flabby

My mind, body and spirit have grown flabby from Lyme. I had good news from my doctor this week. I am, metaphorically, sprinting down the backstretch. Only I’m not sprinting, I’m lackadaisically strolling, the one pace Lyme allowed. This is supposed to be good news, and it is. I haven’t figured out what it means for me yet. I was warned that this isn’t an immediate return to health. My body is more than flabby, it’s a toxic waste dump. It’s worn down and tired from three years of illness. When I was out of town with Dad the last few weeks, I got compliments on how good I looked. What a cruel paradox. I’ve never looked healthier or been sicker.

I joked with my friends in Dad’s retirement village in Tucson (yes, I’ve spent so much time there that I have my own friends there) that I live the lifestyle of a five-year-old. I also joked (but not really) that I’ve gotten a preview of the ravages that age brings. A preview, not the big show. I hope I make it to the big show. I’ll at least know how important taking care of yourself is.

That was one of the best parts of my doctor’s appointment. I have passed into that strange relationship doctors and patients have when they are brought together through serious illness. Not-quite-friends, he knows too many intimate details of my body and life to be merely an acquaintance. I see his wife, also, and I was delighted to hear from each of them that because I work so hard on my health (italics mine, because I am pretty fucking proud of myself) they think I’m going to make a full return to health. Yassss!

One of the secrets to coping with a long, drawn-out illness is surrendering to the illness. Not surrounding as in giving up, but giving in. It is, however, quite possible that I have gotten too comfortable with this skill. It’s ironic that the coping mechanisms I used to get through the last three years might be liabilities on the road to wellness. So what do I do now?

I consider myself an athlete. I have never gone more than eight weeks without working out. Whether it’s tennis, swimming, pickle ball, weight-lifting, Zumba, Jazzercise, running, hiking, or yoga, I am always doing something. I have continued this as much as possible during Lyme; in periods of relative health I swam, played pickle ball, walked and lifted weights. Each time was hard. I’ve had no stamina for two years. Getting back into shape is always a pain in the ass. I’ve done it after each of my surgeries and I will do it again now. Five minutes today, ten minutes next week. One day I’ll wake up and be working out at my normal pace.

Maybe that’s what I need to do in other areas of my life. I’ve never lost my mind before, but I’ve been working crosswords, playing Words with Friends, writing, reading again—getting my mind back into shape. Now I have to turn that mind-play into mind-work. I’ve shied away from mental work because I couldn’t handle the inevitable failure trying to perform a challenging job while I had Lyme. Now that’s changed. First step will be to devote an hour or two each day to a new, online writing job. It will seem unbearably difficult to me at first, like that first time I swim after a long layoff. I feel like a beached whale the first three or four times, my limbs flailing through the water and lungs gasping for air. Then there is a day where I slice through the water, pushing the last fifty of a two hundred without dying. I will gradually work more hours. One day I’ll wake up and realize I’m doing it easily and happily.

It’s the time between now and one day that is daunting. I’m sure I’ll push too hard, or beat myself up for not pushing hard enough. I’ll cry and get angry and wish things were different. I’ll bitch and moan to anyone who cares to listen (anyone? anyone?) how hard it is. There will be days where I feel strong and sharp and in control. There will be many more days where I want to crawl under the covers. I don’t ever want to be this sick again. Never, ever, ever.

My spirit is the weak corner of this triangle. This is one of the few times I wish I had faith in something. How easy it would be to fob it off on “god”. That’s not for me, though, I’ll have to figure out how to get my joie de vivre back on my own. It may surprise me, what makes me happy and replenishes me. I don’t have a clue at this point. Or maybe I do, but like my mind and body, my spirit has also atrophied, the energy Lyme took far exceeding my resources. What if my spirit doesn’t come back? I’m scared I don’t have what it takes to make it down the final stretch. I know, I’ve made it this far, blah, blah. If I can’t figure out how to rejuvenate my spirit, all of this will feel insurmountable.

