comfort

This blog was originally about losing my mind and being sad when I got well enough to realize I lost my mind for a good long while. There is little doubt (at least to me) that my brain is returning.  I kept veering off the subject of crazy, though. and into grief. I had no idea that I was and am grieving right now. Grieving is  different than depression. Grieving the loss of something partially returned is different than mourning the loss of a loved one. Nonetheless, grieving overtly implies loss, and only now can I see what I’ve lost in the last three years. Only now that I am returning to health that I have the energy for such an indulgence. Perhaps ‘indulgence’ not exactly right—it seems unavoidable—but why can’t I use my returning energy for something useful?

I haven’t had a huge amount of loss in my life. Three of my grandparents died before I was thirteen. My Nanny died when Katie was young. I mourned, but I didn’t know profound loss until my mom died. That period of bereavement morphed into an outpouring of grief for all the hurts in my life. What purpose does this serve for humans? It’s never fun, always difficult, and the end result is, what? A blank exhaustion, a feeling that there are simply no more tears to be shed. That particular part of the journey is different for everybody.

What I really want to know was why I spend so much energy on grief. There are four stages of ‘normal’ grieving: Numbness/disbelief, Separation/distress, Depression-mourning (are the two inseparable?), and Recovery. There is something called ‘complicated grief’ (wtf? is that different from ‘simple grief?) and ‘infinite loss’. I hate having my journey so neatly compartmentalized, so pedestrian. On the other hand, knowing this is normal is comforting.  I found myself feeling much better just reading about  ‘Perpetual complicated grief’, aka, constant sorrow.

I am not a woman of constant sorrow. There are times when an inertia settles over everything, and that’s unpleasant. The grief is like a low-grade fever, not incapacitating but definitely a factor in my everyday life. Grief from chronic illness is different from acute or terminal illness. Those illnesses have  a definite end, one either gets well or one dies. Chronic illness is a series of losses, unending, and multiple. These are known as infinite losses. Great. Constant sorrow over infinite losses. Sounds Sisyphean, and it is.

The most difficult aspect of chronic illness  and grief is girding up for the next round. As I write this, it (finally, DUH!)occurs to me this is why I am continually battling exhaustion. This is why I nap daily and sleep eight hours a night. Maybe grief serves as a reminder to my body: this isn’t over, you need to rest, don’t get too excited, now. As if I need a reminder.

Sometimes I wonder when this (Lyme and grieving) will be all over. More often, though, I remind myself that the weight of my illness and grief are the only things I get to determine. So I bumble on, wrestling with keeping both loads as weightless as I can, while still trying to live. I need to be smacked in the face to recognize what is often right in front of me. Putting a name on what I am experiencing is what I need to recalibrate. Which brings me to comfort. Anyone who has gone through this process understands the need for comfort. Respite might be the better term, but comfort through the process is elemental.

I have time-tested activities that provide comfort to me. Some are mundane, like cooking and cleaning. The results of both are deeply soothing because they are concrete reminders of my usefulness and skills. Movies. Cocooning in a dark theater and entering another world, no matter how grim, is essential. Music. Because singing loudly and badly with your favorite songs never gets old. Walking the dogs. No explanation needed. Playing pickle ball. I love the game and the people. I don’t want to brag, but I’m popular with the over-65 men. Writing. For some reason I love spilling my guts to everyone. After the first time, it gets easier. Lifeguarding. Any work is better than not working. Besides, I like lifeguarding. I think deep thoughts staring at the pool.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize whether I’m grieving or relapsing. A friend who has battled a chronic illness for years told me that when he’s having a good day, for whatever reason, he lets himself enjoy it. Does whatever he wants and doesn’t feel guilt AT ALL. I tell myself to do that, but it isn’t easy. I have trouble gauging how much I can handle, and tend to beat myself up when I do too much. Maybe when I get to the recovery stage I can relax and enjoy life fully.

Where does all this grieving and ruminating leave me? A little bit stuck, I guess. I am going to have to trust in myself (always dicey) and have faith that one day grieving and healing won’t be so hard. Meanwhile, I keep busy cleaning, resting, lifeguarding, writing, vegetating, playing pickle ball, walking the dogs, working from home, and above all, trying to get to that zen space of enjoying myself guilt free.

ps I started this blog before Las Vegas. The sense of grief over events in the world today is a daily battle. Comforting and being kind to yourself is more essential than ever.

