When Lyme Turns Blue

When Lyme Turns Blue

Sometimes we stop writing blog posts. We stop answering calls or text messages. We don’t go outside. We avoid social media. Sometimes, we avoid social. So many things we wish you knew about our disease; the faltering of our mental health is not low on that long list.

Sometimes, Lyme makes us sad. It pulls, and paws, and drags us under until we are so disoriented by the darkness, we just stop moving and welcome the rest.

Depression is not a powerful force; not a fierce warrior. It is not strategic and doesn’t attack. It is, instead, a slow sluggish thing. A blob that slithers and slips and lumbers onto our backs when we aren’t looking. It’s only super power? Sheer weight.

The heaviness presses until tears fall and angry, fearful, frustrated words squeeze out. We want to, but cannot contain them. The burden is too much. We cry, talk to ourselves, our God, friends who know. We are prickly, easily irritated in ways we don’t understand. Thoughts, that should maybe remain private, tumble out like pebbles before an avalanche. But the crumbling of the load, the torrent we were expecting, that may have let in some light and air, doesn’t happen. The last of the tears and the words skid to a feckless stop at rock bottom, but the weight remains and pins us to the precipice, trapping everything inside. This sad parasite has cut off our emotion. No more crying. No more words. The relentless pressure smothers all sensation.

That’s when we go away; when we welcome the dark cloak our unwanted passenger has thrown over us. We’re too tired to look for anymore light.

Lyme disease causes depression. Like so much about Lyme, the mechanism is not clear.

Is it the bugs themselves? The little corkscrews twisting into our brains, throwing us off balance, making us see things that aren’t there, and forget things that are? Is it because they are making warm little nests in our heads that shove aside rational thought, knowledge of recent events, the way home from work? They pervert our perspective. Along with their infectious co-infectors, they take over, invading the limbic system wreaking havoc with our feelings and ability to remember. They hijack the pre-frontal cortex until we cannot make decisions, plans, or follow a recipe; until our personality is unrecognizable. They both dull and heighten our senses and do whichever, whenever they please. Captivity can lead to depression and hopelessness. And we are prisoners, no exit left unguarded by those that have conquered our domain.

Maybe the depression comes from loss. We have lost jobs, mobility, cognition, money, goals, and marriages. We keep looking but cannot find our old selves, and we miss them. In the beginning, we were buoyed by our stubbornness – – back when we had no idea what we were really in for. We thought it a matter of determination, that we could will ourselves better, climb into the ring and go as many rounds as needed to beat this disease to a bloody, lifeless pulp. We frustrated loved ones who wanted to help because we continued to insist we could do it ourselves. But now that slovenly despicable weight of gloom wears us down and we give in, and sometimes, on and off, we give up. Some of us once dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, or traveling the world. Some of us just wanted to go to work everyday and take care of our kids, garden, pets. But most of us have had to come to terms with new limitations. We’ve had to lower the bar. Once the worst of the pain subsides, and some of the fog clears from our brains, we can mostly, despite all that’s missing, find contentment but not always. Losing can cause depression and hopelessness, and we have lost much.

Maybe the depression comes from so many unbelievers. They are the majority – – some are physicians, some researchers, nurses, family, friends. They speak to us with condescension, even if they don’t mean to. Imagine losing the ability to walk, being struck with a sudden dementia, having seizures, falling, hallucinating. Imagine a sudden debility or a debility that creeps up slowly so that you don’t know how much you’re about to lose until it’s too late. Imagine having lab tests that prove your body full of infectious disease. Imagine being treated for four years, or ten, or twenty and still your tests return positive. Then someone laughs at you, maybe even your doctor, and tells you Lyme disease is not a chronic infection or that it can’t be contracted in Ohio, or California, or Flordia – – or wherever you live that’s not the Northeastern United States. They dismiss the evidence before them because, they say, ten days, or thirty of antibiotics – – if you’re lucky enough to get that much – – will “cure” you. Think about that. Years of treatment doesn’t erase the disease and you can prove it – – can prove it’s thriving inside, but the person in front of you says not to worry because you don’t have it anymore as if their magical unbelief is all it takes to eradicate your affliction. Denial of personal, undeniable truth can make you feel crazy. It can lead to depression and hopelessness. We have been denied.

