May is Lyme awareness month. I’ve learned so much over the past 7 years about my body, my health and myself. Even though I was only diagnosed under a year ago, my healing journey started way before that. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way…
Food is medicine.
In my opinion, this is one of the most important lessons I have learned. I would not be where I am in my healing journey if I was still eating crap. I wholeheartedly believe that if given half a chance, the body can heal itself. Even though I went into college with the intention of becoming a dietician, I didn't know the first thing about true health. Yeah, we learned about the food pyramid (which btw is just plain sad) and exercise, but it was very general and on a certain agenda. At the time I started to get really sick, I began diving deeper into nutrition. Never in my life had I associated eating healthy with feeling good. It was foreign to me. There are so many ideas out there of what being healthy or eating healthy should look like and it became such a mind f**k to me that I had to educate myself further. Our food system is set up to make people sick. It's profit driven and lacks actual nutrients. I was confused at why I was so sick but duh, everything is full of chemicals! I had to do my own research because all the doctors I went to didn't know jack about nutrition.
After being diagnosed with celiac disease (gluten allergy), I experimented with gluten-free meals and added more nutrient-dense foods into my diet. Over the next few years, I radically healed my poor gut by cutting out every processed food plus grains, sugar, and dairy. I added in bone broth and high quality meat, along with organic produce. I had to give my body a chance to heal. I had to cleanse my liver and flush all the toxins out of my body. Now, being that restrictive should not be a life long thing. It has a time and place for healing. I have gradually added many things back in, and now I am so in tune with my body that if I choose something I know doesn’t make me feel good, I will pay the consequences. I’m asked all the time things like how do you survive without gluten, dairy, cake, fast food, etc.? Basic. I refused to feel like crap every single day. I had to put myself first for once, and make the time. I had to cook, prep and go grocery shopping every single week. It was not easy, but I fell in love with cooking. Once I devoted time to myself and gave my body space and time to heal, things were happening. I made space for healing. I wasn’t bloated. I had a regular period for the first time in my life without drug intervention. My acne greatly improved. I didn’t have brain fog, and I could think clearly. I was sleeping through the night, and I actually had energy even with Lyme. I could go on and on about the amazing benefits of nutrition but I’ll save that for another time.
Find what makes YOU happy.
I used to care so much about what people thought of me. I was a sheep following the herd. I cared about my appearance, what car I drove, what clothes I wore…blah, blah, blah. Talk about BORING. I was so unhappy and miserable. It was a vicious cycle and I felt like there was no way out. When I got to college, I was so freaking lonely and didn’t know who I was. I had based my whole being on the small town I grew up in and the friends I had since I was 6. I was so lost and confused. I got a HUGE wake up call. During this time, my symptoms exploded. My brain fog was at an all time high and I had a really hard time concentrating in school. All my friends in college just wanted to drink and party and stay up until ungodly hours of the night. I was never into partying or drinking, and I was very sensitive to loud noises, alcohol and hated large crowds. Needless to say, the “college scene” was not for me. After my first year of college I moved home and went to a school 20 minutes away. Living at home took a lot of stress off of me and I felt very comfortable and supported there. I enjoyed having the freedom to leave campus and go home after class, but also stay and study if I needed to. Somehow, I graduated college with honors. Looking back, I have no idea how I got through. I was so unhappy and had unhealthy expectations of what I “should” be doing even though those expectations were the furthest from my own personal truth.
After graduating, I had a lot of quiet time because I couldn't do much of anything without being in excruciating pain. With all the time I had, I was able to get very quiet and listen to myself for once. My body knew what I needed; I just needed to listen. I realized that I needed to slow down and rest. I needed to reconnect with nature and my family. I needed to say no to a lot of things in order to realize who was really there for me. I journaled. I got quiet and spent time finding things I now love like yoga, cooking, being in nature, meditation, drawing, reading, researching, gardening, sleeping, writing, and spending time with my dog and family. I feel extremely fulfilled and grounded when I do each of these things daily. They fill my soul. They make me happy and content. I feel at peace with my life and myself. Lyme has become easier to fight because I do things that make my mind and body feel good. Plus I don't feel bad about not being a “normal” 24-year-old anymore. It’s my life. I grew tired of trying to fit into boxes I was not meant to be in. I learned to pave my own path and find what makes me happy.
