Learning How to Stay Positive After My Lyme Diagnosis
A year and a half ago, I started feeling off. It began with flu-like symptoms, which I convinced myself was a lingering sinus infection. I made excuses for why I was feeling this way: allergies, working in a school, wedding stress, working too much, having a low immune system. Then, one day in December, my body crashed. For a whole week, I could barely get out of bed. My body felt as if it weighed over 1,000 pounds, I had a migraine that wouldn’t go away with medication and I felt depressed, to the point where I would start randomly crying in public for no reason. It was extremely scary and I didn’t understand what was happening. The next week I felt better, so I just convinced myself that it was a virus. However, over time, these symptoms came roaring back full force along with others: debilitating fatigue, swollen and painful lymph nodes, brain fog, dizziness, intense neck, shoulder and back pain, body aches, tingling and burning sensations, chills and sweats, memory issues, heart palpitations and anxiety.
I went to doctor after doctor trying to figure out what was wrong. I was diagnosed with “wedding stress,” adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and “unknown viral or bacterial infection.” I was so frustrated because I knew something was seriously wrong, and all of these doctors told me there was basically nothing to do except to try strong prescription meds to help the symptoms.
Finally, a new acupuncturist I started seeing suggested that I get tested for Lyme disease and referred me to the right place. It was there that I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. In the meantime, my symptoms got so bad that I had to stop working and I could barely get out of bed.
I started treatment, which involved medications, supplements and IVs. With Lyme treatment, you often feel worse before you get better. At my worst, negative thoughts constantly overwhelmed me. What if I never get better? What if I’m always in this much pain? What if I can’t ever go back to work? With the help of a doctor I was seeing, I realized I needed to completely change my attitude in order to get better. This realization didn’t happen overnight, but I decided to start off slowly.
First, I started meditating. I had always heard meditation was helpful, but it was hard to actually get myself to start practicing. But I did. I did it almost every day for five to 30 minutes. They are so easy to do, since there are plenty of free meditations on apps and YouTube. Meditations helped me to get out of my head for a while and pay more attention to my breath and sensations in my body. It helped to break the cycle of negative thoughts racing through my head. I sometimes still have trouble quieting my thoughts, but I am getting better and can see a difference.
Second, I realized I needed to change my attitude about myself. Growing up, I was very hard on myself. I worried too much about everything and was a perfectionist. I always thought bad or weird things happened to me that didn’t happen to other people (but they did make for good stories!) and I felt unlucky. I thought, “Of course I would get this horrible disease that ruined my life!” I decided to try to completely change the way I viewed myself. I was looking at myself through other people’s eyes and not my own. Although it was very difficult at first, I realized I have complete power over the way I feel about myself. I started keeping a list of my positive qualities and would repeat them to myself each day. I also realized that if someone made me feel bad or guilty, I have total control over the way I react.
Third, I started living in the moment, something I had never previously done. When I was diagnosed with Lyme, I was always so focused on the past and the future. I would reminisce about days I was healthy enough to work, go out, travel and have fun. Then I would worry about the future. When would I be able to return to work? Would I ever be able to travel?When could I start exercising again? This way of thinking was not healthy or helpful. I couldn’t go back to the past, and I couldn’t predict the future. However, I could focus on now. I still haven’t perfected this mentality, but I have definitely gotten a lot better at it. And taking everything day by day has immensely helped my stress levels.
Fourth, I started journaling. I always put this off, thinking it wouldn’t actually be helpful, but I was totally wrong. I kept staring at the two empty journals sitting on my bookshelf that I had gotten as gifts, and I decided to go for it. I started writing down every positive and negative thought that came into my head. I made sure to write at least three good things that happened each day, even if one said “I got out of bed.” When you are in the darkness of Lyme, or any chronic illness, it can seem like every second of every day is miserable. Making myself think of a few good moments each day taught me that it’s possible to find positivity in every situation.
Last, after taking a break from social media, I realized that it can actually be beneficial. On Instagram for example, there are so many accounts you can follow to promote positive thinking. I started following accounts that would post positive and inspiring memes all day, so that when I went on, my feed was flooded with messages of love and gratitude. I started following other people with Lyme who would try to find humor in their situations. When I started feeling depressed, I would skim through these messages and pictures and immediately feel the difference.
Doing all of these things helped me to completely change my perspective on my illness. Instead of Lyme being something that ruined my life and made me miserable every day, I realized it helped me to slow down, take more time for myself, and love myself more. It was a wake-up call that I needed to change – and I love the person I am becoming.
When you start sending out positive vibes, positive changes will start to happen. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I consciously made an effort to become more positive about everything that was happening to me, that good things started happening every day, in all aspects of my life. Although I am still dealing with some of the symptoms I started with, I am so much better physically and emotionally as a result of this – and I know it’s just going to get better.
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Thinkstock photo via BerSonnE.