A Realistic Look at Chronic Lyme Disease
Imagine that you awaken daily feeling as though you had the flu. Imagine exhaustion like lead, weighing down your limbs, and stabbing, burning, aching pain, continually assaulting your joints and muscles. Then imagine that you struggle to focus, think or remember, and do simple things as read a book or drive a car. Imagine that you are suddenly allergic to every food and chemical out there, and can no longer go out into public places because you will get even sicker. Then, imagine crying for hours, day after day, month after month, year after year, from depression and anxiety. And then, picture another 10-20 symptoms on top of that. This is a snapshot into the life of someone who’s living with chronic Lyme disease.
Next, imagine losing your job, home, and everything you once loved about your life — because you can no longer function. Imagine being isolated and confined to your house, possibly for years. Imagine no longer being able to go anywhere except an occasional trip to the grocery store; attend gatherings, parties or events, travel, or essentially “have a life.”
It might all be tolerable if you knew that it was temporary; if you understood what was happening in your body and that, like the flu, there would be an end to it all in the near future. You might be able to remain hopeful and hang in there if you knew that the pain, fatigue, grief, cognitive problems and the rest, would disappear with time and the right treatments.
But then, imagine that it doesn’t all go away, day after day, year after year. Nobody knows what’s wrong with you, including you. You go to your doctor and tell him or her what is happening; he or she runs some tests, finds nothing wrong, gives you an antidepressant and tells you to go home and get more exercise, or change your diet. Thus begins your journey, from doctor to doctor, as you do test after test, and spend all of your savings, your 401K and then some, only to get no closer to the real diagnosis.
Then, imagine that you are no longer able to work, so you run out of money for basic necessities and put your home up for sale. You call on family and friends for help, expecting they might understand your desperate plight. Yet because you haven’t been diagnosed with cancer or some other horrible disease that is widely understood, the doctors don’t know what’s wrong, and (with the exception of some hair or weight loss) you seem to look and act pretty normal — so they don’t extend a hand to help.
In fact, many of your loved ones don’t even believe you are that sick. Some even tire of your battle and abandon you. Those that don’t, may insinuate that you’re depressed; that you need to exercise or get out more, or just take a pill and get over it. Besides, the doctors have said there’s nothing wrong with you, because you, and your labs, look fantastic. And occasionally, you can go out for a social event; or maybe you are even well enough to get on a plane to visit friends or family in another state. You might even still be managing to work part-time. So what’s the big deal? Many think. Everyone is tired. Everyone hurts. Everyone has bad days…right?
Except you now have a bad day, every day of your life. And your bad days aren’t just about a sore back, tiredness from a sleepless night or a temporary flu. Daily, every organ and system of your body malfunctions and affects basic bodily functions that others take for granted. Things like, being able to breathe, go to the bathroom, or stand up for more than a few minutes at a time. This is in addition to the fatigue, pain and other more obvious symptoms that you have.
Some days are better than others, but symptom-wise, none of your days are great. You seldom, if ever, awaken with energy; pain is your daily companion, as are brain fog and other problems. Other symptoms come and go, and they vary from day to day, or month to month, in their intensity. But they never go away.
Then, finally, one day, you find a doctor who knows what’s wrong with you. He says, “You have Lyme disease.” The diagnosis is a welcome relief from all the uncertainty, but the relief is quickly replaced by dismay, as you find that the road to recovery is longer and harder than you ever dreamed. Lyme disease treatments involve thousands of dollars, difficult detox reactions, hours of pills and therapies, and more time, energy, money, determination and discipline than you have ever spent on anything else in your entire life. It is the most difficult trial you have ever faced, and the Lyme disease treatment protocols are grueling.
Your doctor tells you that you’ll be on intravenous or oral antibiotics, herbs, vitamins, hormonal treatments, a rabbit food diet, and two dozen other therapies—for anywhere from two to five years, although you find that many others in your boat end up doing treatments indefinitely.
You begin to realize, from the stats, that you may or may not fully heal. The treatments will definitely help you, but you’ll be fortunate to recover 70-80%. What nobody tells you at the outset, but what you learn down the road, is that treating Lyme disease will cost you anywhere from $15,000-$30,000 per year, or more…for the rest of your life.
Because even if you are able to attain remission, you may have to do a lot more than you once did to stay well. You’ll have to take lots of supplements, do detoxification treatments, and other things, just to stay functional. This is because the Lyme disease has damaged your body so that your organs don’t work as well they once used to.
