with friends and family and be the mom to my dogs that I want to be. I’d visit museums and attend concerts and travel to places near and far. I’d provide for myself, I’d be independent again.

I’ve been lucky in my life that I’ve been able to do so much despite this illness, but that’s what makes it that much more difficult: knowing what I was capable of before, knowing how limited I am now, knowing how much more of the world I still want to experience.

So I’ll finish writing this essay and make myself some lunch. Then I’ll play with the dogs or finish some chores until I notice my energy beginning to drain. I’ll wander to the couch and lie down and close my eyes.

And when I sleep, I’ll dream of the day when I can do so much more.


Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Susan Pogorzelski is the author of “The Last Letter,” a semi-autobiographic novel about her struggle to find a Lyme diagnosis and subsequent journey through recovery.

Dream Like New

by Susan Pogorzelski
#MyLymeLife

I used to revel in the thought of living in solitude like Thoreau at Walden Pond. A cabin nestled between pines, a farm sprawling across a dozen acres, a cottage by the beach—I imagined these places bringing peace and comfort and a quietude that is rare these days, among the go-go-go rush for something—anything—so long as it looks like living.

But certain kinds of silence breed loneliness, and loneliness will drive you mad.

Right now, my life is divided into before and after, then and now. Before I was sick and after. Then, when I fought this disease for three years, and now, when it’s already been a full year since I relapsed after only a few months in remission. Before, I got through it with the help of family and friends and my pets, a job to return to, and a dream to pursue. Now, while I’m still so grateful to have my family, my friends, and the unwavering companionship of my dogs—please don’t ever mistake these thoughts for ingratitude—I’m having trouble coping with the isolation and loneliness that stems from living with Lyme disease.

I can’t do much more right now than bide my time until the fatigue sets back in and I have to close my eyes. When I write, I’m able to put down a few sentences at a time before the words get muddled in my mind and the fog becomes too thick. Short walks let me bask in the fading summer sun, but it isn’t long before the pain in my legs make me grow weak, and I have to rest again.

I hear kids’ sneakers slapping against the pavement as they run up and down the alleyway behind my house, hear women chatting with giggles in their voices as they power-walk past my open windows, hear my neighbors on the porch in a symphonic blend of togetherness, and I want to be a part of it—I want to be a part of the world. Outside life slips through the cracks beneath the door, and it only takes a second before I realize how lonely I am within.

Social media gives me an outlet—a chance to catch up and be with friends when I’m limited in where I can go—but I see pictures of vacations and posts about projects they’re working on and where they’re going, and I want to cry.

Because I can’t go anywhere but here, and here doesn’t feel like anywhere.

But I’m too numb to cry, so I let the envy fester beneath the surface and mix that with self-loathing for not living a life that’s supposed to be precious in the first place and add it to the guilt of being too sick to be a part of anything. I become a cocktail of loneliness while the darkness wraps a blanket around me like it’s some kind of comfort, whispering, there, there, stay here with me.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. Everyone says I should only concentrate on getting better right now—it’s the line I fed myself to assuage the guilt of not being able to work—but it doesn’t feel like enough.

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I’ve spent the majority of my life ill, and still I pushed through it. I went to college and traveled and worked so hard to create a future for myself, to pursue a dream, to build a career, and to define my own success. When I was finally diagnosed, all through treatment I relied on the knowledge that one day I would be better and could live my life at full-throttle. Everything I had worked for, I believed, could be realized when I was healthy again. It’s what kept me going—knowing that hard work pays off.

That was then. Now, this relapse has flung me back into the darkness of this illness, where everything I worked for seems to have slipped away once more. I want to keep fighting. I want to pick up the pieces and put them back together again, to keep working harder, but I’m so tired.

I’m so tired.

I don’t know what I should be working for anymore. Every day, I spend an hour between naps plugging away at my writing because I would drown without a place to put these words. Every day, I work at creating some semblance of a future for myself when I don’t know if the dream is worth the fight and the fatigue. Most days, I question what the dream even is anymore, wondering if even that has faded.

I can’t bear my days like this. This idleness means I’m only existing when I want to be out there, living. But I remain limited, trapped, wrapped up in this illness and the mix of emotions that accompanies it, even as I continue to get better. Even as my spirit grows stronger than it’s ever been before.

I don’t know what my future has in store now. For the first time in my life, there is no plan. What I could once envision so clearly is now an echo of the life I wanted. But I’ll keep waiting. I’ll keep fighting. I’ll put those other dreams to rest for now and concentrate on the only one that matters:

To live.


 

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Susan Pogorzelski is the author of “The Last Letter,” a semi-autobiographic novel about her struggle to find a Lyme diagnosis and subsequent journey through recovery.