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Coming Face to Face With the Enemy as a Person With Lyme Disease

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Earlier this summer, I pulled a tick off my significant other.

For many people, that would have been the beginning and end of the story. For them, it’s not a particularly noteworthy event. For us, however, it was surprisingly traumatic.

Despite having been diagnosed with two tick-borne illnesses almost seven years ago, I had never actually seen a tick before. What do you do when you’re face-to-face with a tiny thing, way smaller than a fingernail, but nevertheless a thing that ruined your life for a period of time? A thing that stole your youth and energy, a thing that continues to haunt you, a thing from which you may never be fully healed.

I freaked out.

I am usually a great person to have around in a crisis. I don’t overreact; I just zone everything out and do what needs to be done. I’m the person who comforts others in a crisis situation.

This time, not so much.

I removed the tick, then crumpled onto the carpet. Shaking and sobbing, I couldn’t understand my visceral reaction. I felt a disorienting sense of distance and lack of control, like I was watching my reaction but was powerless to stop it. The physical and mental anguish of the past seven years washed over my body in an instant, prompting an unforgiving torrent of emotion. That little thing that had nearly broken me, time and time again, was staring me in the face, legs still twitching, slowly gorging itself on the blood of someone I love.

The thought of him going through what I had been through for all those years turned my blood cold. I couldn’t handle the thought of repeating my experience in the role of caregiver. The thought of having to watch him struggle to crawl his way back only to be beaten down again, day after day, year after year, was too much for me.

From the beginning, Lyme was woven into the fabric of our relationship; we met while I was on medical leave from college. From then on, Lyme tested us as a couple, dictating what we could and couldn’t do and fast-tracking us to serious commitment. When I met him, I was scraping rock bottom in terms of my physical health. Even now, when we are starting our life together, he has to give me weekly injections of antibiotics. These experiences have tested and ultimately strengthened our bond, but sometimes it feels like we just can’t escape the relentless crush of chronic illness. By the time we reach the surface to take a breath, the next wave is already crashing down. It’s exhausting, but we’ve learned to live with it; rather, to live around it.

He has been my rock, my strength, my caregiver. And I am still too physically ill to care for us both. The thought of him getting sick shook the fragile balance we have achieved between life and Lyme to the core. It was unsettling.

We had the tick tested and it came back disease-free. However, this experience made me think about my journey with illness in a different way. It forced me to realize the traumatic component inherent to life with chronic illness: the lingering scars left by the doubt of many medical professionals, the endless trips to specialist after specialist, the long months of bed rest, the harsh effects of long-term treatment, the physical and emotional isolation from peers, the crushing fear that I was too broken to be loved. It made me pause and truly respect the seriousness of everything I’ve been through. I had to be kinder to myself, to acknowledge my trauma.

Now, maybe, healing can begin.

Getty image by Igor Chus.

Originally published: August 29, 2019
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