Phil is someone makes lemonade out of Lyme. After a confirmed diagnosis of Lyme disease in 2015, he went on to publish the graphic novel, When Life Hands You Lemons, Check for Lymes, available on Etsy. He channeled all of his creative energy into a fun project to share his Lyme story and spread awareness about this misunderstood illness. You can tell from his picture that he has a quirky sense of humor and love of life.
Tell us a little about who you are and what you do:
At my core I am a creative person. I find joy in creating art of all kinds whether it be music, comics, poems etc. Lyme has at times taken away my ability to make certain kinds of art, but an important part of creativity is finding clever ways to overcome obstacles, which is what I've tried to use as fuel for inspiration. I had been working in Goshen, Indiana as an elementary art teacher but my wife and I are actually moving to Portland, Oregon in two days where I'll start teaching at a progressive preschool and she will pursue her MFA at the Oregon College of Art and Craft.
You tell your Lyme story in the graphic novel, When Life Hands you Lemons, Check for Lymes, what was the process creating the novel like for you?
Well before Lyme took a huge dump on me, writing songs on the guitar had been my main creative outlet. Eventually, the pain in my arms forced me to stop playing guitar and I was floundering a bit without a creative endeavor to work on. At the time when I began writing the book I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just started drawing the comics as a way to process, cope, and try to find humor in the chaos. So most of the book is written in real-time, which is probably different than most memoirs. Perhaps what it lacks in retrospective wisdom is made up by its in-the-moment authenticity.
What are your views on art, passion, and creativity as they relate to healing?
When going through tough times, the most important thing is to have a reason to wake up each morning. For some people it's their kids or jobs, but a big one for me is art. Creating art is so effective as a healing mechanism though because it forces you to process the situation and serves as a safe space to unleash your fears and emotions. On a more public level, our art can also help other people with their own healing journey.
Why do you feel it is important to share your story and spread awareness about Lyme disease?
Like I said before, sharing stories of tribulations can often help other people not feel so alone with their struggles. But Lyme stories specifically deserve to be heard because it is such a misunderstood disease. I won't get into the political nitty-grittiness of it all, but I will say that there would be less controversy surrounding the disease if there was more awareness and more funding. A woman actually contacted me not too long ago after seeing my book in a local bookstore because she has Lyme disease and didn't know where to look for help. I was able to direct her to a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor, a small step in the journey of Lyme but one that could potentially save her life. To me, that experience in and of itself validated writing this book.
What is the one thing that you have found most helpful in treatment?
I think like a lot of Lyme patients out there, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what is the most helpful because you're trying so many different things simultaneously. But I have made noticeable progress through a combination of efforts including antibiotics, diet, supplements, and acupuncture. I also never used to take baths, but now I take one almost every day. It calms down my muscles and eases anxiety. It's no cure, but it has become a nice ritual.
Do you have any advice for the newly diagnosed?
Be your own advocate and seek out education, but also try not to get too overwhelmed with it all. Take a deep breath and take things one day at a time. Also, if you are one of the unlucky ones who is not healed quickly and easily, as my dad would always say, "There's more than one way to skin a cat." As much as I still hate that phrase, it rings true with Lyme. People have found healing through many different avenues, so don't give up hope and always have a plan B. My plan B is bee venom therapy. Though I hope the route I'm on continues to be effective (I'd prefer not to sting myself with bees three days a week for two years), it's empowering to have a backup plan.
Who inspires you in the Lyme community?
The doctors who put their careers on the line to help patients in a way that they believe is right. I've also been astounded at how supportive other Lyme patients have been. Putting myself out there and interacting with others who have a shared experience was the best thing I could have done.
What are you currently working on or what is your next project?
The past six months I've been writing for Independent Music News pretty regularly. I also am in the beginning stages of creating a collaborative book with a college friend of mine that I'm pretty excited about. I want to make a plug though about a Lyme-inspired album that I made this past fall called B. burgdorferi. The whole thing was written in six weeks on a 1987 Casio Synthesizer and it covers themes that I didn't really touch on much in my book. So if you can't get enough wacky Lyme art, I'd recommend checking it out. You can also keep up to date with whatever I'm currently working on through my tumblr. Thanks so much for talking with me.
