Beating Lyme slowly and surely

You could liken living with chronic Lyme Disease to a high-wire act, or you might call it a knock-down, drag-out battle with a powerful and cunning opponent.

But I prefer a more peaceful comparison. To me, the daily struggle with Lyme is a lot like sailing.

Sailing? Here’s what I mean. To make progress in pushing Lyme into remission, you need to know how to take advantage of favorable winds, and how to avoid slipping backward when conditions are against you.

I’ll give you an example drawn from a recent daily journal.

I wake up feeling shaky after a rough night. A couple of small errors on my part along with a couple of unavoidable problems threw my hair-trigger immune system off course. As a result, I slept fitfully, waking numerous times, often with sweat pouring off me.

Not good. I think I got away with it this time, but too many sweaty nights with the immune system misfiring has a way of setting me back. Not only do I feel tired, but it eats away at my physical stamina.

So this day, I’m determined to pay close attention to my sailing, and concentrate on doing everything I need to do to successfully manage the day. I’ve been fighting Lyme for quite a while, so I’ve learned to follow signs my body gives me that let me know how things are going at a given point.

Some of what follows may sound over the top, but my body constantly gives me feedback on how it’s doing. Sometimes the clues seem odd, but after several years of seeing these signs repeat themselves, I’ve come to trust my interpretations of them.

I’ll start with clue No. 1, which isn’t the most pleasant way to begin. I’m speaking of my first poop of the day. Fortunately, it looks okay. Next come a bunch of other morning signs that present a mixed picture.

I start breakfast with a powdered probiotic. If it tastes weak, that suggests my body is asking for more of it due to some gut problem. But it’s strong. Yay. I then dig into a meal of quinoa crispbread, sunflower seed butter, and an apple. All is good except for the apple peel, which is hard to chew today. Yesterday, I had no trouble with a similar peel from the same bag.

That suggests there’s something in that peel my body doesn’t want today. I get resistance to my morning snack as well. I scoop out my usual sized handful of pumpkin seeds but only want half. I take these two signs to suggest my body is getting too much stimulation from foods and supplements, and this is part of what is edging my immune system out of balance.

The other morning signs don’t tell me much. The dumbbell I lift seems a tad heavier than usual, but that probably reflects a slight weakening of my body due to the previous night’s difficulties. I get a similar signal when I drink my daily solution of magnesium chloride crystals. It’s a bit weaker than usual, suggesting that my nervous system could use a bit more magnesium after a sweaty sleep.

At lunch, I get more resistance to food. About three-quarters of the way through the rice and eggs, my body tells me to stop. Again, too much stimulation, it seems. So I cut back my supplements a bit,  hoping this will improve my appetite.

I don’t reduce my midday dose of baking soda and water. Sodium bicarbonate, strangely enough, is a key indicator for me. When the baking soda tastes weak, it usually means my immune system is in danger of overreacting, and could use more of the sodium bicarb to increase alkalinity and slow things down. When it tastes moderate, this is a good sign. When it tastes strong, it suggests my immune system is engaged in some fight and doesn’t want to alkalize.

By now, I’m getting a message that I need to chill today, and avoid unnecessary stimulation. Unfortunately, I have to work on my taxes in the early afternoon. Always good for a shot of stress. When I take a break, I walk by a mirror and notice that my right ear is crimson. This redness suggests that I am indeed stressed and starting to overproduce histamine.

Time-out. Enough taxes for the day. Now is a good time to drive over to the beach and do some light exercise. It works. When I return, I feel relaxed, and my ear is back to normal.

It seems my body is now getting back in sync. I want all the pumpkin seeds this time at my afternoon snack, and, when I do another set of dumbbell exercises, they feel lighter than in the morning.

But at dinner, I’m still fussy, turning half the broccoli away, and leaving behind a bit of chicken as well. Once again I make a small reduction in supplements, and decide that a relaxed evening is in store.

So that’s what I do. I add a little extra meditation and prayer time, watch a comedy on TV, and head to bed. The signs are now positive. My evening dose of bicarb tastes as it should, my ear looks fine, and all other indicators seem in order. I’m finished sailing for the day, and I guide my body into harbor, er, bed. Looks like a good night ahead.