I look at the people in Dad’s community. Some of them face what seems to me to be unimaginable hardship. They all cope with their changes differently, that’s expected, but they all share an unquenchable spirit, a thirst for life. That’s what I want. I just want it to be easier to get. Not only that, I find I really want to hang around for awhile. The world is an endlessly interesting place to be. I’ll find out what my spirit is made of, and what revives it. I’ll use that knowledge when I graduate to the big show and I’ll stay thirsty for as long as I’m able.

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almost

I have discovered recovery is more difficult than being ill. I am in the land of “almost well”, a state as close to purgatory as I can imagine. The difference between almost well and healthy is a sheer  mountain wall, technically difficult and requiring great strength. The difference between illness and almost well is a gentle poppy field like the one in the Wizard of Oz, easy to cross, yet vast and with many rest stops. The illness is a narcotic, blunting the endless trek to almost well. I suppose there must be a boulder field with jagged rocks before one runs into the monolithic wall of almost well. The effort is takes to climb the small boulders clears the mind and gives one false hope. The boulder field, for me, had a few fields of poppy, where I stayed, stupefied and disheartened once again. I also found a few trails, where I got a fleeting glimpse of normal.

It has been nearly three years since my tick bite. 2016 was the worst year. I earned a whopping $1000 for the year. I don’t remember large portions of the year. The fact that I wasn’t remotely aware of how bad it really was is the narcotizing effect of a serious illness. For some Lyme patients, especially those of us who did not get a quick diagnosis, doctors use the words “chronic Lyme disease”, or “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome” (I like that one, wordy and scold-y at the same time). I’ve been denying my status as one of those who might be chronic. I had to think about what “chronic” means, as it pertains to Lyme. If I google these terms, I get a long list of sites with vague definitions that mainly discredit the notion that it exists. It does. I’d love to not have relapses, or slides, or persistent, chronic fatigue. I like to pretend I’m just fine, but that doesn’t work, either. There are a lot of theories about this. Fuck theories. They don’t do jack shit for making me healthy.

The tone of my discussions at the doctor’s office have changed. We talk about “plateaus” and “shifts”, as if Lyme were a geologic event. I need to once again obsess over my symptoms, or lack of them, to gauge whether I am having a relapse (shift), or holding steady (plateau). My big fear is that I will plateau at almost well. Almost well isn’t awful. At this point, unless I have a seismic shift downwards, I won’t die of Lyme. The chronic, almost well part is the fact that sucks. It means I will always have to manage my energy and my health. It means I will be a delicate flower, getting enough rest and good food, and not getting stressed out. BORING! But definitely manageable.

If I sound a little whiny, I am. I feel a lot entitled to my whininess, until I think about other people I know. Almost well would be a dream to some of them. I know this, yet I persist in feeling cheated. Cheated out of what, exactly? There are no guarantees that me or anyone will live long and perfectly healthy lives. Lyme has insured that I will take care of myself for the rest of my life, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I meet people who have had very few health challenges. My dad comes to mind. He’s now had three surgeries, but before his knees were replaced he had had one back surgery in ’79 or ’80. He is not happy when his body isn’t working. He’s not a bad patient, but a resentful, reluctant one, as if these things should not be happening to him.

I’m not knocking my dad. His fighting spirit and unwillingness to fold are some of the many reasons he’s happy and healthy at 88. I don’t have that luxury anymore.  I’m not going to waste my energy on resentment disbelief. Because I am pathologically optimistic, I am going to assume (as I do in every bad situation, even when it’s obviously false) that I will plateau at normal. I now have the luxury of deciding what is important to me and making sure that’s what I do. Is it my house, or traveling? Do I like where I’m living? What do I really, really want to do that I haven’t done yet? Jumping out of a plane? Hell, NO. RVing? YES. Two questions answered. There are a bunch more waiting for me.