Maybe it’s all the pretending. The pretending is so draining. Maybe that’s what makes us depressed. It’s been a few years that we’ve been sick now, and it seems there’s a time limit for lifelong illness that is, surprisingly, not the end of life. We’ve been making excuses well past the time allotted us by the healthy people. It might be different if we were in wheelchairs, or our hair had all fallen out, or our skin were covered in boils and we were clawing ourselves raw with shards of pottery trying to find relief, but most of us look okay. Inside we tremble with fatigue, our hearts are skipping beats, our brains are working overtime to think of the simplest words. When we feel like there’s not enough air, don’t worry, we’ll turn around so you can’t see us gasp. When our joints throb and our skin hurts and our bones ache and our muscles spasm – – it’s alright – – we’ll make sure you don’t know. We’ll keep our anxiety and depression to ourselves and if we can’t, we’ll find a reason to stay away until we can put our “good” face back on. Pretending is exhausting and can lead to depression and hopelessness. We are pretenders, afraid to be “that person” – – the one who’s always sick, who doesn’t feel well, who can’t go, who can’t stay.

We don’t want to be sad. We don’t like being depressed but sometimes, Lyme feels like this.

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In The Beginning, Babesia

In The Beginning, Babesia

For most, it starts with a symptom. There may have been others before, but they seemed normal: An achy joint, headache, extra tired, a flu-like feeling. And they didn’t last. They came; they went. Eventually though, a sign of sickness, so bold, so brash crashes into our awareness and stops us. It may stop us from walking, remembering, speaking, moving, eating. Lyme embeds itself in every part of the body so it has a lot of choice as to how it will damage us.

This is the way we discover that we are sick. This one loud signal becomes the bellwether, and all the others begin to ring out until they are a cacophony of indicants and any pretense of health is finally done away with.

These symptoms shift and move; take turns. Like a pot of soup, some float to the top, but with a stir those sink, and a different set rises. It’s no wonder it takes so long to put them together; to give them a name. To realize they are Legion.

Lyme patients tend only to recognize the signs by looking back. In the midst of it, doctors try to sort it out. They name a condition to go with each symptom and a drug to go with each name. But when we finally find that one physician whose eyes and mind are open, whose medicine has kept up with the research, we get an answer. We exit his office armed with, and bewildered by, a new truth. We have something. We have Lyme Disease. One thing that’s really many things. Legion.

We climb into our car. Dizzy, exhausted, aching, struggling to recall the way back home. But at least now we know why. On the drive, we say to ourselves, out loud, “Oh, that’s why last year I . . .” or “I remember feeling . . . It must have been the Lyme.”

The harbinger of my decline, I believe was a protozoal parasite called Babesia. Most people don’t realize Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, let alone that chronic Lyme is a whole army of infectious organisms. Although the symptoms of each do overlap, I look back to my beginnings and believe it was Babesiosis that rose up to conquer me first. I have two strains, but their symptoms are similar.

babesia duncani

My Lyme experience started in a panic. Not anxiousness, nervousness, not fretting, or worrying; a panic. My mother had passed. I thought that was why I was lying awake in my young son’s bed trying to protect him from the people I believed lurked outside his window. I thought her death was why I began blacking out; once, while driving, long enough to take out a mailbox. I thought that was why I was seeing things and people who were not really there. It was stress. It was normal.

It stopped, and I moved on thinking I was over it. But during the next 7 years, these things would come and go along with other warnings.

In my pre-Lyme existence, I avoided doctors, but two weeks of nightly fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea finally forced me to drag my embattled body into my physician’s office. He was surprised to see me. It had been three years, after all. But he managed a whole five minutes with me, ordered a complete blood count, and told me to make sure I was up to date on all my “female things.” I complied, and one pap smear, a vaginal ultrasound, and stool test later, knew I had a benign cyst on one ovary, blood-free stool, and a hemoglobin of 9.6 – – nearly transfusion-worthy.

Sometimes, I imagine the little parasites, like enemy submarines, swimming through my vessels, blowing up red blood cells. Lysis: It means “to loose” or to “unbind”. That’s what Babesia does to a red blood cell. Like a microscopic battering ram, it breaks down the cell wall so all the vital ingredients inside drift away and disintegrate. Other times, it inhabits the erythrocytes; forms them into little groups. “Sludging,” they call it. This clumping against the walls of capillaries, and arteries, blocks roadways built for lifeblood to travel. Red blood cells are transporters, delivering oxygen to every part of the body, and while their at it, dispelling carbon dioxide so we’re not poisoned to death. When I am doubled over sucking in air without relief from the feeling of needing it, when I can’t stop yawning, when my hearts jumps like a cricket in my chest, or pounds like a hammer, Babesia is at work starving my tissues and organs of air.

