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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