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vacation

I like vacations. I especially like unexpected vacations, like the one I was just on. I say “unexpected”, but I mean “forgot about”. This happens to me more than you’d think. To many people, being sick IS vacation. There is the luxury of staying home and taking care of yourself. I don’t know what this says about our society, that a “staycation” can be as desirable as a vacation, but I do know that being housebound because of illness is no vacation.

I don’t quite remember how this vacation came together, yet here I was, two days before departure, bitching to Katie about leaving. I am one of those people who feel compelled to leave a clean house and yard. I know, no surprise there. It’s more work up front, but always worth it on the return side. So I was running around the house, cleaning and weeding and watering and organizing, and not packing a single thing. Was this vacation worth it? Should I be leaving at all? What was I thinking back in March? Oh yeah, I had planned on being well.

The journey itself is enjoyable to me. Something about solo travel makes me feel competent and free. The whole flavor of travel has changed for the better since becoming single. My ex was an impatient, tense traveler. I’m chill to the point of sending my itinerary to my friends because I can never quite remember the particular details of dates and times (see first paragraph—it happens a LOT). Still, I get myself from point A to point B with little fuss and trouble.

Some people, myself included, struggle with the idea that sickness deserves a vacation. The answer is emphatically yes. Serious illness gives few breaks, and a respite punctuated with illness is better than no respite at all. Or, as my friend Paul has said, “I can be sick in Paradise or sick at home. I choose Paradise”. I knew that many people would think going on vacation would mean I was better. I am better, but I am not well. I knew I would have some bad days, perhaps during, but definitely afterward due to the stress of travel and fun. What I didn’t know was how worth it going on vacation was.

Something else went on vacation, too. My medication schedule. I can do that with Lyme. Each bug, borrelia, babesia, and bartonella, has intense defense mechanisms (biofilms,  cysts, and hiding in tissues where there is no blood flow, like eyeballs and joints and the brain), so the protocol is always changing. Most doctors pulse medications in monthly bursts, to constantly hit them with something different. That means I can, theoretically, miss a week or so of most medicines and not mess up my treatment.

Almost all Lyme literate doctors use both pharmaceuticals and herbs to treat Lyme. The pills are easy. I can take up to seven pills in one gulp, if they’re not huge. The herbs are different. I mix all the herbs in a glass, 15 drops at a time. Then I put in maybe an ounce of water and drink it. Katie watched this once and said, “That smells like some foul shit.” A note about some of the stuff I take: it is some foul shit. I don’t think about how it tastes. I just chug it. I’m still trying to figure out what in my life made me such a champion medicine taker and I’ve got nothing.

I always feel a little bit naughty that first day I don’t take my meds. The freedom from that tedium is immense, I can’t believe how easy it is to NOT take medicine. I have them with me, too tethered to the thought of needing them to leave them at home. Sometime in the afternoon of day two, as on most vacations, something loosens inside of me. I don’t care what’s going on in the world. I quit checking my phone and my computer lies idle. The medicine migrated to the bottom of my suitcase.

Isn’t that the whole purpose of vacation? A rejuvenation of mind, body and spirit? Too often we pursue vacations with a grim purpose to pack as much activity and fun into them as possible, leaving exhaustion and frustration in the wake. I much prefer my friends’ pace: puzzles, hammocks, a vague daily plan which may or may not involve an actual activity, games at night, and the freedom to do whatever you’d like.

I got myself home with little fuss, and a small bonus: dinner with another friend. I milked a few more hours of vacation, and returned home to Katie and the dogs. That might be the best part of vacations for me—the moment I walk in the door of my own home. The smell is deeply familiar and comforting, as my home smells like both my childhood and adulthood. The dogs greet me as if I’ve been gone forever. Katie bounds up the stairs and gives me a hug. “I missed you!” I’ll start retaking my medicine tomorrow. Tonight I will unpack before I let out that final exhale of vacation, before thoughts of tomorrow, with schedules and chores, creep in.

 

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retired?

What’s the difference between being retired and being useless? Staying busy or taking up space? Is there a magical moment where one moves from one column to the next? I’ve been pondering these questions as I cobble together ways to feel useful and productive with the erratic uncertainty of Lyme. I am terrified of being seen as useless.