Photo: Eric Davidson

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Boring Lyme to death

This blog post is going to be a real snoozer.

Rest is one of the most powerful weapons I’ve found in fighting Lyme Disease. So I’ll try to liven up the topic by talking about things like power napping, mega-meditating and super sleeping!!!! Now didn’t those exclamation points perk you up?

Maybe the most important trick to dealing with chronic Lyme is never to let yourself get tired and rundown.

I came across an article a while back that described it this way – “It’s a question of whether your voltage is adequate for your immune system to keep it (Lyme) under  control.”

I like that. It’s about your voltage. And how do you keep your voltage high? By making frequent visits to your battery charger, otherwise known as your bed.

I’ve still got a way to go before fully getting over Lyme, so I spend a fair bit of time charging myself on my queen size battery pack. Not usually for very long. Five minutes here, 10 minutes there, a few times throughout the day. A little rest after meals, a little rest after exercise, and a longish sleep at night.

If I were working in an office, this would be more difficult, but I know a friend who spends lunch hours and breaks taking catnaps in his car. I remember another friend who installed a small couch in his office and did likewise.

Even when driving, naps can be managed. If I drive for an hour, I’ll find a place to stop and shut my eyes for five minutes. I could go farther, but I stop before I get tired, so I won’t get tired. Keeping the voltage high.

Experts suggest that getting to bed early can be extremely helpful for anyone managing a case of Lyme. They say the hours of sleep you get before midnight are considerably more valuable to your health than any other sleep hours.

Taking their advice, I’ve gradually pushed my bedtime back from 10 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. I’ll make exceptions for social events of course, but I diligently try to stick to a regular lights-out time whenever possible.

This is not a particularly exciting way to do things, but it works. Frankly, I just want to get fully well, and I’m willing to sacrifice all the late night TV in the world to reach that goal.

So you may be thinking that anyone doing this sort of thing might as well become a monk. I don’t think that’s necessary, but I find that it’s a good idea to take a page from the monk’s playbook and meditate regularly.

Following their lead on living a peaceful, restful life would also be sure to give Lyme a hard time. Come to think of it, I wonder if monks get Lyme disease. Hmm.

I do a very simple 20-minute meditation exercise once daily. It’s called “Soften and flow”, and it works, reliably shifting me into the parasympathetic nervous system relaxation response if I’m not there already. You can find tons of other meditation approaches on the web.

So that’s all I have to say about sleep, naps and meditation. You could say I rest my case. Anyone still reading? Anyone still awake?

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

Beating Lyme with the anti-inflammatory lifestyle

People with Lyme disease hear the words all the time. Eat anti-inflammatory foods, take anti-inflammatory supplements, and if you need to, take anti-inflammatory medications.

This makes sense, as the smart doctors tell us that inflammation is a key problem in Lyme.

But what about taking this one step further and living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle?

Now, what is an anti-inflammatory lifestyle? The idea occurred to me a while back as I was rushing around just trying to get things done that needed doing.  Basically, it means chilling out.

Having Lyme cuts into the number of productive hours I have in the course of a day. Let’s face it. Like many people with Lyme, I’m a type A personality, and I like packing as much activity into a day as I can.

But let’s face something else. Being type A might be one of the reasons I got very sick with Lyme. When it first hit, I’d probably have been better off if I’d been a couch potato. Just lying around and resting was what my body badly needed at that point, and I wasn’t wired to do that any more than necessary. The doctors said nothing was wrong with me, so I couldn’t justify quitting work and laying low as I should have.

My fight with Lyme has chilled me out quite a bit, and now I watch out for overdoing things. In fact, I don’t have a lot of bad days any more, but they usually come after I’ve done a bit too much activity. The problem is most likely to happen if try to pack too many things into a short space of time.