 

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ogled

I went to Victoria’s Secret with my daughter Katie last week. She just turned thirty. I am fifty-eight.  If you are the mother of a daughter, there comes a day of reckoning, a watershed moment that is not always welcomed. The day men’s eyes slide right past you and land squarely on your daughter. I remember it well. Katie had just turned fourteen and we were happily wandering around Target. A man in his late thirties couldn’t (or didn’t) hide his admiration of Katie. My first instinct was indignation. She’s a child. My second feeling was mourning. Was this the end of my sex appeal?

All women learn that they are objectified and admired by most men, either because they are, or because they aren’t. It is a part of most women’s lives whether they like it or not.  It’s a complicated road to navigate. Most women don’t like to be objectified, yet it is such a part of many cultures that to not be objectified or ogled sometimes feels worse. Every woman has her own stories and has drawn her own conclusions about being ogled. How we react can be a strong indicator of how we feel about ourselves, although it shouldn’t be. Personally, I liked it. A lot. Oh, sure, there are always men who openly catcalled, or took it past the point of simple appreciation. I learned to deal with that in a variety of ways. Katie would have to learn to deal with it, too, whether she liked it or not.

The years that followed gradually inured me to the reality of invisibility to men when I was with Katie. She was oblivious, self-conscious, delighted, and finally callous, the way all attractive girls must become in order to survive the near-constant ogling in everyday life (hey, guys, just because you think you’re being subtle doesn’t mean we don’t notice. We do.). This isn’t about whether we ogle men back. I’m not here to pass judgment on whether or not men should or should not ogle. I’m more interested in my own reactions to ogling. When I was young, I passed through the same phases as Katie—oblivion, self-consciousness, delight, and callousness. For those of us past a certain age, there is a last stop, and depending on who you are, it is either relief or mourning.

I have never lead with my looks, but I would definitely say looking attractive is important to me. As I’ve grown older, I like to look healthy and like I care about my appearance. Katie doesn’t have to care about her appearance. She is young and firm and fresh and lovely, as I once was. It is bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade my hard-earned wisdom and peace for a young body, yet the feeling of invisibility rankles.

I was essentially housebound for a year during my three-year long battle with Lyme disease. Something has happened now that I feel closer to normal. Is it my perception or my appearance that has changed? Or is it neither? I have changed. The sheer joy I feel to be out and about, alive and mostly healthy, has made me visible. That’s when I realized a person’s sex appeal is much more than looks. I’ve always known that, but I didn’t know that as it pertained to me. I’ve gained joie de vivre. Where had that gone all those years before Lyme? I thought I was happy. I worked much harder on looking good. Did being married create a shield to my sex appeal, or did I? I’m now certain it was my own unhappiness at the choices I made, an unconscious barrier of protection from an unhappy marriage, and the unfinished issues I wasn’t ready to face.

Through my experience with Lyme, I have come to believe that you cannot fully heal from a serious illness unless you’ve worked through your issues. I’ll never finish working on my own shit, but I now move through the world joyfully and with an inner peace. The paradox is the less I care about my sex appeal, the sexier I must appear. By that, I mean I am neither seeking out attention, nor shunning it. I dress and wear makeup for me. I often smile at nothing, simply because I am happy, and finally comfortable in my own skin.

At the end of our shopping trip, Katie and I stopped for dinner. We were celebrating her thirtieth birthday, her engagement, my return to health, and just being together. She stared at a young girl who entered the restaurant and sighed. “She has no idea, I wish I still had that body,” she said. Katie is just old enough to understand the bloom of youth is a gift. We both have complicated feelings about being ogled. Men still stare at her first. The ogles I get are more appreciative of my happiness, health and joy, and less frankly sexual. I am fine with that.