There is a lot of talk these days about “personal responsibility” and not wanting to pay for “able-bodied people who can work.” This presents me with a dilemma. Do I make myself sicker to assuage the scarlet letter of being useless? Or do I take care of myself and continue to chip away at my inheritance? I’m not costing anyone but my future self a damn dime. I don’t have insurance. I pay cash for all my doctor appointments and medications ($15k and counting). I am on no assistance. So why do I continue to beat myself up about this?

I do work. I lifeguard. It is low-key (except the .1% of the time when you’re faced with a medical emergency) and I can make my own schedule. I am an Airbnb host. Neither of these jobs pays the rent. They give me structure that I can manage and something to do for money. Cleaning, shopping, gardening, writing, socializing and working out take up the rest of my time, in that order. Some days I have to drop some or all of these things. Big deal. I deeply resent the idea that you have to ‘earn’ the right to be useless in America. First of all, being useless in America means not getting paid. Every  stay-at-home parent knows what this is like. We don’t value certain jobs as much as others. We vilify the working poor. We especially abhor people who don’t carry their weight.

Second of all, things happen. Illness, bad luck, poor choices, economic downturns, anything, really. Most of us are closer to the edge than we’d like to admit. Most of us wouldn’t last long if we didn’t have investments, savings, families, or access to a social safety net. Without my dad and Katie, and friends, I’d give myself two years, tops, after contracting Lyme disease. That makes me lucky, not worthy.

We all know people who, for whatever reason, have more trouble with this than others. I am far less judgmental than ever (not that I was terribly judgmental to begin with) now that I have Lyme. People post memes that say things like “You never know what someone is going through. Be kind. Always” on Facebook all the time. I know instantly that this person is saying, in code, that they are going through some kind of crisis. It’s important to realize that things happen to good people, bad people, and everyone in between. Sometimes it’s not their fault, and sometimes you know damn well it is. Then what?

It’s an awfully big job to decide who is worthy of your empathy and who isn’t. I know some people see me out and about and wonder to themselves ‘how sick can she be’, and I want to explain how Lyme works. When I turn 65 and still have Lyme I can consider myself ‘retired’ and not ‘sick’. Or can I? Maybe I can be sick and retired. Will I be worthy of idleness then? What if I get well and want to work. What if no one hires me because I’m too old and have been sick?

I’m not alone with these thoughts and fears. I am exceedingly lucky to not have to ask other questions, like  ‘will I run out of money’ and ‘do I have somewhere to live’. I am torn over solutions. On one hand, I don’t want insurance companies dictating my Lyme treatment, mainly because they are shitty at it. They deny and charge higher prices, so much so, that I’d rather pay cash (at much lower rates, I might add). If I was on Medicare or Medicaid, I’d have the same problems. Maybe Lyme is a special case, right now, with no consensus on how to treat, for how long, or what to do for patients who fall into the category of ‘chronic or persistent Lyme disease’, like me.

Meanwhile, I struggle to maintain a balance between self-care and usefulness.There are things I have let go without my knowledge. Through a stroke of luck (Jake, it’s Jake wanting all my hours at the pool), I’ve had some extra time. I hadn’t filed papers or gone through my files in a long time. I cleaned the refrigerator and the pantry. I went downstairs and cleaned long neglected corners of the house. The acts lightened me and gave me the sweet illusion of control. I was deeply disaoppointed, too, because man, I thought I was keeping up. It was a disconcerting peek into old age—the shocking ease with which things can get way out of hand.

There does come a time when you have earned retirement. Full retirement. The kind of idleness that means your biggest decision might be whether to put on clothes. My dad is there. At almost 89, he can do whatever he damn well pleases. At some point, I’m going to have to reassess where I am with Lyme, retirement, and usefulness. I’m putting it off as long as possible, because I might not like my choices. A lot can change in a short time, though, that much I know. And sooner or later, if I’m super lucky, I’ll get where my dad is. I don’t think I’ll wear clothes.

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doublechecking

I like to google the side effects of the drugs I take. I used to do this several times a day, mainly because I could never remember what they were from hour to hour. I do it a lot less now. A month ago, some not so good symptoms crept back (a whole other google rabbit hole). I went back to the doctor and I started taking liposomal artemisinin, a Chinese wormwood derivative that is effective against malaria, babesia, and Lyme (babesia is often a Lyme co-infection) The liposomal part is a fatty matrix that stabilizes the artemisinin part and helps the body absorb the artemisinin. I’m also taking a few more herbs. Cumanda, an anti-bacterial herb from the Campsiandra Angustifolia tree in the Amazon is one. Cumanda is for neuroborreliosis,  or “Lyme brain”. I’m also taking teasel root extract. That one is from Dypsacus Sylvestris, a biennial teasel plant. Teasel root extract is a cyst buster and biofilm remover. See why I had to google this shit several times a day?

