Treating Anxiety, Part III: Lyme disease

treating-anxiety

“I just have a deep sense, a deep inner-knowing, that I am safe in this world now,” I told my mother one day in early 2013. It was true. For a girl who seriously suffered from panic attacks and PTSD, I had gotten so far in life.  I had worked through my issues very seriously, utilizing everything from medication to meditation, and it was all proving worth it.  Life’s anxiety inducing situations rarely spun me into a panic— deep down I could feel that the Universe was my ally, not my enemy. My risk-taking, fear-facing, and spirit-searching had left me with (what seemed like) an excess of emotional and physical freedom. And I attached to that freedom like it was my identity,  endlessly exploring my options, hopping the fences that said “no entry,”  and following my heart’s desire to go to the parts of the Earth that were untouched. I didn’t want to walk away from this life unscarred, untouched and inexperienced. In an effort to affirm this preconceived notion of myself, I took a camera man and  got my photos taken while rolling around in the dirt as an expression of my free-spirt. This attachment to identity and proving myself…it got me sick. How ironic that, in an attempt to solidify myself into one small box called “free-spirit,”  I got bit by a tick, I contracted Lyme disease from the tick,  and everything I thought I knew about myself violently unraveled.  It was terrifying. That “sense of safety” I had confidently chatted about to my mother months earlier was tested and, as it turns out, fear is a whole different beast when it’s NOT irrational. But it had to be faced and overcome because if I had acted from fear when it came to healing from Lyme disease, I would have died.

A couple of days after my 26th birthday, a mysterious rash began to take up space on my skin. MY skin. Why am I powerless over what happens to my very own protective shell? Why is it my shell, if it’s so vulnerable?  One itchy bump on my thigh, one itchy bump on my elbow, and one itchy bump on my butt later, I realized I might have a little problem. The anxiety set in. I was overly attentive, looking at the newly forming rashes every few minutes, “did it go down, did it go up?” Days passed and the rashes were only expanding. I had one on my calf growing more irritated by the minute and wider by the minute. Like it was alive. I lied  in bed one night on the phone with a free-spirited young man I was loosely dating. I was scantily clad in cotton underwear and a tee- shirt. I was examining the rashes, half invested in our conversation, half obsessed and anxious about my mystery ailment. Slowly, like a hippo’s eyes surfacing on a placid river, a red bump formed on my upper thigh. I watched it come, and I watched it grow. Three more bumps then streaks overtaking the upper part of my thigh—a part of my thigh that was meant to be sexy and welcoming.  And a weighted anxiety began to torture me. “I’ve gotta go,” I quickly hung up the phone, and the googling began.

What in the ever- loving- fuck was happening to my own body? I researched psoriasis, bed bugs, impetigo, poison oak, poison ivy, and spider bites. I was impatient— I tormented myself with questions that I wouldn’t be able to answer unless I was a doctor.  I quit drinking coffee in an effort to magically cure myself. I tried every type of cream and anti-allergy pill. I did everything a young waitress with no insurance could do and nothing worked. I kept naively thinking, “once I work this rash situation out then life can just go back to normal.” I had lived my life that way and with that false idea: get over this obstacle and then I’ll coast. But, in that state,  I was constantly seeking the coast and anxious to get the hurdle over with. When so much of life is an obstacle, well then you’re really just asking to miss a lot of life, right? Part of the reason I HAD such bad anxiety was because I could not tolerate the messiness, the discomfort, of LIFE. Life is messy, hard, and full of detours and if I couldn’t tolerate that… well then life would be …intolerable.

I was desperate to FIGURE IT OUT so after two weeks of no answers,  I took myself to urgent care and was promptly told that I likely had Lyme disease. I was relieved, “cool, I’ll take some antibiotics and then go back to my normal life.” My anxiety dissipated. I was a survivor; I knew how to get my needs met and I knew how to show up for the tough times… Or so I thought.

I was immediately met with a resistance I had never known before. Part of the world seemed to be collectively AGAINST me healing. I felt like I was at war.