Listen to your body.
Holy moly is this one important. I didn’t even know what that meant before diving into all of this health stuff. Before I really started changing my life, I was eating mostly vegan, exercising very hard, going to bed late, stressed out with school and work, not eating enough, not having a period, all the things. This combined with Lyme was so hard on my body. I was inflamed, my energy was nowhere to be found and walking long distances was torture. My body was screaming at me to change something—so I did. Diet-wise, I thought I was doing my body and the earth a favor by eating mostly vegan. Looking back, my health was at its all time low during this time. I can’t even remember the last three years very well because my brain was so inflamed. I decided I needed to add animal protein back in. So, I chose very high quality, 100% grass-fed, wild caught, pasture raised meats. My digestive system was jacked and I had leaky gut, so I had to cook all my veggies because raw veggies were really hard on my digestion. I madly increased my calories and ate tons of food because my body was so starving from being vegan. Making these changes DRASTICALLY improved my sleep, digestion and stress levels. I also stopped going to the gym. I was kickboxing 4 days a week and my body was not recovering like it needed to. I thought I needed to be ripped and lean, but that was so far from the truth. My body wasn’t supposed to be ripped and lean. I needed to gain weight to get my period back. So, I began walking as much as my body would allow and I started doing yoga. I started stretching more, taking Epsom salt baths, doing breathing exercises, and sleeping as much as I needed to. My relationship with my body got so much better once I took care of it and gave it what it needed. And guess what?! My period came back on the regular…that should seriously be the 5th vital sign. If you aren’t having a regular cycle (without birth control b/c that’s not an actual period), then your body is telling you something! Even though I still had Lyme symptoms, I was feeling soooo much better and in control of my body.
I also had to set major boundaries when it came to doing things. People would ask me to go out and 9 times out of 10 I would say no depending on how I was feeling. I literally could not stay up past 10pm if I wanted to enjoy the next day. I would feel so hung-over without drinking a drop of alcohol if I didn't get enough sleep. Sleep is the one thing I will not sacrifice. Call me a grandma; I need that 8+ hours of sleep to function. Unfortunately a lot of people did not understand, or even tried to understand. I lost some friends and relationships because of my boundaries, but I will never apologize for that. It was actually a blessing in disguise because I realized who was there for me and who wasn't. When came down to it, I had to listen to my body. It had everything I needed to heal. I had to make space and listen. Thankfully, I have reached a point in my healing journey where I can actually do a lot more than I was able to in the past. I attribute it to being very in tune with myself and setting boundaries where I needed to. Now, I know my limits and plan accordingly.
Be your own advocate.
I cannot tell you how many times I felt like a POS walking out of a doctor’s office. I felt so small and dehumanized. They thought I was lying. They thought it was all in my head. I felt crazy and like I was just another number in the system. How sad is that? It makes me so sad when I hear other people who went through the exact same thing. It’s like an assembly line. You come in, get a diagnosis after being listened to for two-three minutes, get a prescription and out you go! Next. After about a year of that nonsense, I took my health into my own hands. I did all the research I could do. I reached out to people who had similar stories. I followed numerous people on social media to look for solutions and support. I finally found a naturopathic doctor who validated my health concerns. I got my gut in check and found out I had SIBO. I went the most natural way I could go with diet, lifestyle and supporting my body with the nutrients it wasn’t getting because I wasn’t absorbing anything. You are what you absorb. I continued to research and educate myself. I found a Functional Medicine Doctor who I attribute to helping me turn my life around. He tested me for all kinds of things that aren’t even thought about in the conventional medical community. I had the most in-depth lab work of my life and tested positive for mold, heavy metal toxicity, SIBO, gut infections, leaky gut, high inflammatory markers, MTHFR mutation, hormone imbalances; I could go on. Do you know how sick mold can make you? I never even thought about that until I met my FMD. He and his health coaches supported me like no other health professional ever had and it was such a breath of fresh air. Finally, after working with him for a year, he encouraged me to do a Lyme test and I tested positive. I also tested positive for Tick-borne relapsing fever, borriella burgdorferi, and babesia duncani. After working remotely with him (because he was clear across the country), I decided to seek out a Lyme Literate MD in my state for Lyme treatment. I found an amazing one and I am happy with the progress I’ve made so far.