You may regain enough energy to return to work part-time or full-time, but not enough to maintain a social life or a life that includes other things. And even though you have less energy to work than before, you have to find a way to make a lot more money than before, because you now have an ongoing health maintenance regimen that chews up a huge chunk of your income. You might have to forget about saving for retirement, buying a new car, or that vacation to Europe.
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Or perhaps you will be more blessed, and able to return to the life that you had before. And while this should be everyone’s hope and goal, the reality is that not everyone will get to that place.
This scenario is typical of what many, if not most, people with chronic Lyme disease face. Some people will encounter the inevitable questions, is chronic Lyme disease real? For some, it is not quite as bad, for others, it is even worse.
Do your friends and family know what you, and so many others, are living with? Does your community know? If not, I encourage you to share your story, this article, and the following statistics with them.
Current Statistics on Lyme Disease
First, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are over 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease every year in the United States alone, although these numbers are likely to be much higher; as high as one million per year, by some researchers’ estimates. This is because this statistic doesn’t account for the unreported and misdiagnosed cases, as well as many other factors. Yet Lyme disease is a worldwide pandemic, but it remains improperly diagnosed because Lyme disease symptoms mimic those of other illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, lupus, arthritis, and many others.
What’s more, conventional Lyme disease tests such as the Western blot and ELISA are unreliable, inaccurate and don’t detect most cases of Lyme. These tests look for antibodies to Lyme, but many people do not produce antibodies to the disease. Lab tests have also not yet been developed for many species of Borrelia, Babesia, Bartonella, Mycoplasma and other infectious microbes involved in Lyme. Instead, sophisticated, outside-the-box testing methods such as Borrelia culture tests, electrodermal screening, dark field microscopy, applied kinesiology, PCR tests, and others, are needed to detect it, but few doctors use these.
Diagnosis is complicated by the fact that most doctors are not taught how to identify chronic Lyme disease and are even taught that it doesn’t exist. Instead, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the CDC maintain that chronic Lyme disease — which is the fastest growing infectious disease in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and perhaps worldwide — can be cured with just two weeks of antibiotics. Any symptoms that continue after that time are attributed to “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” (PTLDS), an imaginary condition created by the medical establishment to explain away the presence of ongoing infection, which they refuse to recognize, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Those doctors who dare to treat it, risk persecution and their licenses being revoked. So many people with Lyme disease must travel, even to other states and countries, to find doctors and practitioners who understand it. These doctors’ waiting lists are many months’ long, and their services often pricey, since most insurance companies will not cover treatment.
Furthermore, Lyme disease is a political disease, and research study results published in the worldwide medical database PubMed are distorted to favor the political agendas of some, while other studies reveal the truth. Yet because all of these studies, including those that tell a lie, are published in well-respected medical journals, medical practitioners are left in a sea of confusion about chronic Lyme. Others know the truth but don’t want to touch the complicated disease with a ten-foot pole, because of the difficulties of diagnosis and treatment, and because they risk persecution for doing prolonged antibiotic therapy and other valuable treatments.
What remains then, is for those of us who are canaries in the coal mine, to tell the truth. To spread the word, far and wide, about the reality of a severe, disabling disease that isn’t just spread by the bite of a tick, but by other insects such as mosquitoes, fleas and mites; as well as from person-to-person, congenitally, via body fluids, blood transfusions, and other means.
We must tell the truth to our local government representatives; to the CDC and IDSA, to doctors, to everyone that we know, so that the current diagnostic and treatment guidelines will be overturned, and new, accurate methods of diagnosis and treatment will be created and embraced. And we must stand together to uplift, encourage and support one another, especially when our other friends and family members do not understand what we are going through.
In the meantime, be encouraged: you can get better with perseverance and the right treatments. Be encouraged, because more and more people, including doctors, are becoming aware of chronic Lyme disease and learning about how to treat it. More and better resources are becoming available, and knowledge is power. Be encouraged, and keep going; putting one foot in front of the other, fighting to create awareness as you also fight to recover your own health.
This article was first published on ProHealth.com on May 11, 2016 and was updated on October 15, 2019.
Connie Strasheim is the author of multiple wellness books, including three on Lyme disease. She is also a medical copywriter, editor and healing prayer minister. Her passion is to help people with complex chronic illnesses find freedom from disease and soul-spirit sickness using whole body medicine and prayer, and she collaborates with some of the world’s best integrative doctors to do this. In addition to Lyme disease, Connie’s books focus on cancer, nutrition, detoxification and spiritual healing. You can learn more about her work at: ConnieStrasheim.