5 things that got me out of Lyme hell

I can’t recall the name of the comic strip, but I remember this hairy little troll living in a dungeon. You’d always see him on his knees digging in the dirt, trying to make a tunnel out of prison.

This is what it’s like being stuck in the middle of a really bad case of Lyme. Every day you try to gain two inches of ground and try not to lose more than one.

I know. I was there. For a long time.

Bedridden week after week, housebound month after month. Things would occasionally get a bit better, and I could go outside and walk at the pace of the average 95-year-old for 20 yards or so, but rarely more than that. This went on for seven years.

How bad was it? First of all, my doctor thought I might be dying.

Beyond that, I spent years not being well enough to see friends, not well enough to go anywhere, not able to talk on the phone or read for more than 10 or 15 minutes a day, not able to watch TV for any longer than that, not able to do much of anything but lie in bed thinking mostly about ways to get out of this predicament.

Worst of all were the times when I wondered if I was dying.

After falling asleep exhausted, I’d sometimes wake up a few hours later and still be so exhausted I’d have to lie there motionless for a half hour or more to get the strength to make the seven-step walk to the bathroom.

There was one hot night when I felt I would pass out, and I staggered across the hallway into my father’s room to where the window air conditioner was.

So how did I get out a hole as deep as that?

I can think of five main things that made a huge difference. They are as follows:

PRAYER:

I come from a Christian family. My father is a preacher and has many preacher friends. I never stopped praying, and neither did my mom or my dad or their friends or people at my church. My name was on the church prayer list every week for years.

Several times prayer warriors drove more than an hour to pray with me, and one preacher friend not only prayed but fasted to try to aid my cause. I believe God answered those prayers because I started getting well very suddenly.

I started by making my walks a bit longer, and soon I found my legs had normal strength for the first time in nearly a decade. The whole process took several months, but I went from maybe 10 per cent of normal to about 70 per cent of normal.

Now I could see friends, I could talk on the phone all I wanted to, I could exercise, I got my driver’s licence back, I could do a whole bunch of things I hadn’t been able to do before. Bedridden no more, housebound no more. And I hadn’t made any significant changes to what I was doing.

This sort of thing just isn’t supposed to happen after seven years of being so low. Did God heal me? I believe he did.

BELIEVING I’D GET WELL:

I must admit there were days when I fought off feelings of hopelessness, but I truly always believed that I would get well. I told people that many times and could see from their expressions they didn’t believe me. Once I overheard my mother talking on the phone with a friend, referring to me as “an invalid”. My mother acted heroically for me in many ways, but I sternly told her never to call me that again.

I remember back in the dark days I bought a pair of running shoes. At that point, I couldn’t have run if the house had been on fire, but I did it because I believed I would run again. I don’t know the science behind belief very well, but I do know that many studies have shown that the mind is extremely powerful and so is simple belief.

HAVING SOMEONE TO LIVE FOR:

This may be a cliche, but having someone or something to live for can save your life. In many concentration camp stories, survivors point to that as what got them through.

For me that someone was my son, who was one when I got sick. My illness coupled with a stressful job made life extremely difficult for my ex-wife, and she decided to leave.

Because I couldn’t take care of myself at the time, I was forced to move in with my parents who lived three hours away from my son lived.  I tried every possible arrangement to stay in the same city as my son, whom I have always loved like crazy, but nothing worked.

I did not see my son for seven and a half years, but I thought about him every day. I’d call him on the phone regularly, usually on Saturdays. Friday was a total rest day. I would do nothing that wasn’t necessary, so I’d have enough energy saved up to talk for the 10 or 15 minutes I was able to manage.

There was no way I could give up. I had to see him again. There was nothing I wanted more than to be a proper father to him, and I was determined that was going to happen.

KEEPING IN TOUCH WITH A GOOD DOCTOR:

I was very lucky to find a skilled, compassionate doctor who had gone through a similar experience herself. When I still lived with my wife and son, she made at least a dozen house calls, and when I moved to live with my parents, we had short phone consults every two months.

There wasn’t a lot she could do from a distance, but she monitored my situation and made many helpful suggestions. Maintaining contact with her was vital for me because I knew that I wasn’t fighting this alone, and that an experienced doctor could guide my steps.

MOVING IN THE DIRECTION I WANTED TO GO:

I mentioned buying a pair of sneakers earlier. That was one example of keeping my brain thinking that I would get well and preparing my body for the day I would be well.

It also meant doing everything I knew of to live as healthy a life as I could, whether that meant only eating healthy foods, getting as much fresh air into my room as possible, being as active as I could be under the circumstances, or spending a lot of time thinking about what I needed to do step by step to get through each day as well as I could.

That meant if I felt well enough to walk for even 10 feet, then I’d walk for 10 feet. If it meant I could do a bit of light stretching without feeling negative consequences, I’d do a bit of light stretching. If it meant having someone come to pray with me even if I felt wretched, then I’d do that. Digging that tunnel out of jail bit by bit by bit. And, finally, freedom came.

