I am ready to talk about it, finally. All that I didn’t say, I might dare to say now, about an illness that took over my life and brought my physical, emotional and spiritual health to depths of despair I’d never known before.
Creating Nourishing Words came out of my personal healing process: one that I am only now beginning to fully understand and appreciate. I was infected by a tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, aka Lyme disease, in 2007, and I became progressively sicker until I finally received an important piece of the answer in 2010, when I tested positive for Lyme disease. Whether or not I was infected with the many other tickborne pathogens that travel with the Lyme spirochete, I don’t know for sure. I started antibiotics and became sicker. I continued to follow threads of information—anything and everything—that I thought would guide me back to health, and I shared much of that quest on Nourishing Words.
What I didn’t share so much was my personal healing journey.
It’s not uncommon to meet people suffering with this insidious disease who carry a heavy burden of all that they have tried and all that they have tried and seen fail. The journey for many comes with heavy sadness and profound hopelessness, all ironically wrapped in a sometimes frenetic quest for more information. Something that will help. Someone who will help. We create trails of practitioners, piles of supplement and prescription bottles, collections of IV paraphernalia and, most tragically, stories of our defeated spirits, lost jobs and emptied bank accounts.
Many people do not get better, and many of us who do get better do not fully understand what “getting better” really means, and what it will mean in the future.
At the time of my last post on this blog, January 2013, I was on my way to health. Sometime in the previous year, I’d had a moment—a moment crystalized now in my memory—when I understood that the journey was mine, and mine alone. I’d succeeded in surrounding myself with many helpful guides: a gifted naturopath, a Lyme physician, a shamanic practitioner, a nutritionist, a nutritional IV therapist, an intuitive healer, and friends and family members who cared so very much. Yet, I knew I was alone. My task was to piece together thousands of bits of information to understand what was working and what wasn’t. Not an easy process. I understood at the same time that I needed to make deep, deep changes in my life, if true healing was to be mine.
I was getting there, but was not there yet.
In 2013, I sold my house and moved three times. In 2013, I returned to paying work, choosing to work for myself, providing services to small, values-driven businesses and entrepreneurs. In 2013, I found love and the courage to turn away from it when I realized I had chosen a self-destructive path. In 2013, I came to understand what it feels like to be truly grounded in my own power. In 2013, I accepted the challenge of learning carpentry skills and helping a friend build an astoundingly beautiful timber frame home. In 2013, I understood in a different, deeper way, the role that plants were playing in my healing. In 2013, I brought music back into my life, finding my way to a sweet 12-string guitar and to the courage to play it and sing my songs. In 2013, I ratcheted down or eliminated everything in my life that was creating inflammation in my body. In 2013, I began to become stronger—really stronger. I was not dying. I was living.
A friend told me the other day that I could be a poster child for Lyme disease. To have gotten my life back means more to me than I can write here. At the time when I was nearly bedridden, with an IV line in my arm, and not thinking clearly on most days, I might have imagined that in August 2014 I’d be in a nursing home. At 56 years old, and well on the other side of my illness, I am far from that reality, and still coming to an understanding of what made a difference. From where did my healing come, and for how long will it be mine? It’s still scary.
If you’ve read this far in hopes that I’d share a magic protocol, you’ll be disappointed. I won’t. The nature of the illness is that my healing was unique to me, and yours will be to you. I can share a few things that changed the course of my healing journey.
In May, 2013, when my friend Jill invited me to help her build a house in the woods, I assumed I’d be helping by cooking lunch, running errands and taking pictures. Just clearing a trail to a place that seemed miles from the road (it wasn’t) to the place where we’d set up a tent and shelter for our work exhausted me. She put a hammer in my hand and taught me how to build the main beam of the house from two by twelve boards that I could not carry alone. We pounded huge nails through layer upon layer of wood, sandwiching those heavy boards together to create a 36-foot beam that would ultimately be lifted, slung from a backhoe, onto the foundation and be stronger than a single beam would have been. I complained that the nails needed lubrication—perhaps beeswax would work. I got stronger.
Within a few weeks, magic had happened. My focus had completely shifted from my illness to health. Not simply to healing, and all that I could do to achieve healing, but simply a pure desire to be healthy. It was like I was finally ready to put down the Lyme disease burden and see myself as healthy, once and for all. I tossed Lyme disease and its attendant baggage away and chose health.
Health followed. Today, I live in that house, in the shelter of its golden pine beams and boards, and the building continues. Today, I can carry the same two by twelves alone and pound nails with confidence. I look at the beautiful pine posts and beams in the house, knowing that my body—my strong muscles—helped carry some of them, move them into place and pound oak pegs to hold them together. I’ve learned to run power tools, make straight cuts with a skilsaw and install windows. I am still learning, but I see myself as a carpenter now, and more. A woman who can do things.
I understand how difficult it is to be very, very sick and hear that your focus needs to shift, that you need to believe that health can be yours. It’s even harder to consider that that very illness may somehow be serving you. I certainly couldn’t wrap my mind around those ideas a few years ago. I believe that, in spite of the heavy burden of defeat that I carried with me, I did invite healing into my life, and that happened in tiny ways that were neither immediately successful or gratifying. During a particularly profound meditation in Peru, I saw myself taking strength from community in new and healing ways, and giving back. Back at home, I began to imagine a new work life for myself: one that would allow me to listen to my heart and work in a way that would align paying work with personal values. I began to imagine joints that could withstand long walks and hikes and muscles that could do real work. I understand now that those subtle shifts in thinking created real shifts in my energy flow, attention and all that I began to nurture in my life. My life changed.
In January 2014, I began a three-year program in clinical herbalism, traveling to school in Montpelier, Vermont: 153 miles from my home in Alton, New Hampshire. This work resonates profoundly with my spirit and has as much to do with answering a calling to understand and share the healing power of plants as it does to further my own healing. With this work come new challenges to my health, to managing stress in a way that doesn’t shift the delicate homeostasis of that health, meeting the challenge of getting up at 4:15 a.m., as well as the new challenges that such deep learning entails. I love it. I live for it.
Ultimately, my healing came down to that series of small and big choices, and I believe the most profound one of all was in that moment when I tossed my illness aside and chose life. Many steps led me to that point, and I know it had to be in that moment—not a week, a month or years sooner. I was ready to be well. My illness no longer served me in any way.
A teacher at an herbal conference I attended this past weekend talked about all the bacteria we live with, keep peace with and share space with, and suggested that accepting that Borrelia burgdorferi is simply another organism with which we must find balance. Of course, she’s right. It’s not a new bacteria, and Lyme disease is just one of many, many illnesses that tell us we’ve let our immune systems down. It got me because I was ripe to become ill.
Maintaining my health now has to do with the most basic work—work that I’d have been smart to pay attention to many years ago, of course. Eating whole organic foods, exercising, spending time outside, meditating, praying, making music, creating beautiful things, sleeping, learning, loving and being loved are all pieces of my health mosaic now. Maintaining balance is dynamic work, and work that requires vigilance.
The Lyme bacteria is a piece of that picture, too. I live with it. It lives with me. I realize now what a gift it was to be bitten by that tick in 2007. Really. I mean that. A spiritual guide—a healer I worked with for one weekend when I was very sick—called it “tick medicine.” I understand now what he meant.
That’s my story. For now.