I wondered which one of these herbs was causing my brain fog, liver pain, fatigue, itching, stomach problems and achy bones. As usual, there is no definitive answers. Could be the liposomal artemisinin. Some of the symptoms might be from teasel root. Others might be from cumanda. Why do I care? It doesn’t really matter, does it? Either way, I have to take them, or the alternatives, Flagyl or Mepron, or any of the pharmaceutical drugs I have also used. They have some of the same side effects, and some others that are worse.

One of the things I’ve noticed now that I am noticeably better is the herxes don’t get easier. They are not as bad as they were earlier, but again, does it matter? Sick is sick. These are mostly walking around doing things and crashing later in the day herxes, so shouldn’t I be thankful for that? I should be, but I’m not.

Oh, I forgot the last one I’m taking now, MC-Bar-2. That one is for bartonella and is a medley of herbs like Skullcap, Jamaican sarsaparilla, cordyceps, Pau d’Arco, White Willow and more. I started to read about each ingredient, but stopped after cordyceps, a fungi that the Chinese grow on caterpillars (and I’m drinking that shit? GROSS!). Also taking low-dose naloxone, the drug they use to reverse heroin overdoses. They caution me against taking any narcotic every time I refill that one, but I happily down the little white pill in hopes that it does, in fact, boost brain activity in inflamed brains like mine.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep taking all this stuff. Then Lyme comes creeping back. Once bugs get in your system, it’s hard to eradicate all of them. Once Lyme goes untreated for any length of time, no one knows if you are ever “cured”. Each bug has unique properties that make them hard to eradicate. Cysts, biofilms, protein-changing strategies, even immune modulators in tick saliva,  It’s as though the ticks and the pathogens they carry form an evil synergy  designed to fool the human immune system.

I am not making this stuff up. I wish I were sometimes. The Lyme community debates the validity of herbs vs pharmaceuticals, IV antibiotics, diet, and alternative therapies, like rifing (a highly controversial technique using electromagnetic waves, the patient holds a metal cylinder in each hand, rather like a jumpstart cable for car batteries). The herxes  I experience tell me that the herbs work, sometimes more effectively than the pharmaceuticals. Sometimes  I wonder if I’ll be on some form of maintenance herbs forever. That wouldn’t be too bad, except that the herbs taste foul. They have to be taken on an empty stomach, with a small amount of water. I look at the mixture as a tastebud wake-up call.

Why do I keep looking up both the disease and the cure? I think I have to double check to see if a) I have Lyme, and b) I am still sick with Lyme. There is a third option. I have the ridiculous theory that since I have Lyme, I will get no other diseases. The sheer lunacy of this insures that I double and triple check my symptoms, making sure that I only have Lyme. You can die from Lyme, but it is rare, if it is treated. I had to google Lyme fatality rates just now. They are low, but phrases like “drastically shortened lifespans” and “death from secondary infections” pop up too often for my taste.

There can be no other reasons than these. It’s fucked up that I still need affirmation that I do have Lyme. I don’t want it. Is that why I do it? Maybe this time I’ll see that all these symptoms are not Lyme! It’s something else, something easily cured with a few pills. And don’t you think I’d be okay with being sick by now? Apparently not. <sigh> Google will have to continue to be my support group, because I don’t particularly like support groups. It’s not that I don’t want to share information. It’s the few people who seem to use the forum as an opportunity to whine on and on about how sick they are.

Ooh, that was kind of mean. I’m sure they can’t help it, and really need the support. I like a different kind of support. I like it best when people treat me normally, teasing and harassing me as if everything is fine. It is, mostly. Except when it’s not. Then I google away, double and triple checking. Just in case.

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liar

I was going to write a paean to my Dad on my blog this week, being Father’s Day and all, but my dad really, really hates Father’s Day. Instead, I realized that I lie to myself about Lyme now. Yes. It’s true. You can lie to yourself about anything. Think about it. I’ve decided I should be just about well now, so I have rationalized my relapses by saying I’m “super-tired”. I can do this for days. In fact, I just did!