 

Photo: Eric Davidson

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10 Keys to Beating Lyme

Everyone with Lyme disease knows how important things such as taking antibiotics and finding an excellent health care practitioner can be.

There are, however, many other factors involved in fighting Lyme that also make a huge difference. In my struggles with the disease, I can think of 10 things that have helped a lot.

I’ll start with love, as it is often called the great healer.

Love

You might think this is obvious. Having Lyme disease, however, can make it much more difficult to receive and generate love. The Lyme patient needs to recognize this and place a priority on maintaining and deepening important relationships.

Many people don’t understand how serious Lyme can be. Lyme sufferers are often sicker than people with cancer, but friends and family sometimes don’t realize this. In most cases, everyone rallies around a cancer patient. Often, this doesn’t happen with a Lyme patient.

In many instances, a person with Lyme must reach out to family and friends to keep relationships in good condition. It isn’t easy to accomplish this when you have little energy. If you can do it, however, it’s worth the effort.

Living in a Healthy Place

Most people spend the majority of time at home. This makes it critical that your home is a healthy place to live.

Because various Lyme-related issues have forced me to move many times, I’ve learned which type of places are healthiest for me. The places I like allow for lots of light and fresh air. They tend to have hardwood floors, not carpets.

It’s important to keep living spaces clean and uncluttered to limit problems with allergens such as dust and mold. As well, I find relatively small houses and apartments much easier to keep clean and free of allergens. I also place special emphasis on the bedroom when creating a healthy living space, as, like most people, I spend much of my time there.

Mold Avoidance

Many top Lyme physicians say mold is a leading reason some patients don’t get well despite taking large quantities of antibiotics.

Strict avoidance is the best approach to mold. Stay away from places that smell moldy or musty. If your house or apartment is moldy, seek out a mold expert who can determine which measures you should take. If you try to remediate the problem, proceed cautiously, because a poor job of mold removal can release many toxic mold spores and make things worse.

You can learn more about this subject at http://www.survivingmold.com. Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, a mold treatment pioneer, founded this site.

Toxin Avoidance

We live on a toxic planet. There are toxins in the air, in food, in household chemicals, in building supplies, and just about everywhere else.

It can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to avoid toxins whenever you can. That means educating yourself. Two helpful resources are Create a Toxin-Free Body & Home Starting Today, by Dr. W. Lee Cowden and Connie Strasheim, and the Environmental Working Group’s website, www.ewg.org.

Sleep

Your mother was right when she said it’s a good idea to sleep eight hours each night. Nearly every Lyme doctor will tell you that proper sleep is essential to getting well.

Research shows that the most beneficial sleep hours come before midnight, so it’s best to retire by 10 p.m. or earlier. Sleep experts recommend turning off the electrical circuits to your bedroom and keeping the room as dark as possible. It’s also best to keep televisions, computers, and other electronic devices out of your bedroom. If that’s not possible, turn them off an hour before bedtime.

Emotional/Spiritual work

Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt is one of many holistic Lyme physicians who urge patients to deal with their emotional and spiritual issues. Traumatic things that happen to a person, often in childhood, can cause emotional blockages that weaken the immune system and allow disease to flourish.

Many healing modalities address these issues,  such as psychotherapy, prayer and various forms of counseling. The American Holistic Nurses’ Association website, http://www.ahna.org, provides a list of modalities along with a brief description of each.

Cold and Flu Avoidance

You can’t get well if you’re always getting sick. This truism resonates with Lyme patients whose taxed immune systems can’t afford to contract a cold or the flu.

While natural and over-the-counter cold and flu remedies can help, hand washing is the key to avoiding these illnesses. Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Code, says you should wash your hands when you return home and whenever you touch anyone or anything you suspect harbors cold or flu germs. He recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.

Fresh Air and Sunshine

Tetro also advises opening windows whenever possible. He says letting fresh air into the house cuts down microbial levels and gives your immune system a break.

Sunshine is a great way of increasing Vitamin D levels. Well-known physician Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum recommends getting lots of sunshine while at the same time avoiding sunburn.

Self-discipline

It’s not enough to know how to fight Lyme. You need the self-discipline to make yourself do what you need to do.

Making checklists helps me with this. I have one checklist that details the supplements I take and another checklist that has items like exercises, stretches, meditation, and deep breaths. Checking items off makes sure I get things done, and each check mark brings with it a small sense of accomplishment.

Laughter

Dr. Cowden developed an herbal supplement program to fight Lyme, but herbs aren’t the only part of his regimen. He also encourages patients using the program to make several positive lifestyle choices, including looking for ways to laugh every day.

Dr. Don Colbert, the author of many health books, prescribes 10 belly laughs a day for his patients. Along with this, he advocates watching classic situation comedies like The Lucy Show.

These physicians believe laughter is among the best medicines available. Fortunately, finding laughs is easy. You can, of course, watch comedy shows on television, or search for funny items at YouTube, at iTunes, or at http://www.archive.org, the Internet Archive.

