Note: This essay was originally published on The Mighty on December 1st, 2016
My lab tests tell the story of a body in peril. My inflammatory markers are dangerously high, and my helper cells are very low. The MRI of my spine continues to alarm and perplex doctors. Nevertheless, here I am—upright and able to live a semi-normal life.
My immune system been covertly fighting Lyme disease for more than two decades, and I only recently caught wind of the battle. Don't get me wrong. I haven't been healthy this entire time. I've been on a slow decline for the last 10 years and my body finally cried uncle. I certainly didn't do anything to help the fight. I ate more macaroni and cheese than I’m willing to admit, routinely talked myself out of working out and allowed stress to perpetually sit shotgun. Not only was my body fighting a smoldering infection, it was doing so without any ammunition.
Often people with chronic illness feel betrayed by our bodies—and rightfully so. Our mind continues to grasp at a normal life, telling us we should be exercising and waking up earlier, meanwhile our bodies are in an endless tug of war screaming out for rest and recovery. I find myself saying "if only" a lot. If only I wasn’t so tired. If only I didn't have a headache. Blaming my body instead of Lyme for letting me down over and over again.
When I take a closer look, I see my body has come through for me every time. When the bacteria fueled itself off the iron in my red blood cells, my body shut down menstruation to keep me from becoming seriously anemic. When my adrenal glands became worn out from fighting the inflammation in my body, my thyroid gland kicked into overdrive to compensate. These were warning signs that my body was severely out of balance, but it did what it had to do to keep me functioning.
Even when we are drastically ill, our bodies fight with every weapon they have to keep us alive. Thanklessly, my body marches on giving Lyme disease everything it’s got. My helper cells seek out the elusive bacteria hiding under the invisibility cloak known as a biofilm and hunts down the bugs taking refuge in my joints. At the end of the day, my body rarely asks for anything. It asks for the occasional nap, nutrient-rich food and a nice warm bath. Otherwise, it shoulders the heavy burden, so I can live my life.
Sometimes my body needs weapons it doesn't have on its own, such as the jab of an antibiotic or the uppercut of a supplement. My job is to do the best I can to supply it with the right ones. I give my body bullets of healthy food. I don't suppress it with stress; I build it up with sleep and meditation. I try not to give the opposing army any advantages like sugar and yeast to feed on. Every day I get better at showing my body the respect it deserves.
At this point in my treatment, my pain is diminishing and my energy is starting to pick back up. As I write this, I just returned from a social gathering where I met new people and caught up with old friends. I used to come home from events like this and immediately crash. Today, I’m sitting here typing with a brain free of fog. On paper, I should be struggling to lift my head off the pillow, but now I’m able to work part-time, walk my dog and occasionally go out with friends. I still have a long way to go before I can declare victory, but I’m getting better every day.
"I came to see that what constitutes strength is not just muscle or will. It can also include the most desperate vulnerability, the saddest heartache, the lightest, sweetest laughter." - Brenda Shaughnessy
I'm Kerry and I am a writer and licensed therapist. This is a positive space focused on how to thrive in any situation and the transformative power of illness.