By Donna Grant
Towards the end of last year, I received the news that I had Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted via a tick bite. Though this was a new diagnosis for me, I had unknowingly been suffering from Lyme disease for years.
Prior to this, I had been living with the diagnoses of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). However, I couldn’t shift the feeling that something else was wrong. It was like I had an inner voice that I couldn’t silence. It urged me to search for answers.
I decided to follow my intuition and opted to go private with my healthcare. I felt like I had exhausted all other avenues and the decision to go private was admittedly one led by desperation. With the support of my family, I chose to see a doctor that specialised in environmental illness and my Lyme disease diagnosis soon followed.
Receiving a diagnosis of Lyme disease was a tough one. I was under the belief that I had been living with life-long chronic conditions that had no known cause. To then realise I had a bacterial infection – one that can potentially be successfully treated in the early stages – was devastating.
Sadly, I know that I am not alone in my struggle, and my story is one that will be familiar to many. Lyme Disease is known as the “great imitator” as it shares symptoms with a number of conditions. These include: muscle and joint pain, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive difficulties and neurological symptoms.
Unfortunately, when diagnosed late, Lyme Disease becomes difficult to treat. Additionally, due to the complex nature of the bacteria, there is no guarantee that any treatment can completely eradicate the bacteria from the body.
Coming face-to-face with this reality was a struggle for me, both mentally and emotionally. For weeks, I agonised over the fact that – had I been diagnosed in the early stages – I could have been successfully treated. Instead, I had suffered for years with debilitating symptoms.
I went through a number of emotions, with one of the strongest I experienced being anger. I was angry that no one had thought to test for Lyme disease previously. I was angry that I had suffered unnecessarily. I was angry that I had lost my independence, my income, my hobbies… the list went on.
I found it important to allow myself time to work through and process these emotions. But eventually, I came to the realisation that I was investing emotional energy into something that wasn’t serving me. I had nothing to gain from being angry at life. I became aware that I was adding stress into my life that I did not need; it was even exacerbating my physical symptoms.
As much as I wished that I could rewind the clock, I began to appreciate that there was absolutely nothing I could do about the past. I’m powerless to change what has happened to me, but I do have a choice going forward.
There is the choice to remain resentful and angry at what has happened. Or, I can choose to let go and place my focus elsewhere.
This, of course, is easy to write but in practise, it’s not that simple and it takes effort and self-awareness. For me, it’s a work in progress. Anytime I find my thought patterns heading into negative territory, I try to interrupt myself and place my focus elsewhere. I personally believe I am better focusing on things that are within my control, as these have the potential to positively impact my life.
I’ve found this very empowering, and I believe a shift in focus has been key in helping me to move forward in my recovery. Choosing specific things to focus on means that I can guide my thoughts towards these during my difficult moments.
Firstly, I have chosen to put my focus into being an informed patient. I decided to invest the time into learning as much as I can about Lyme disease, and I have taken an active interest in my own healthcare. With guidance from my doctor, I am the one deciding which direction I want to take with regards to treatment.
I then made the choice to focus on raising awareness through my writing, to help others and hopefully prevent someone else from going through what I have. I appreciate that not everyone can follow in the same footsteps as me and I hope through sharing my story, I may offer information that is helpful to others. This gives me a purpose that feels incredibly motivating.
Above all of this though, I made the decision that I was going to take on 2017 by setting an intention for the year. And that intention is to focus on things that bring me joy.
I am refusing to let my illness consume me. Instead, I’m approaching each day with the mindset of doing one thing for myself that I enjoy. On a poorly day this may be as simple as listening to a record that I enjoy. On better days, I am trying to explore and find new hobbies and passions that bring me joy, such as watercolour painting.
I believe it’s important to be aware of the choices we can make in life. My hope is that this approach will help me to better cope with the challenges I face ahead as a Lyme disease warrior.
About the Author: Donna Grant, a frequent ProHealth contributor, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2013 and subsequently began blogging about life with chronic illness. She shares her journey and how she has improved her life with fibro, as well as other inspirational posts, on her blog February Stars.