 

 

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symptoms

I don’t write much about the symptoms of Lyme. For one, it’s a rather long list. For another, who really cares, except for me, who experiences them? But I’ve been thinking about symptoms lately, because now that I’m getting out more, people ask me what my symptoms were. I kind of hem and haw and tell a light anecdote to give them the picture. Here’s the big problem: there are over one hundred symptoms for Lyme (http://www.anapsid.org/lyme/symptoms/ , http://www.lymenet.org/BurrGuide200810.pdf). Lyme mimics fibromyalgia, MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and up to 350 more diseases. To try and standardize the list for all patients is impossible. I never had much problem with arthritis-like swelling and pain, where others are wheelchair bound. Every Lyme patient has their own peculiar set of symptoms.

Taken one by one, most of the symptoms aren’t that bad. Combined, though, and suffered day after day after day, they wear on you. The final insult comes when you start treatment. You get sicker! Woo-hoo! Nothing like endotoxins and side effects to ice the cake on sickness. I’m not sharing this for pity. I don’t want to hear “I’m so sorry you’ve been so sick”. Well, maybe I do, sometimes. What I want is to help anyone avoid Lyme in the first place. I want people to understand what Lyme disease can become if not caught early. The physical, emotional and financial toll is too high stand by idly.

I keep journals. I have kept them off and on for the past twenty years, but I’ve been fairly consistent post-divorce. There is a row of notebooks in my office, each one filled out from the top of the first page to the bottom of the last page, front and back, no paragraphs or indents. Just words. The ones from living with Lyme this past fifteen months give me a glimpse into my sickness, in case I want to forget.

Okay, here is one from  December 8. It was crisp outside and my one goal for the day was to walk the dogs. I had returned from New York where I was diagnosed with mid-stage Lyme disease: borrelia burgdorferi, babesia , and bartonella. I had fifty-six symptoms checked off. One of the worst was an abnormally slow heart rate. That morning I shuffled one quarter-mile. I have a pulse rate app. I did it three times during the walk. 42. 88. 44. I talked to myself, told myself I could do this. Every bone and muscle in my body ached, I had foggy spots in the middle of each eye. My teeth hurt, as did my head. I had to stop twice because of dizziness. I made that damn walk. I went to bed and slept. I woke up and took my meds (I’ll write a blog about that soon…it’ll blow your mind). I watched the Hallmark Channel (still trying to figure that one out!). Cried. Ate. Went back to bed. And that was all the entry said for that day. I’ve paraphrased here, because much of my journal writing is a stream-of-consciousness blast of cheerleading and venting.

You get the picture. Telling this out loud, in public, is almost as terrifying as taking off all my clothes in public. Why do I balk at talking about this? Was it my parents’ no nonsense midwestern sensibility? My own bias towards sickness and sick people? What? I can’t figure this one out. Maybe it has to do with whining? I am NOT a whiner (I’m a bitcher, but that is a whole different skill set). Or the ‘poor me’ syndrome. Awful. This brings me to play time. Now that I’m getting better, I am eager to date, to play pickleball, see friends, get out and do something. Well, what should happen but guilt. Big chunks of shoulds and have tos weighed me down. I should be working if I feel better. I have to get this yard in shape and take care of business. I bitched about this problem (curse words were involved…see the difference from whining?)  to my therapist. I’m pretty sure he answered with a question. “Why should you feel bad? Don’t you deserve to have some fun?” W.T.F. Have fun? Was he mad?

I felt a tremendous sense of guilt about being sick for so long. After all, if you are sick, you are not being productive. And not being productive is a sin. A mother’s definition, America’s definition, and mine, apparently. So. I am working on this notion that it is okay to have happiness after a long illness. I don’t have to plunge into everything, all at once. I played pickleball this morning. It made me happy. I saw old friends and felt the heady rush of playing a game. The rest of the day has been better. I’m actually working harder in between bouts of playing. It could be that play is vitally important to recovering health. Play gives me a truer taste of life as it was. Life has been lots and lots of watery gruel the past sixteen months. I’m ready for spice and comfort food.

 

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