I instantly tried to find a doctor. No one would see me on short notice; no one would see me for a manageable price—the beginnings of anxiety, abandonment, and frustration in dealing with the medical community.

I finally saw a doctor, and the cost went directly on an already debited credit card—the beginnings of financial anxiety.

The antibiotics didn’t work—the beginnings of a deep fear that I wouldn’t get well.

My family didn’t show up for me—the beginnings of a loneliness, abandonment and anxiety full of depth. I constantly wondered if I would be cared for.

Lyme disease began affecting me neurologically— Lyme anxiety, a different beast altogether.

Insomnia kicked in and I stopped sleeping for nights on end—My anxiety took me over and I started saying, “it feels like satan is trapped inside of my body.”

I got so sick that working suffered, I had to back out of creative projects, I could barely waitress, and my debt expanded—rational financial panic, rational panic about the potential my future held.

I lost weight, I lost hair, I lost color in my skin—Anxiety about losing my looks, my most used coping mechanism in this life. Also, the “I might actually die” anxiety.

I traveled around the world seeking treatments—I was afraid of needles, afraid the treatments wouldn’t work, afraid I’d disappoint people, never work again, and the list goes on.

I cried all of the time—Anxiety that I would lose my boyfriend to this disease, anxiety that I would end up in the psych ward, that I was actually losing my mind.

I wasn’t sure I’d survive OR, God forbid, what if  I would have to LIVE WITH Lyme disease.

 I would have rather died. In fact, I wanted to die. 

I’m glad I didn’t.

I’m glad that I kept calling the doctors even when they disappointed me.

I’m glad that I put the treatments on a credit card; I’m glad I faced the fear of doing a fundraiser and let my friends and family support alternative treatments.

I’m glad I tried the antibiotics, and I’m glad I was willing to do alternative treatments. I’m glad I faced fears of each new treatments and jumped in with a zest and a need for life.

I’m glad I felt the rage and the heart-break caused by my family’s initial absence, I’m glad I talked about it, I’m glad I took my mother to therapy, and I’m glad I have the option to forgive.

I’m glad I never stopped seeking new solutions to my sleep issues, and I’m glad I found one.

I’m glad I kept my creativity alive by allowing myself to be imperfect. I’m glad I faced the fear of backing out of projects, putting work on hold and resting for a while.

I’m glad I quit waitressing and trusted the universe. The universe provided.

I’m fucking glad that I showed up no matter how I looked or felt. I looked you in the eye when i was pale in the face and 97 lbs and needed a wheelchair, I looked you in the eye and said, “I’m so fucking afraid, but let’s keep going if you don’t mind pushing.”

I’m glad that I stayed in bed when I was afraid I’d miss out on something cool; I’m glad I got out of bed when I was afraid for you to see my face; I’m glad I said “yes” as often as I could and “no” when I knew it would disappoint you.

I’m glad I yelled at doctors and asked for help and risked losing everything— including my own life— in an effort to get well and thrive.

Because now I’m out on the other side and it has all been worth it. And I’m not just saying that because it’s kind of a radical thing to say—I mean it.

Sometimes I think about anxiety: the pumping heart, tingly body, erratic thoughts, paranoid eyes, and I think, “that’s a body that really really wants to live.”

Maybe my anxiety is my desire to live run amuck. Maybe it’s my anxiety that I have to thank for pushing me to fight for life.

I love being alive, I desperately want to live.

Lyme disease, in many ways, birthed my greatest fears into reality. And I faced them head on, sometimes with an army of people behind me and sometimes alone. But I made sure to face each and every one. And I feel like I have a brand new life. I do not have some identity I’ve wrapped myself in, some identity I’m trying to prove. Today, I live more free than I was in the first place: I am deeply in touch with the softness, the fragility and truth, of my humanity (and yours), but also now I  really  know what the fuck I am capable of.

Go show ’em what you’re made of. It’s worth it.

fun and love,

Jackie
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