This past week, Denver’s Lighthouse Writers host LitFest. Workshops, readings, and salons where authors famous in the literary world discuss literature. I needed to get back into the writing world. I took the week off from work and volunteered. I also took five or six workshops. I started to backslide the fifth or sixth day. I told myself I was tired from working my brain and social skills for the first time in at least a year and a half. Lies, all lies. As my daughter said today, “You want me to tell you when you’re relapsing? Because I could’ve told you that four days ago.” Cue eye roll.

Why do I have such a hard time admitting to relapses? This must be a new thing, tied into my belief that I should be well. Or maybe there is more to it than that. When I was little, when we were sick, Mom had her tried and true medicines and sick foods. Ginger ale and jello for stomach upset, Coriciden-C and warm saltwater for colds and sore throats., and calamine lotion and mercurochrome for everything else. This lasted as long as you were actually ill. We were not allowed to watch TV, or run around, or goldbrick. As soon as we were well, we were expected to get on with it. She was a good example, herself. I rarely saw her sick in bed, unless she had a raging cold, was throwing up, or when she had cancer (okay, pretty good excuse, Mom). Other than that, she got up and powered through everything. Dad was not much different. He scared the shit out of me when he had back surgery. I was a freshman in college, so to see him laid out like that for the first time in my life was shocking.

My point is, being sick only got you so much sympathy in my house. I absorbed these lessons and chafe at not being well. I don’t revel in the attention being sick gets. In fact, I hate it. I also hate not having any fun, and believe me, when you’ve been sick a long time, even work is something fun. So I lie. Maybe I hope that the lie will morph into the truth. That would be great. I do it in all sorts of ways. There’s the ‘wow, I look pretty good for having eaten 400 potato chips this week’ lie. The ‘twenty minutes of weights and 800 yard swim is a tough workout’ lie. The ‘I deserve this <blank> my life has been so hard this week’ lie. That one’s my favorite and usually involve either clothes or makeup. In truth I don’t ‘deserve’ shit, it’s a self-serving lie, the best kind.

In reality, though, super-tired means a relapse. My bones ache, my brain thrums and I bang around like a woman in high heels after three glasses of wine I rub my eyes because they burn and itch and blur up. It is most certainly bartonella. I’m taking medicine, so a reaction means dead bugs, which means a sore liver and more tiredness. It’s all so boring. I think that might be my problem. I am bored with Lyme. Bored with doing only what I can, not what I want. Bored with babying myself, always making sure I get enough rest, eating well, and all that crap. Bored with my own limitations. Lying makes it more bearable. Am I really fooling myself, though? It would seem I am such a good liar, that I can fool myself quite easily, but then, one has to want to believe in a lie to get away with it.

I don’t see any way out of this box. I’m not well enough to forge ahead with my life with no consequences. I’m tired of being sick. The lies work! Father’s Day is still this weekend. I’ll call Dad, tell him I love him. I can embarrass him any time I want. I’ll get to that paean someday, Dad,  but you gets a pass this weekend.

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lovesick

Infect me. Really. Four years after my divorce, I am ready. Or am I? And why did I choose the word lovesick? Why not simply love? I’m not sure, I’m only certain I want the heart-pounding, stomach-swooping sickness that falling in love brings. I’m ignoring the other side of lovesick. The anxiety and uncertainty, the delirium and yes, obsession it brings.

Some days I’m not sure I want to handle more stress, good or bad. Other days the urge to be swept away, overwhelmed by something outside of myself is intense. Several things vex me about this burgeoning desire to be lovesick. What if I think I’m open to love but I’m not—I’m sending out stay away vibes without being aware of it? This is a distinct possibility. My capacity for deluding myself is infinitely reliable. My intuition is of no help here, it is blind to my own faults. Hopefully I’m sending those vibes to the men who would be wrong for me. Then again, I had a talent for choosing the wrong guy when I was younger. Maybe I haven’t lost that talent yet. I also tend to protect my heart. I know, don’t we all? I have raised this to a fine art, probably from the moment my birth mother gave me away. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve ever been completely open to intimacy. I’d like to think I have and am, but I wouldn’t swear on a Bible or anything (not that swearing on a Bible is reliable with an atheist, anyway).

What if the object of my desire is already in my life, and I am too blind to see it? See above. My talents are freakish and specific. I can tie cherry stems in my mouth. I can identify obscure pop songs. I know how to fold fitted sheets. My past history tells me I have had fabulous men in my life who I’ve pushed away, because they were way too together for me. I have changed, but who knows? Self-sabotage is also another of my talents. The corollary to this is what if the sickness isn’t reciprocated? That’s thinking awfully far ahead, but still…Strangely, this doesn’t freak me out as much as it would have in the past. I don’t have to have love. I want love. The difference is immense.

