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Turning My Passion Into Purpose in the Face of Lyme Disease

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By Meg Walling

I stood outside recently talking to a friend on a glorious fall day, wearing big rubber boots, grey baggy sweatpants, and a large hand-me-down sweatshirt. I had been lamenting for several minutes about my life. The stress. Feeling pulled in too many different directions, so many things I just couldn’t handle. And, for lack of better words, how unkempt and ugly I felt now. As I waved my hand down over myself, I declared, “Look at me!”

My friend gestured at me and responded nonchalantly, “What do you mean? Baffin boots and sweatpants. You look like the same girl to me.”

Immediately I stopped, and for a second I was stunned…because, it was true. Back before my illnesses seemed to take full control of my life, I could often be found stomping around in my green working boots and practical clothes – it was true. So, then looking at myself now, why was it so different – why did I feel so “ugly?”

My mind quickly drifted back to cold NY winters where I would put out and check trail cameras in the forest, purely for research purposes, making my way there and back in those rubber boots and similar attire. Then came more memories of spending many a-days working in the woods for my family’s maple syrup business. Clomping through mud and muck, maneuvering through brush thickets and prickers, and breathing in the wild air. Again, necessity called for similar attire, and I relished in it. So, what was different?

People with chronic Lyme, all tick-borne diseases and other chronic conditions that accompany them frequently feel less-than, not good enough, unworthy and low self-esteem on an incomprehensible magnitude. We too-often lose ourselves and feel like just a shell of the person we used to be, or even a person at all, and are unable to recognize the human that stares back at us in the mirror.

Grieving – it’s what you have to do when you have these multi-systemic illnesses. You grieve for so much, for your whole life you’ve lost. The life that’s been ripped from you. For the family functions you can’t attend. For the people you’ve let down, and those who’ve let you down. For the friends you no longer have. For the passions you feel as though you can’t pursue. For the conversations lost because you don’t have the strength or capacity to withhold them. For the dreams that have withered away. For the understanding you just don’t have. For the physical and mental capabilities that don’t sustain you. For a life, your life, that was once living, and now just surviving.

No one can prepare you for this. For what it’s like. I am still grieving, every day. However, sometimes a hard road can lead you in a right direction. Finding a purpose through this mess is important for someone with Lyme, but when it results from something you love, it’s even better.

I take photographs…or, I used to. Although, I have little interest in taking photographs of anything except the natural world. I suppose this is why: I love the outdoors and nature, wildlife and our natural planet. It is my passion. It is what I feel in my core. It is what I know, what I want to know and what I want to depart. My ultimate goal – the one that matters more than anything else – has always been to have a photograph that makes people think about the world outside of them – the one people often forget about and become mentally and spiritually disconnected from. Many times people get stuck in their day to day lives, dealing with things, getting busier and busier. My goal for capturing photographs of the environment we live in is to assert just that – it is the environment we live in.

However, often we disregard nature, or the consequences of what we do to it, and we only end up affecting ourselves. Our health. Our balance. We are infinitely connected to nature and our natural planet. What happens to one thing ultimately affects something else, and so it continues. If someone saw one of my images, read the caption, and it made them stop – just for a minute – and allowed them to see the bigger picture, it’s all worth it.

I currently don’t take my photographs anymore, to speak of anyway. I don’t get bundled up for journeys in the woods, I don’t wake up at 4 a.m. to make it out there at first light, I don’t go out in a snowstorm coatless (and sometimes barefoot) to get the perfect shot of a whitetail or other creature, I don’t set up wildlife cameras and diligently walk to check them on routine. The list goes on, but I’ll spare you. I can’t do these things because I have chronic Lyme disease. But I will do them again. Slowly, maybe. But I will do them. In the meantime…

For years prior to my Lyme diagnosis my love for nature constantly intersected with my lifestyle and the choices I made regarding what I put in and on my body. Our lifestyle choices may seem small, but together they create an enormous difference in the health of ourselves and our planet. It was with this ardor and knowledge that I joined a skincare company called Beautycounter while undergoing treatment for Lyme. Beautycounter is a Certified-B, safer skincare and cosmetics corporation that considers people, planet and profit equally. Something that really spoke to me. They use a rigorous selection and testing process and ban over 1,500 toxic ingredients in all their products. In an industry that has virtually no regulation, they are one of the leaders in advocating for change – for a crackdown on toxic chemical usage and for the passage of legislation that would mandate the safety of all products found on store shelves. A tough mission to pursue? Absolutely. The last major federal law was passed in 1938, and there are over 80,000 chemicals on the market today, many of which don’t have any safety data. Lofty, maybe, but this was something I needed to be a part of.

Through Beautycounter, I have been able to use what I know, and what drives me, to help create a positive impact in the world – even if just for a handful of people. Eliminating toxins in today’s fast-paced world is not an easy task, and one that unfortunately many times gets overlooked. It might seem small, but using products without toxic ingredients is important to our overall health.

Every day, from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed, most of us have used multiple products on ourselves and in our home – from soap, lotion and cosmetics to deodorant, toothpaste and cleaning spray. All those potentially harmful ingredients from each item come together and cumulatively produce a huge health burden vital for all people, but especially for those with the “Lyme umbrella.”

Developing the healthiest environment possible while healing from Lyme will always allow the best chance for recovery. We change our diets, eat organic and try to release toxic people from our lives, so why keep using toxic personal care? It not only matters a great deal to our wellbeing, but collectively choosing safe products transpires a movement that can transform the industry. One day I want to walk into a store and not have to turn the bottle over to read through the ingredients. I want to know it’s safe. We deserve it.

Everyone with Lyme knows that illness is a great teacher. You basically stare death in the face and walk through the flames every day. You learn what is important. You change. You grow. You get wiser. I am grateful I have been able to use my passion for nature and healthy living to help educate others about how valuable it is to make safer personal care choices. How essential it is.

I still grieve for what I’ve lost. I will still lament, cry and wonder why. It will still take time to heal every gaping wound. But I know I have choices – I have things I can control. It may not feel like it, but I do – we all do. Why not change what we can? Why not take what we love and use it for good? Stop. Just for a second, and remember this – you are you. You have your own special purpose.

And that, my friend, is beautiful.

Meg Walling is a passionate, strong-willed, country-at-heart, conscientious nature lover from rural Upstate NY. She was diagnosed with Lyme and co-infections in early 2014 after going undiagnosed and misdiagnosed for a large portion of her life. Chronic illness is life changing on so many levels, but Meg is living by trying to turn these circumstances into a positive one.

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Thinkstock photo via Halfpoint.

Originally published: November 15, 2017
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