I'm Claire Dalton, I'm 22 years old, and I suffer from endometriosis, anxiety disorder, depression, arthritis, joint pain, muscle pain, chronic fatigue, and a whole host of other symptoms that can be wrapped up in a pretty little package that is referred to as CHRONIC LYME DISEASE. I'm bold, strong-willed, and driven, and when my quality of life was ripped out from underneath me, I desperately needed all of those qualities to keep myself alive. My story is a story of blood, sweat, tears, and a family burdened with Lyme disease who chose not to quit and still chooses to stay and fight every day. Lyme is brutal, but not brutal enough to kill us.
My story begins when I was a teenager my junior year of high school. I was sixteen when my mother became gravely ill and bedridden in a more permanent manner. I don't ever remember my mom being completely healthy. She frequently experienced flares of illness of every kind throughout each winter season, and in the summer it would improve. Come to think of it, this was my pattern as well, but we never gave it a second thought because we were so frequently met with comments like, "it's normal for kids to be sick all the time" or, "all kids are frequently sick during flu season." That was the belief in my culture, my home, and my family, and we didn't realize how wrong that statement was until one day my mom went down and didn't come back up. One day everything simply plummeted... and this time waiting it out didn't make it better.
I went to school like a normal teenager. I looked like a normal teenager. I worked hard and studied hard like a normal teenager. But my home life was far from normal and I was often filled with overwhelm and fear because I never knew whether or not my mother would be alive when I came home from school that day. It almost seemed at times like we were simply waiting for death to pass over our house because death would mean the release of pain for my sweet mother. Our home was often filled with moans, groans, screams, tremors, and seizures due to how much pain she constantly suffered from. I desperately wanted my mom to live, but not like that. Not while death seemed so close on such a constant basis. Hospital runs, medications, being forced out of our house, trial and error of every diet under the sun! It was a living hell in my house, and I prayed so often for the feeling of the floor being ripped out from underneath me to cease.
Medications made things worse. Doctors assumed my mother was psychologically unwell. Friends and neighbors stayed away in fear of "catching it" or simply not knowing what to do. My mother went undiagnosed and misdiagnosed for a seemingly endless period of time. We craved a diagnosis. We craved answers. We craved an ending to the constant suffering.
In the year 2014, we finally received a diagnosis. Chronic Lyme disease. We received a diagnosis only to find that there is no proven cure and no doctors in our state that knew very much about Lyme disease. We searched elsewhere for answers and protocols, and the long and arduous journey of healing for my mom began.
Meanwhile, I worked hard to graduate from high school. I recall major brain fog, severe anxiety, extremely painful menstrual cycles, and a constant state of stress in high school. It never occurred to me that I could be diagnosed with the same disease I listened to my mother scream from night after night, but my first semester as a freshman in college was my trigger, and I went down fast.
I remember existing in a constant state of panic in college. Nothing ever felt right and my heart and nerves often felt tightly clenched as I spent many dark nights experiencing panic attacks all by myself. My heels and feet would hurt and ache every time I walked across campus to the point where I tried buying gel inserts for my shoes that never worked anyway. I couldn't remember hardly any word that came out of my professor's or tutor's mouths, and I had to come home and sleep for three hours just to make it through each day. I suffered from severe excoriation disorder and would claw at my own arms until they bled and would leave massive scarring. I had major joint and muscle pain, and my menstrual cycles were nearly unbearable. My hair kept seeming to fall out in massive amounts, I'd break out in skin lesions, and I was losing weight faster than I could count.
"Your test results came back positive." That's not a sentence any college student wants to hear, but I heard it and my heart sank. Doctors appointments, tests, and 30 vials of blood later, I knew I had Lyme disease. I also knew that if I didn't change my lifestyle and get on treatment soon, I'd end up being the one in screams.
I started my first treatment while I was still going to college. At the time my mom had been on a cancer protocol for about a year that was known for being very beneficial to Lyme patients. So far that protocol had healed her to the point where the screams had stopped and there were some days that she could get out of bed. We decided at the time that the best route was for me to go on the same treatment. This began an entirely new way of living.
I remember throwing everything out in my pantry and changing my entire diet. No more sugar, dairy, meat, gluten, citrus fruit, tomatoes, or spices of any kind for a while. I didn't know how to cook and I submitted to eating bland food for quite a while. I remember sleeping with oxygen tubes to prep for treatment the next day. I recall waking up early, taking all my supplements and my treatment, and hoping that I wouldn't herx too hard so I could make it to all of my classes that day. At the end of every day, my treatment required me to record all of my vitals and rate each symptom from one to ten. I so often marked high numbers on each symptom, my heart rate was always in the hundreds, and I always seemed to be bone cold. My grades dropped dramatically, and everything felt awkward and uncomfortable. I had good days and bad days, but the bad days usually left the good days as recovery days. The problem with Lyme is that it usually gets worse before it gets better. As was the case with me.
I left college before the semester was over. I felt like a failure, but I fell to the floor and cried tears of joy when I finally reached home that day. It felt so good to be home. It felt so good to know that at least now I could be sick in my own house. I looked in the mirror that night and wondered who the girl was that was staring back at me. I pleaded to God for help. I knew I had a long road ahead of me. I just don't think I knew what that entailed.