The last concerns all have to do with Lyme. What if I can’t handle love? This sounds ridiculous to the healthy, but to us chronically ill people, this is a real issue. Stress, good and bad, can trigger a shift. Being lovesick could translate into simply being sick. On the other hand, perhaps love helps the body and mind heal. Wouldn’t that be great? My yearning to be lovesick might be an intuitive quest for health. Kinda takes the romantic part out of it. Which brings up another issue: am I chasing after a high that is unrealistic? After all, that’s what I daydream about, walks in the park (preferably on a sunny, mild day), romantic dinners, slow dancing in the kitchen. not the reality of dirty socks and clashing needs. Sometimes I worry that this makes me more than a little silly, like I haven’t evolved much beyond seventh grade crushing. If only it were that easy. I’d get my friend to go to his friend with a note that has two checkboxes: do you a) like or b) don’t like Melissa? Fill out and give back to <fill in friend’s name here>.

Lyme also has given me a checkered resume. Who wants to take on someone who has health problems? In fact, on paper, I pretty much suck. I want someone to give me a chance, but would I give them a chance? I guess that depends on how lovesick I am. Also, (and for me this is gigantic), how judgmental is this person? It is surprising how many people I have met who do not understand what it means to be chronically ill. Those of us who have been lucky enough to experience the special gift of serious illness have usually learned far more than they wanted about themselves. We don’t judge. You never know what someone else is going through. I’m not sure I can be with someone who helpfully suggests that maybe I need to suck it up and then I’ll magically feel better. That man is not going to be too understanding the fourth of fifth time I need to go to bed for a few days.

Jeez, I might have talked myself out of wanting to be lovesick. It all seems like a lot of work, finding someone, getting to know them, falling in love with them, coexisting with them, being open to being hurt…nah…this is one bug I think I could happily live with.

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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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intuition

I run hot and cold on trusting my intuition. There have been times when I know down to my bones that I am doing the right thing. Other times, I waffle, unsure if I can trust my gut feelings. Intuition is a slippery beast, a decision based on feelings, without evident rational thought or interference. I borrowed the last part of that sentence from Merriam-Webster. Rational thought is considered far preferable to intuition in our linear Western way of thinking. I always get into trouble when I try to apply logic to intuition. The best case scenario is one where logic reinforces my intuition. As if that ever happens.

There’s another dimension that I wouldn’t have seen at first, if my friend Morgan hadn’t pointed it out. She is a fellow lifeguard, a debater and one smart cookie. The monkey wrench is what I want or need. How many times have I ignored my gut feelings because I wanted or needed something? Or thought I did? A helluva lot more times than I care to admit. So much, in fact, that at times I have lost faith in my ability to intuit. After all, I can’t seem to stay married, my writing hasn’t set the world on fire, and I am struggling to define a new life. That is not a great track record.

On the other hand, I have a circle of fabulous friends, a close relationship with my daughter and dad, and a stable life. Dating is…interesting. It is as much about who I am as it is about finding the right person. I’d argue that figuring out me is harder than finding the guy, but so far, the race is neck and neck. How much can I trust my intuition on this front, especially in the age of electronic courtships? Can I read between the lines and see what is, or is that placing a layer of both logic and want over the whole thing? Or am I overthinking everything?

Words can be arranged to present whatever I want to the other person. I can make myself a far better person with words. So can he. So can anyone who is a wordsmith. I can think about what I want to say, and there are no nonverbal signals to agonize over. On the other hand, (I always feel like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof when I do this…) sometimes the distance allows for a candor that would be hard to achieve face to face. I think texts and emails are epistles in hyper-speed. What would Jane Austen have done in modern times? And why in the world would I sometimes prefer texts and emails to a real live date?

It’s not a preference, but a reality. I don’t go out and simply meet someone based on their picture and a few paragraphs of bland description. I test the waters with words first. Some men are not writers and they drop off the radar fairly quickly. Others are terrific writers, but they are too this, or not enough that. The few that make it through that gauntlet get a face to face. This all sounds brutal, and to some extent, it is. Fortunately, aspiring writers have tough hides. I know now that some rejections are personal, but most are not.