I know Babesia well by now and am certain it inhabits every area of me, but it has an affinity for the hypothalamus and prefrontal cortex. I don’t know why this is, but I do know the consequences.

The hypothalamus is a stabilizer. Homeostatis is this gland’s job. It controls the body temperature, thirst, and appetite. It lulls us to sleep or drives us to stay awake for sex. Oxytocin, that hormonal hug, is produced by this gland, and helps us feel relaxed, happy, loving, empathetic, and over all more mentally stable. The prefrontal cortex houses the personality, and many forms of complex thought; problem solving, decision making, management of social behavior, concentration in the midst of distraction. It manages our moods.

Living with dysfunction in these areas, as well as with red blood cell killers means sudden shifts in mood and emotions, instant alterations in one’s physical and mental state, disruptions in cognitive capacity, and depletion of energy.

I am on fire. A hot ache inside my chest, swells, then unfurls. It rolls through my torso, filling the length of all limbs; culminating in a stinging tingle to my extremities. I grip the arms of my chair and lean forward, gasping at the onset of this ignition. I want to tear off my skin; find my way out before my body erupts. Night brings fever and drenching sweats; I seek relief in a long, quiet soak, but the bath water is too warm. I feel my last breath coming; my heart will stop. I imagine my family discovering me lifeless; my head, one arm draped over the edge in a failed attempt to find air. Summer’s heat is a thick sludge. It seals me in, and I slog through, heavy and lethargic. It seeps into my brain, and I cannot think or understand.

I am frozen; my toes cold, pale. I know they will snap if I’m not careful. The sounds of shivers and chattering teeth reveal my location under layers of clothes and blankets. I go outside bundled in long underwear, wool, and down only to find myself sobbing because despite the layers, I am unprotected. Glacial air knifes through my skin, my muscles; all the way deep down to the bones. Then I peel it all off like a wild woman trapped in a cage inside a pit of fire; clawing and scratching my way out, fearful once more of an impending detonation.

I am exhausted. The sleep of Babesiosis is a never-sleep. I close my eyes, but don’t rest. My mind is busy, one incohesive dream after another, after another.  My eyes open in the morning, but I have only switched worlds from restless night to bone-weary day.

I am a wreck. A cluster of nervous paranoid anxieties fill my head and sit like a stone in the pit of my stomach. A heavy blanket soaked in despair, defeat, and sadness drapes my whole self and keeps me pinned down, robs me of light and air. I cannot lift it; cannot crawl out from under so I let it hold me until it doesn’t.

I am numb. My personality has vanished. Where are my emotions? There are days, when faced, even with the death of a friend I am unmoved. As I exist in this strange anesthetized pose, I am conscious of it’s oddness; wonder in those moments why I am not crying, why I am making a pretend sad face as I hug loved ones. Why I feel nothing.

I am confused. Oxygen cannot be late to the brain without upsetting the whole operation. I am sick of standing, clueless, in the middle of a room, no idea why, nor what I am meant to do, and often no memory of getting there. I am weary of panicking when my phone calls are answered because I have no idea who I called or why, or can’t remember answers to questions like, “What’s your date of birth, your social security number, your name?” I’m weary of having to change passwords because I can’t get letters in the right order. Babesia inflames the brain, causes it to swell, blocking blood flow. I know when it happens because I become a fountain of tears; leaks sprung by jabs of despair, anger, frustration, happiness, fear. Emotions bundled so tightly together, fighting for control, they rule me until the Babesiosis is, again, muffled.

I am in pain. There are days, Babesia sits in the middle of my forehead and hurts without relief for months. My neck is strained, fatigued. I cannot hold my head upright for long and feel as if I am stopping a locomotive with the back of my skull. At times, I think the little bugs are lodged in my throat because I cough and cough until it’s raw. My muscles spasm and ache, quadriceps unable to bear the weight of a magazine, deltoids feel as if I’d endured ten tetanus shots the day prior.

Like the contents of my red blood cells, I am undone by Babesia. My personality – – who I am – – my emotions, thoughts, understanding have all been let loose. I am drifting away. Comfort and peace, things I once possessed, are now unbound. There do not seem to be any walls to keep me together or keep me safe; no place of rest that cannot be invaded by these creatures. ‘Loosed,’ ‘unbound,’ may conjure ideas of freedom, but this is not that. This is a disorientating, perplexing push from behind into open air with no sense of place, no certain hope of landing.

Lyme feels like Babesiosis.

Lyme feels like this.