I was observing my surroundings. How did I get here? I was lying on a flat table with one needle in my right arm and one in my left—the one in my right drawing dark, heavy, apathetic blood from my sick body so it could pool in a machine where it got an expensive make-over, the one in my left feeding me an upgraded, strawberry-like vibrant blood. My dear friend sat next to me with a book she was reading aloud to keep me calm. Two innocent-faced, pretty nurses that didn’t speak much English were nearby watching multiple patients. We were in Bali, Indonesia. My eyes grew fainter, my body more restless as though something inside of it was dying and fighting for life. The needles hurt, the treatment exhausted me, I was afraid. Across from me was another woman receiving the same treatment but with no friend sitting at her bedside. How do you do this alone? We struck up a conversation because it was weird to be receiving such an intimate treatment in the same room and not say a few words like, “hello. funny to see you here.” or something. As it turned out, we were both in the grips of Lyme disease.
A lot of people with Lyme disease—especially Australians— go to Bali for this one doctor and this one treatment. Penny was in her forties—she had an incredibly sweet demeanor, long nails, tan skin, a great body, she wore modest shorts, a tank and flip-flops. Her hair sat in an effortless pony tail, her face was untouched by makeup. I had so many questions, “when, how, what have you tried, what are your symptoms, do you work?” I was constantly comparing myself to others with Lyme, I was on a mission to find out whether or not I was making it up, whether or not it seemed likely that I would recover—or maybe I was on a mission to feel less alone. Most of what she said was all too familiar to me. Her words confirmed that Lyme was real. She knew how tired I was when I said I was tired; I knew how much she needed to rest even though she didn’t want to. Together, we understood the loneliness. So few actually understand what I felt, what I was going through. It felt like a hit of validation any time someone else talked about the symptoms I had been complaining about: We can’t all be making up the same symptoms. We aren’t in fucking cahoots. But there was one big difference. I was newly sick —just a year and a half in— and she had been sick since she could remember.
I remember Penny sympathetically saying to me, “I think it’s harder for you. Because you know what feeling good feels like. You know? I never really knew that. I don’t really know what it is to do a cart-wheel on the beach without pain. It’s been this way since my early teens. But you know what that feels like. And it got taken away. And, I can’t imagine how hard that must be.”
“………..Really?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Yes. don’t you think?” she said.
I didn’t. I definitely didn’t think. I thought she was way off. My god, I was so glad I hadn’t been sick my whole life and, to be fair, I still am glad about that. But now… now I get precisely what she was talking about.
Recently, it torments me—the memories of effortless late nights and early mornings, the fearless dive into sugary desserts, the hikes without pain, the ability to hustle and spend my money on things that weren’t about my health, the ability to push through, the tight body, the very rosy cheeks, the falling asleep without the assistance of melatonin, 5-HTP and sun-theanine, the drinking coffee first thing in the morning instead of celery juice and water and tea, the plan-making, and jam-packed schedule, the giant smile I’d have as I ran uphill, downhill, and through the hills, the dancing, oh the late- night- anytime dance parties, the bountiful, delicious hope that lived inside of me for my bright future, and the innocence—the not knowing the dark underbelly of life.
My positivity reserves are all used up, they are tattered and unrecognizable now.
And here’s the confusing thing: I’m so much better now! Today, I CAN make plans, I can hike, I can be spontaneous again, and I can work again. Most of my days, I feel very alive. But it’s not without work. It takes a very careful house of cards to keep me stable and that takes up a lot of my precious time. Time that I would much prefer not making doctor phone calls, or peeing into a cup or getting blood drawn or screaming while I receive an infusion on my couch. There was a time when feeling like I feel now would actually be the predecessor to getting a cold. A time where I would lay low and wait to get back on my feet. But this is the new “on my feet.” So, when I sit at home writing a post or memorizing lines or sending emails, sometimes I remember when it was all so much different—a different body and a different mind. A mind before illness. A mind free from years of discouragement, rejection, and crazy depression. A heart free of the trauma that three years of illness comes with. A free and happy and hopeful body—before I knew that my body could abandon me. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. I would be lying if I said that sometimes I wish this didn’t happen, sometimes I wish nothing changed, sometimes I wish I didn’t need this lesson in order to grow to my fullest potential. But I did.
I’ve posted a lot about my triumphs and how much I’ve grown as a human and about how I wouldn’t have it any other way. Blah blah blah. It’s not untrue. I DO feel that way. And I also feel betrayed and ripped off and really really bummed that the second half of my twenties were spent….suffering. I imagined those years would be full of very sexy successes. But, in so many ways, they are my most fucked.
From what I’ve learned, my current experience is extremely common. Since I’m safe now and not desperately trying to survive, I’m more aware of how difficult it’s been—what a beating I took. I’m less focused on needing to lie down and be spoon-fed so I get some nutrients and more focused on the fact that I used to be able to wake up without joint pain. I see clearly all I’ve lost and I’m not entirely clear on everything I’ve gained. Not yet. I’m trying to welcome my new self to the table and get to know her and respect her. And I also try to use my old memories to my advantage when they come stampeding in. I use them as fuel to keep striving for health, for a pain-free body, as fuel to persevere. It will always be different than it once was because I am different. I am forever altered. For better and worse. I can find that little seed of hope that’s left over and nourish the fuck out of it—start sewing up the tattered positivity reserves. I can just keep going. If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s keeping on no matter the circumstances.
Just keep swimming.
Fun and love,