Not sure how this turned into a dating blog, but I do know how Lyme ties in. I spent a lot of time denying my intuition. If I had trusted it, I would have demanded a thirty-day course of Doxycycline the minute I showed flu-like symptoms after my tick bite. I did not. I spent a further year ignoring and denying the strange symptoms that cropped up: tingling in my hands and feet, bizarre aches and pains in my joints and muscles, eye problems, a sore throat, head and neck aches, etc, etc, etc. My dad and Katie urged me to fly to New York to get a diagnosis. I did. I cried when the doctor confirmed what my intuition had told me nearly fifteen months earlier.

Once diagnosed, I made it my business to read everything I could on Lyme. Then I made it my business to trust my intuition. I chose not to have insurance (far easier than you might imagine, and incredibly freeing). I am in charge of my treatment, in collaboration with my Lyme Literate MD, who embraces the whole body approach to illness. I take pharmaceuticals, because I have to in order to kill the three bugs industriously multiplying in my body effectively. I do acupuncture, because it relieves many of my toxicity symptoms. I take many herbs and supplements, because they add subtle, real support to my sick body. I don’t eat dairy, gluten, or sugar. I don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, because all these dietary changes keep my body from being inflamed. I don’t care what other people do, I trust my intuition that these are the right things for me.

I’m going to take this newfound confidence in my own intuition and apply it to dating, writing and life in general. I’m working on not putting my wants and needs first, or applying too much logic into the equation. I will not overthink. I’ll have to give that some thought. Shit. That one’s gonna be a problem.

 

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time

If I were to characterize myself, I’d be the grasshopper in Aesop’s Fable #373, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper dances and frolics all summer, while the ant toils away, gathering food for the winter. When winter comes, the cold and hungry grasshopper begs the ant for food and shelter, and is refused. The moral of the story, of course, is the daily grind is a far worthier pursuit than fun and games. I have trouble with this concept. I’ve been content to drift along on the gentle waves of a privileged life. Being content is not a recipe for professional success, however. My friend Laura and I talk about this often. Neither of us would say we were ambitious, an almost shameful admission in America. When I was younger, I chose a path that suited me, that of corporate housewife. We moved every couple of years, so I worked part-time, usually at jobs that had some benefit to the family: free childcare, free gym memberships, or discounted clothes and gear. I took pride in being a good housewife. I drifted. Things changed.

Lyme disease, as in every aspect of my life, forced me to reevaluate. I am now in a big hurry to “do things”. And by doing things, I mean being true to myself and not being afraid. Life is short. I know that now, at the solidly middle age of 58. Maybe part of this hurry IS middle age, the tidying of loose ends that were neglected earlier. Most people toiled away and neglected friends, family and fun. I was fortunate to have the opposite equation. We could get into a whole discussion of whether the trade-off of marriage was worth it, but why? I can’t change my choices, nor do I want to. I have been able to experience life events fully without the interruption of a job. I was present during my mother’s illness and her death. I have helped my parents through surgeries and moves and have gotten to spend time with them. I was able to torture my daughter by being there for most of her life. Okay, there was that time I forgot her at her math tutor’s house and maybe I was late for a few things, but I was there. My not working allowed my ex-husband to concentrate on his career, and while that didn’t work out so well for me in the long run, I still don’t regret it.

What changed? There was no epiphany, nor was there one cataclysmic event. There were a series of small events. A marriage foundering slowly. An only daughter leaving the nest. A random afternoon spent watching the Westminster Dog Show with the daughter. The announcer told the story of the Hungarian Komondor, whose long, corded coat protected the sheepdog from wolf bites. She thought that was fascinating, and from that a germ of an idea sprouted. I started to write a book about Golden Retrievers. Believe me, if I had known how hard writing a book was, I never would have done it. I slowly dipped my toes into the waters of the writing world.

While I wouldn’t recommend a serious illness to anyone, I am once again grateful for Lyme, and especially for neuroborreliosis. The reawakening of my once inflamed brain has produced both an urgency and sharpness of thought that has been highly beneficial to my writing and myself. Man, the above sentences are a testament to silver linings. I can hardly imagine how anyone could benefit from losing one’s mind for an extended period (say, longer than an acid trip), yet I did. What I do with this newfound urgency is an ongoing struggle. I am not fully recovered. Energy and stamina are precious commodities in my world. Writing about my past, especially the physical and sexual abuse, is surprisingly exhausting. Dating is exhilarating and exhausting. Taking care of myself and my home is calming and exhausting. Looking for a “real” job falls to the bottom of the list for now. Lifeguarding will have to suffice as I put myself back together. I don’t have an old life to return to. There is no loved one, no job, no “normal.” I was in the throes of reinvention when Lyme hit.