"It's not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see." - Henry David Thoreau
If you have Lyme disease, reading this graphic novel may be a little like flipping through the pages of your life.
Of course, all chronic illness stories are different, but like author, Phil Gerigscott, many of Lyme patients were sick for a long time with unusual symptoms and had a great deal of difficulty getting a diagnosis.
Phil has written his Lyme memoir in comic-form compiled into a graphic novel. It's his story about contracting Lyme, finding a diagnosis (in New Zealand), and beginning treatment. For Phil, these things happen to coincide with marrying his wife, Emma, and starting a life together, which you can imagine makes for some interesting moments.
I've read a lot of personal Lyme stories and publish many stories on this blog, but there's something different about seeing in in pictures.
There are many things in this book a Lyme patient will find relatable. At one point, Phil is diagnosed with tendinitis, goes to physical therapy, and buys a bunch of expensive equipment only to still have severe knee pain. After that he begins to spend money on any supplement or treatment that might help.
Of course, he also goes through his WebMD phase and believes it could be any number of diagnoses.
Phil wrote this book in real time, so there is a genuineness to his frustration, which may have been lost had he already known his diagnosis. As I learned in the interview I did with Phil, writing this graphic novel was his creative outlet during a time of confusion and struggle.
This is a quick and fun read. I was anxious to get to the punch line: How does he finally figure it out? And I kept turning the pages to get there.
Phil's artwork is clever and quirky. He manages to find the humor in a very difficult time in his life. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's necessary.
What I learned from this book:
1. Be lighthearted whenever possible.
2. When facing challenges, find a creative outlet. It could be writing, drawing, singing, or even day dreaming. Find some way to channel the pain into something meaningful.
3. Cherish the people who come along for the whole ride, not just the good parts.
Buy the book here on Etsy. It's a great addition to any Lyme library.
Now head on over to read my Interview with Phil.
"Every time you are able to find humor in a difficult situation, you win." - Avinash Wandre
Quotes can be very helpful in the healing process. Whenever I feel down or discouraged an affirmation pops into my head, "Never, ever, ever give up," or "Be gentle with yourself, you're doing the best you can," and I feel a little better.
If you've perused this blog you may have noticed I love quotes. I put a quote at the end of every post. Quotes inspire, make you see things in a different way, and are good reminders to be your highest self. There's a reason #MondayMotivation and #WednesdayWisdom trend every week.
Here are 20 of my all time favorites. You may have seen some of them throughout the blog:
The 20 Best Quotes About Healing:
1. "Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it." - Tori Amos
2. "Standing at that impossible junction, we can make a radical choice. We can learn to fly." - Martha Beck
3. "We are like the birds. We adapt. We sing." - David Byrne
4. "You can damage the brain, you can damage the body, but the center of...the person you meet...she was whole." - Karen Cavanagh
5. "Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know." - Pema Chodron
6. "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen
7. "She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails." - Elizabeth Edwards
8. "Getting over a painful event is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward." - C.S. Lewis
9. "Of one thing I am certain, the body is not the measure of healing, peace is the measure." - Phyllis McGinley
10. "The body knows things a long time before the mind catches up to them." - Sue Monk Kidd
11. "I am better off healed than I ever was unbroken." - Beth Moore
12. "When an illness is part of your spiritual journey no medical intervention can heal you until your spirit has begun to make the changes that the illness was designed to inspire." - Caroline Myss
13. "Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying 'I will try again tomorrow.'" - Mary Anne Radmacher
14. "Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn't you--all of the expectations, all of the beliefs--and becoming who you are." - Rachel Naomi Remen
15. "So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow." - Rainbow Rowell
16. "The wish for healing has always been half of health." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
17. "The stars we are given. The constellations we make." - Rebecca Solnit
18. "Run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal." - Cheryl Strayed
19. "I’m not telling you it's going to be easy. I’m telling you it's going to be worth it." - Art Williams
20. "Eventually, you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is." - Gary Zukav
Do you have a favorite from the list above? What mantra or quote helps your healing? Spread the inspiration and share with us below.
And since I always end each blog post with a quote, here is a bonus:
"All healing is first a healing of the heart." - Carl Townsend
I'm Kerry and I am a licensed therapist, writer & speaker. This is a positive space focused on how to thrive in any situation and the transformative power of suffering.