6 Lessons I've Learned From Having Lyme Disease
When you are first diagnosed with Lyme disease, or any chronic illness, you might feel angry, apprehensive, anxious, frustrated and guilty. I definitely did. I focused and obsessed on the negative and felt trapped. But I finally realized I was learning more about myself every day. And I was becoming a different person – a better version of myself. Sometimes it’s necessary to change your mindset in order to get through a tough time. Here are some lessons Lyme has taught me:
I always thought of myself as a patient person. But having Lyme made me realize that while I have no problem being patient with other people, I was not being patient with myself. I would become frustrated if I felt well for a few days and then “crash” and have to spend time in bed. I have been learning that I need to have more patience for healing and for this journey. I’m not going to get better overnight, and I’m OK with that.
Throughout my whole life I was a perfectionist and felt the need to control everything. I would plan out everything and get disappointed when it didn’t work out. When my Lyme symptoms became really bad, I needed to stop working and most days I couldn’t leave my bed. This was not my plan! I felt guilty not working and I was annoyed I couldn’t go out with friends. But there came a point where I had to put myself first and focus on getting better. I had to be OK with not knowing when I would go back to work, have the energy to meet a friend or be able to travel again. When I gave up this control and the vision of the future I had in my head, everything became a lot less stressful. Lyme teaches you that life is unpredictable, and it forces you to become more “go with the flow.”
When I was diagnosed with Lyme, I became angry with myself. I was angry I was in so much pain and I was so uncomfortable. I was angry I couldn’t sleep, get out of bed or sometimes take a shower. It was as if my body was failing me. I finally realized that blaming myself wasn’t helping – in fact, it was making me worse. For some of us, we have no problem being caring, patient, compassionate and kind to our family and friends when they are going through something difficult. But when it comes to ourselves, we don’t have the same mentality. I think it’s important to realize we need to treat ourselves the way we treat others. It’s not easy. I began loving myself the way I loved other people. If I didn’t have the energy to get something done, instead of getting frustrated with myself I would say, “That’s OK. You need to rest. You will do it another time.” On days I felt frustrated I would tell myself, “You are doing the best you can do. This is only temporary.” It’s surprising how much your body will respond to love and understanding.
Many of us don’t make ourselves a priority. Maybe we have kids or other people we need to take care of. Maybe we are so exhausted that it’s hard to work, but we need to support our families. Maybe we are always putting other people first. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why we push ourselves and don’t make self-care as important as it should be. But in order to get better, you need to change that mentality. You can start by spending five minutes a day doing a meditation, breathing or journaling. You may not notice a difference right away, but over time you will. Maybe you could squeeze in dry-brushing, a detox bath, an infrared sauna session or a massage. It’s amazing how making yourself a priority, even if it’s a few minutes a day, can make such a big difference in your health.
When we are healthy, we take a lot for granted. We don’t think twice about getting out of bed, taking a shower, going grocery shopping, meeting a friend for dinner, exercising or traveling. But when you have a chronic illness, you may not have the energy to do any of these things for long periods of time. And when you can do one of these things, it makes you appreciate it so much more! Who knew it would be so exciting to be able to stand in the shower for 15 minutes? To be able to go to dinner with
friends and stay the entire time? To be able to run to the store to pick up something needed? Having a chronic illness makes even these mundane tasks exciting. And when you start being thankful for small things like these, you realize how many more things you can be thankful for every day.
When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to judge yourself for the things you can’t do, especially when life is happening all around you and you feel isolated and alone. It’s easy to compare yourself to other people. When we feel certain negative emotions, it’s important to not judge them. We can acknowledge them instead of them letting them take over us. For instance, if you wake up feeling angry, you can think, “I’m so angry that I’m sick.” And that’s totally fine. Feel the anger, and then let it pass. Maybe you feel jealous of healthy people, or depressed you are missing out on an event. There’s nothing wrong with that. While I do think it’s important to stay optimistic about our illness, it’s just as important to acknowledge how we truly feel in a nonjudgmental way. We need to realize that suppressing these emotions can just make us feel worse. You may be surprised at how good it feels to allow yourself to experience these emotions as they come. And in the meantime, you can remind yourself it is temporary and focus on self-care (meditation, journaling, bath) until the emotion passes, which it will.
Sometimes it takes hitting rock-bottom to find our inner strength. But when we do, we realize we come out of the situation stronger, wiser and happier. At any given moment, we can choose to look at hard times in our lives as “Why is another bad thing happening to me?” Or we can ask, “What am I learning from this? How am I becoming a better person?”
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Thinkstock photo via DeepGreen.