If you are struggling with how you are being treated with any doctor, not just the conventional medical system, I urge you to do your own research. A doctor can be wrong. Yes I said that. Reach out to people who have similar symptoms and find a support group for chronic illness sufferers of any sort. There is so much information out there these days it’s insane. Talk to a therapist or counselor and tell them exactly how you are feeling. It’s so confusing sometimes and it can be so frustrating that you aren’t getting the care you need. Be strong and don't back down. This is your health and no one else is going to care as much about your health as you. Stick up for yourself and it is so okay to go to 10 doctors before you find the right one. It’s kind of like dating. If there are red flags, move on! Work with someone who cares about your health and cares about YOU. Health has so many facets and if your doctors are only focusing on what to prescribe you or diagnose you with…Houston we have a problem! Thank you, next!
Give yourself grace.
Gosh, I used to be so hard on myself. I have always been such a competitive person with a perfectionistic personality. I used to study 8+ hours straight for tests, and get insane headaches and then end up getting a bad grade anyway because I was so stressed. I used to work out until exhaustion because in my mind, that was the measurement for working hard enough. I used to dwell on the fact that I was going nowhere in life because I wasn’t working 40 hours a week like you apparently should after college. I put all these ridiculous, unrealistic expectations on myself because of what I thought to be true and societally acceptable.
**News flash, Meghan—there is no way in hell you could have worked a 40-hour job and be a functioning human. There is no reason on earth you need to be killing yourself in the gym just to break a sweat. You can’t even recover after working out! And tests are just tests. There was no reason to stress yourself out even over the biggest test. It doesn't matter in the grand scheme of life.**
Okay. Onto giving myself grace. This coincides with listening to my body. Over-exercising, stressing, and worrying about what I wasn’t doing was not only harming my mental health, but also harming me physically. My body didn’t have a chance at healing. I wasn’t allowing the space to heal. When I stopped doing everything that was harmful to me, I was lost and afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Fearful of what could happen. I was such a closed book and I didn't want to venture out into unfamiliar territory. But I got a rude awakening (a.k.a Lyme) and I realized I couldn't live the way I was. It wasn't working for me. I had to change for my health. I had to get really, really vulnerable and treated myself with kindness and ease. It was so uncomfortable but I could not keep living the way I was. I started trusting myself by crowding out all the noise and BS that is out there and listened to my own intuition. I found yoga and breath-work. Being consistent with those two modalities has changed my life in such a profound and positive way far beyond the physical aspect. I will always have those in my tool kit. I also started walking and being gentle with myself. Gone are the days of going to the gym and working myself into the ground acting like I had to prove something (talk about brain fog and making poor decisions). I don't even like calling it “working out” anymore. I like to refer to it as moving my body or getting movement in. I think working out has such a stigma around it of needing to be very physical and stressful on the body, something I do not need right now.
I very much appreciate a good day or two of rest (or a week, month, or whatever my body needs!). I’ve learned that taking deep breaths and sitting in silence for even a minute of the day is incredibly powerful. I’ve learned that nature is my best friend. I would SO much rather walk outside and breathe in fresh air than be in a stuffy studio or gym. I’ve learned that not everything has to be done right when I think of it. Stress is not good for my mental or physical health, so I just do what I can and leave what’s left for the next day. I’ve learned that self-care is sooooo important. Caring for myself in a way that supports me mentally, physically and emotionally is the greatest gift I could give myself. I get regular massages, Reiki, chiropractic, physical therapy, and take plenty of Epsom salt baths, naps and eat highly nutritious food to help not only my body feel better, but my mind. I’ve learned that every one of us is on a different journey in this lifetime. There is no need to compare, worry or compete with anyone. We are all at different stages and there’s no right or wrong way to do things. Once I gave up the expectations, gave myself grace and started focusing on what was truly important, my life started to change and I became a more happy and healthy version of myself.
Sorry, but also not sorry about the long post. I really wanted to convey everything I have learned the past couple years. Lyme has become a huge part of my life and has shaped me into the person I am. Even though this disease has been so tough and draining on me, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve learned more about myself in the last 7 years than some people learn in their entire lifetimes, and much of this has to do with the challenges I’ve faced with this disease. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow and give myself grace every single day.