So I’m making a major change. It goes something like this. Remember the Seinfeld episode where George decides the way to success is to do everything contrary to the way he usually does it. That’s the basic idea of a Type A switching to the anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

Oddly enough, my nose is an indicator of how well I’m doing. When I start to rush around too much, my nose starts to get a bit inflamed and red. At least in my case, there is clearly a direct correlation between rushing and doing too much and inflammation. The more I rush, the bigger and redder my nose gets.

This gives me both a guide and incentive, as my natural nose is a nice size and color and my inflamed nose isn’t.

Here are some of the changes I’ve made.

  • I used to like combining trips, thinking how much time I could save. Now, when possible, it’s point A to point B and back again, followed by a five-minute rest.
  • I used to drive a bit fast, but now I follow the speed limit.
  • I used to think there was no way I could meditate. Bo-ring! But now I meditate 20 minutes a day, and throw in 10 deep breaths three times a day on top of that.
  • I used to eat fast. Now I try very hard to eat slowly whenever possible.
  • I used to hate napping. Now I schedule a few 10-minute mini-naps daily, and whenever I feel my system is going too fast, I’ll toss in another one.
  • I used to rush around trying to do things as quickly as possible. Now I’m trying to take my time and enjoy doing basic things that I couldn’t do when I was very sick with Lyme.

The idea is to keep my body in the parasympathetic, or relaxed mode, so the immune system can better do its job. Too often our busy lives throw us into sympathetic, or fight and flight mode, which impairs the immune system and gives Lyme an edge. Sometimes rushing can’t be avoided, but as soon as the rush is over, I’ll lie down and rest for a bit.

So far, I’ve found the anti-inflammatory lifestyle works well. It keeps the inflammation down, gives Lyme a hard time, and it even keeps my nose from looking like I should be driving Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve.

Rope a Lyme dope

Remember Muhammad Ali and his rope a dope trick. Well, that was a long time ago, so maybe you don’t, but here’s how it goes.

Ali was the world’s heavyweight boxing champ for much of the ’60s and ’70s. He didn’t know it, but he was stealing one of the Lyme bacteria’s killer strategies.

In many fights, he would spend the 14th and second last round huddled against the ropes, gloves up covering his face and his brawny arms covering his torso.

His hapless opponent would pound away at Ali’s rock-hard midsection, and the champ would barely feel it. He didn’t punch back, but just stood there getting his second wind.

Then came round 15 and Bam!, a fresh Ali knocked out the dope who’d just worn himself out a few minutes before.

Sound familiar Lyme sufferers? Who among us hasn’t been that chump? While Lyme bides its time waiting for an opportunity to strike, we often wear ourselves out trying to fulfill our commitments with the limited energy we have. When we do have a window where we feel better, it’s so tempting to try to rush to get things done. Never enough time. Always catching up.

Like so many people, I didn’t know I had Lyme when I first got sick. There was no bullseye rash and the dozen or so doctors I tried to get help from never even brought Lyme up as a possibility.

I felt absolutely dreadful all the time, but the doctors said there was nothing wrong with me. I asked if I should stop working and they could see no reason to do that. “You can’t hurt anything,” one said. And I believed him.

So I kept working, thinking it was some flu bug that would soon pass like all the other flu bugs had over the years. Like most people, I had a stressful job, and I kept running around, wearing myself down until I finally had to stop working.

I desperately wish I had that to do over again. The way to beat rope a dope, I’ve learned since, is to chill. Be like Ali, conserving your energy. Now if I start to feel I’m rushing around too much and getting tired, I stop and take a brief nap. I also take a short nap after lunch and spend time meditating after dinner.

I don’t work full-time, so I can do that. But even if I had that kind of employment, I could make adjustments to keep myself from getting overtired. For example, I have a friend who spends many a lunch hour sleeping in his car.

So, my rule is never, never, never knock myself out. Exercise, yes, but not to the point where I’m bushed. And maybe there’s something I really want to do, but it’s going to require getting stressed out. Regretfully, I pass on it. Too many times I’ve overextended myself and given Lyme the upper hand in our daily tussle.

By refusing to play the dope anymore, I’ve slowly been able to gain back ground from my arch-nemesis in the black corner. It’s rematch time. Lyme won the first battle, but I’m winning the second one.