Photo: Eric Davidson

Seven free Lyme beaters

We’ve all heard the saying “Some of the best things in life are free.” But it’s also true that “Some of the best things that can save your life are free.”

A lot of you know that Lyme can be extremely expensive, with visits to medical practitioners, antibiotics, supplements and tons of other costs in most cases.

And you have to spend the money. Lyme can steal you everything you have, including your life.

But there is some good news. I’ve found there are many intangible factors involved in fighting Lyme, and I believe scoring high on these intangibles can make a big difference between getting well and not getting well.

Best yet, these things don’t cost a cent. So what exactly am I talking about? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

GROWING YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE

I’m one of many people with Lyme who’ve been very sick and have lost big things like marriages and careers.  There is a temptation to be angry at God.

After all, if you believe in God, you most likely believe He could have prevented you from suffering.

I was mad at God. But I believe I’ve worked through that, finally accepting that His ways are beyond my understanding. What I’ve been through happened for a reason. I don’t know what the reason is, but I’m okay with that now.

It also dawned on me that it makes no sense to cut myself off from the one Being who can most help me. I believe I’ve received great healing through prayer, and I’ve read studies that show prayer carries health benefits with it. Other studies show that actively practicing a faith leads to a longer, healthier life.

MAXIMIZING LOVE

I know from personal experience that when you are dreadfully ill with Lyme, it’s hard to think much about anyone but yourself. This is understandable, but it’s a dangerous approach.

Part of the problem with Lyme is that most people don’t know how bad it can be. Often people with Lyme are sicker than people with cancer, but friends and family don’t realize that. In most cases, everyone rallies around a cancer patient. Often this isn’t the case with Lyme.

I wish I’d understood this a long while ago. I wish I had found a way not to be self-absorbed when I got really sick. I wish I had realized that the best way to receive the love I needed to get well was to give love and put others first, even though I knew I had a life-threatening illness. If I could have managed all these things, I might still be married.

It seems to me that in many and perhaps most instances, it’s the person with Lyme who has to reach out to family and friends and keep relationships in good condition. Doing this isn’t easy when you have zero or little energy, but if you can do it, it’s more than worth the effort.

EXERCISE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN

I’ve found that Lyme is a physical battle. The stronger you are physically, the better chance you have of beating the disease. One of the most respected Lyme physicians in the world, Dr. Joseph Burrascano, recommends patients start a serious physical fitness plan.

Of course, many people with Lyme aren’t able to do that. When I was bedridden, I tried to do a bit of light stretching whenever I could. Then when I got a bit better, I tried walking a bit. Then I could walk a bit more, and then eventually I could do more and more exercise.

I said these things cost nothing. Well, exercise can be costly if you go to the gym, but it can also be free. Walking can be the Lyme patient’s best friend. And I’ve found that I can get a lot of benefit from body weight exercises like push-ups. To find out more, Google body weight exercises, and you should be able to find dozens of them online.

LAUGHTER

There is nothing funny about Lyme, but keeping your sense of humor is very helpful in overcoming the disease. We all know the cliche about laughter being the best medicine, and while studies don’t actually list it as the No. 1 med, they do show a clear benefit.

I’m a laugh junkie. The only things I watch on TV are comedy shows and sports. There is a ton of funny stuff on YouTube, and you can download comedy programs from iTunes and other web sources. One particularly useful site is the Internet Archive, which is at http://www.archive.org.

MEDITATION AND DEEP BREATHING

Much of the Lyme battle is about staying calm and reducing stress. Recent research tells us one of the Lyme bacteria’s primary survival strategies is to overstimulate the immune system and throw it out of balance.

Meditation and deep breathing help me stay in balance. I do a 20-minute meditation daily, along with three sets of three deep breaths. I try to keep it simple to make it easy to do every day.

With the meditation, I focus on a few key words, and for the deep breathing, I just take deep breaths, preferably outside in the fresh air. There are plenty of techniques for both practices that you can find on the web, and it can be either very simple or more complex. Many experts swear by specific breathing techniques, but I find benefit from simply taking the deep breaths and not worrying about how I’m doing it.

MUSIC

Music, as everyone knows, can either pump you up or chill you out. Both approaches can be valuable to someone with Lyme.

I find listening to classical music a fantastic way to shift my body out of the sympathetic nervous system fight or flight mode to the parasympathetic relaxation mode. But there are times when various other forms of music bring me joy as well as a much-needed emotional lift.

GETTING OUTDOORS

Getting outdoors and taking care not to get further tick bites I should say. Air quality experts say outdoor air is far cleaner than indoor air, so I follow their advice and get outside as much as possible.

The beach is my favorite destination. I have allergies and the breeze off the water literally blows a lot of allergens away.  If I had an ocean nearby, I’d go there too because there’s no doubt that I feel best when I spend a lot of time by the water.

When I’m indoors, I’m a fresh air fiend as well. Not only does the oxygen you get by opening windows help in the fight against the bugs, it also cuts down the levels of allergens in your living space, as long as it’s not an allergy season for you.

 

Photo: Eric Davidson