It has taken years to discover my voice, and what I must write. I was my own worst enemy. When I think of all the time I have wasted doubting myself when I was younger, I cringe. Oh, I still doubt myself, often and with great energy. The difference is that doubt doesn’t stop me. I must write, and I must write about deeply personal things. Is this what ambition feels like? Or is this a form of self-therapy, or personal flagellation? I could have chosen an easier path. The arts are no way to make a living.

The metamorphosis from ant to grasshopper continues. I know I shortchange myself, it’s a problem. I work much harder than I let on. I also think waaaaay too much, as any friend of mine knows. As I attempt to embrace the thorny new normal, I will remind myself that I’ve survived happily for most of my life as a grasshopper,  dancing, frolicking, and experiencing life.

 

 

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mess

I was once a hot mess. I know this because I’ve asked old friends what they thought of me back then. There was no rhyme or reason for my behavior in my teens and early twenties. I was completely unaware that I was, in my own way, desperately trying to work through my damage. Sometimes it is easier to admit to sexual abuse than to discuss the fallout. What we hide in our teens and twenties, and sometimes, our lifetimes, and how we present ourselves are often at odds. I’m willing to bet not one of my peers in high school had any inkling that I was sexually and physically abused by my brother, just as I had no inkling of their troubles.

Let’s go back even further, before any of that happened. My dad says he knew I was going to be a handful at an early age. What he meant by that is I am a natural flirt. Does this go hand in hand with someone who is a sexual being? I don’t know, all I know is I enjoyed the game. Of course, the game was interrupted and quashed at an early age, through no fault of my own. This had a tremendous effect on my budding sexuality. I’m sure I gave off mixed signals, especially in high school. I was desperate to be wanted, yet terrified that anyone would want me. I wanted to be physical and experiment, yet some part of my brain would not allow that.

I feel certain my therapist would tell me this is common behavior in sexual abuse victims. The next phase is definitely common behavior in sexual abuse victims: promiscuity. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that phase in my life. The mid-70s were a heady time for sex. Pre-AIDS, post-birth control, and post-women’s liberation, the act of taking control of your sex life was, for women my age, almost a political statement. I was in Austin, Texas at the time, and the city was teeming with liberated women. I had fun. I had some fabulous encounters and some scary ones and many that simply were. The key thing was that I was in control of my sex life, and who I had sex with. Mind you, my taste was all over the place. My standards were capricious and ill-thought-out. I was at peak hot mess-ness during this period. It’s a wonder I survived relatively unscathed.

Then I got married. Did I submerge my sexuality to make the marriage survive, or did the marriage submerge me? I’m not sure how it worked, only that after a few years and many, many missteps, I was no longer true to myself. I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, and I’m not sure he did either. No blame, ours would hardly be the first or last marriage where sex sputtered and died.

Lyme struck just as I was ready to fully reclaim ownership of my own sexuality. Divorce, telling my dad (finally!) of my brother’s abuse, and therapy had combined, along with being single, to get to a place that was healthy. Not that I was unhealthy,  just fucked up enough to have to work through all that crap to get to a place that felt healthy. What Lyme gave me was the gift of contemplation times ten. I worked through everything else until there was nothing else but this, the most personal of issues. I almost feel ashamed discussing sexuality in my blog, but isn’t that part of the problem? Why should I feel that way? Why should any of us feel that way? It’s not like I’m confessing to dressing up like a chipmunk for my sweet bear (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). I’m admitting I’m a sexual being. It almost feels frivolous, and, in the grand scale of things, it is. After humans have fulfilled their biological functions, sex really serves no use but for pleasure.

There is a scale of human sexuality, all the way from asexual to sex addict. I fall well within the norm, thankfully. In this day and age to be outside the norm is becoming a subversive act. Why people feel the need to quash others sexual orientations and sexual proclivities is beyond me. Unless someone is underage or hasn’t consented, I don’t care what other people do or who they love. I’m proud that I am no longer a hot mess. I’m happy that I know what I want, what I like and that I feel unashamed. Humans are, by nature, hardwired to want and enjoy sex. My wiring got a little crossed at an early age. Fifty-eight is not too late to rewire find a new spark.

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