baby steps

In the past 7 years I have made many attempts to get “back to life.” “Life” was defined as a regular job, keeping up the house, paying the bills, an active social life, and a return to health. Each effort lasted until a flare-up, and then I couldn’t juggle all of those things. After most attempts I felt worse than if I had never tried. This past year it was clear there would be no “back to life” as I knew it.

I decided to redefine what “life” meant to me. I had to look deep and let go of things that took too much of my energy and time, rather than exhaust myself keeping the thought of that other life alive. I’m sure that some friends looked on in concern as I sold my house, my car, and many of my things, bought a townhome to share with my daughter (I made the down payment, she carries the mortgage and we are both on the deed), and came down to Tucson to stay with my dad. “Crazy,” they probably thought, ” I could never do that.”  And maybe they couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

I’m going to do something I rarely do: give myself credit for knowing, deep in my bones, that this was precisely the right series of decisions for me. Like a snake molting its’ skin, or for me, more like a hermit crab scuttling from one snug home to another, I did all those things listed above . I made my  life move, whether I’m truly ready or not. Somehow, I knew what I needed was more space where I had time to think, and to do nothing but concentrate on my health and my self. It sounds like a huge gamble, but in reality it wasn’t. Once you’ve accepted the way things are going to be and what you can change the options are easy.

You’d be surprised how little possessions matter when the tradeoff is the freedom to grow. In fact, I feel lighter, less held down by a place or the responsibilities of caring for all that stuff. Do I miss some of those things? Of course I do, sometimes, but for the most part I don’t think of them at all.

So far, the results have paid off. I feel better than I have in over seven years. There were a few hiccups (the COVID vaccination and boosters sent my immune system into overdrive for weeks afterwards), and a few times when it seemed like nothing was going to change. Then one day I woke up and realized I hadn’t taken any medications, herbs, or sleep aids for Lyme in a week. Another day I had the energy to lift weights or swim 2000 yards. I was writing with a clarity I hadn’t had in so long I feared it was gone forever.

This is good news, right? Surprisingly, returning to health has required a great deal of work and energy.  A subject we don’t talk about much is the emotional burden of having a chronic disease. Lyme, in particular, is linked to  higher rates of depression and suicide, and lower quality of life., and PTSD  PTSD? I didn’t see that one coming,  but because I never know when or why I experience a flare-up, nor do I know how bad or how long a relapse will last, my body and mind stay on hyper-alert, always ready to fight. As you can imagine, this is an exhausting vigil.

I believe I had forgotten how to be healthy, how to have hopes and aspirations, and how to have a regular, steady rhythm to life.  I discovered that I had been protecting myself from the inevitable relapse, even in areas of my life like books, movies, and television, never watching anything too emotionally challenging unless I was “up for it.” Shedding all of the parts of my life that took up time and energy gave me room to just…be.

Living in a retirement community in Tucson with Dad is about as low-key as you can get. My dad’s house is a short walk from the pool and weight room. I walk Rocky around the neighborhood every morning, saying hello to the other walkers. I help Dad with whatever he needs, which isn’t much (usually a tech problem or something he doesn’t want to take care of), and the rest of my time is my own. Well, mostly my own. One of the secrets I’ve learned during my journey, is that I need to keep plugging away at writing and learning when I can, even if I forget it later or what I wrote was crap, because sooner or later, the writing becomes good and the information sticks.

I never stopped taking twice-weekly Spanish classes and kept on writing. I continue to make long-term plans for moving to another country, even when it seemed hopeless. This has been absolutely necessary to healing, because having the hope of a different fulfilling life (even if it might never actually happen) makes my life worthwhile. And so I make these baby steps forward as my mind and body come to terms with what I can’t change and what I can change.  I am slowly reclaiming my life, wresting what I can away from Lyme while still recognizing it will always be with me.

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