The herxing was brutal at first. I remember my first major herxheimer reaction was so excruciating that I lost my ability to get up and walk to the bathroom by myself. I recall my head throbbing every time I opened my eyes, and my entire body hurt so bad that I couldn't lay on one side of my body for too long because the weight of my own body was too much. I remember everything spinning, and passing out in front of my bedroom door after I attempted to walk by myself. What I didn't realize then was that overcoming that herx was the first of many baby steps to getting my quality of life back.
After a year of that treatment, I changed my diet again. I gradually reintroduced spices, dairy, gluten, and meat back into my diet, taking care that everything was organic, whole, and clean. I had no desire to eat refined sugar again, and I still don't. I found myself gaining some of my life back as symptoms began to peal off little by little. The severe pain that came with endometriosis was torture every month, but the improvement of symptoms the other times of the month gave me hope for healing. I continued trying different protocols. I tried high dose vitamin C IVs, magnesium injections, large amounts of supplementation, and light exercise as I could. Some things started to clear. Others didn't. Lyme disease always seemed to leave me frustrated and confused because things would come and go and extreme pain left me scarred with memories and fear of if or when it would come back.
The Sauna Detox Protocol is the treatment that CHANGED MY LIFE. After a vigorous two months of sweating it out in a sauna, I began to feel like I had my life back. My skin cleared, I began to gain the weight that I had lost, my hair started growing back, my pain lessened, and the herxheimer reactions decreased. I gained my energy back and my panic attacks eased. My brain fog, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction lessened, and even my endometrial pain improved! I never believed that I would get my life back, but to a point, I did. I don't have non-stop excruciating pain anymore, and I can't begin to express how thankful I am for the healing that I have been able to experience in the past two years.
Now, I have the unique opportunity to look back and contemplate everything I've been through, and I often take time every day to allow myself to feel the emotional pain that comes from experiencing such large amounts of physical pain. I still struggle with severe anxiety, lower abdominal pain from Endo, and excoriation disorder and I'm still fighting to overcome. I now treat my Lyme with AmpCoil, and I've found that if I don't regularly practice treatment and self-care my symptoms will reappear. What helps me function is consistent 8 hours of sleep every night, drinking half my body weight in oz. of water every day, and only consuming organic and whole foods.
PTSD is a real thing that Lyme patients suffer from, and I often find myself having flashbacks of severe pain flares that leave me paralyzed for a time. With that said, I often find myself holding onto God's love in those moments, and that gives me a reason to keep going and keep striving for a cure. I am not "cured." I do not live an easy and symptom-free life at all times... but there have been so many blessings and miraculous amounts of healing that have taken place in the past couple of years, to which I am incredibly thankful for.
To anyone suffering from a chronic illness... I've learned that even in the darkest nights, there is HOPE FOR HEALING. Some of us in life are called to pass through the darkest nights and the scariest of circumstances, but those experiences are for our refinement and for our good. The road ahead may be full of darkness, but there's always a light. I've now gained the wisdom to know that it takes more than one protocol to find healing. It usually takes many tools in your toolbox to survive the depths of Lyme disease. I've also gained such a love for the concept of suffering and why some are called to pass through such deep adversities. I'm learning every day how to accept my illness and love and appreciate the good moments. I'm learning to love my scars, for they are my battle wounds that tell the story of how I overcame something horrendous. I'm learning how to be patient and flexible with God's timing instead of my own. And I've gained a passion for loving and helping people who suffer through dark misfortune and come out stronger in the end.
Chronic illness warriors are INCREDIBLE people! If you want to learn about resilience, dedication, desperation, hard work, and perseverance, love somebody who is sick. Because when you get sick for the long haul, something inside you begins to bloom that is the only thing that will keep you going during your most desperate nights. And then one day you'll wake up and realize that the bloom inside you grew into a garden of flowers that you didn't know you were growing.
Some days are good. Some days are bad. Some days are bland and some days are more than I feel like I can handle. Progress is not a constant upward motion, but a roller coaster that makes you want to scream at times and laugh at others. It's all about learning how to enjoy the ride. This is Lyme disease. This is invisible illness. This is my Lyme life.
You can find more information on the Sauna Detox Protocol HERE
The holidays are meant to be joyful! Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on blessings throughout the year, and a time to express gratitude to loved ones and to our loving God who blesses us with more than we deserve or comprehend. So if that's true, then why does it simultaneously seem like the holidays are a time of mourning and grief for so many individuals who have suffered a loss of some sort? Why does a heavy heart often creep into our celebrations and merriness?
Suffering is a universal concept. We've all experienced loss in it's many relentless forms:
The loss of a job or an opportunity.
The loss of a loved one through death.
The loss of a loved one through betrayal, or simply the choice they made to leave.
The loss of health and therefore, quality of life.
The loss of hope that there is happiness and joy in the future.
At times the amount of loss in life seems unfair and insufferable.
The holidays are the time when it seem like our losses should return and magically reappear so the holes in our hearts can be filled for that short period of time when we're "supposed to be joyful." I often find myself wishing for the holes in my heart to be filled once more just for the holiday season... but life doesn't work like that. Instead we must find a way to fill those holes with new reasons to rejoice. This year I've found that obtaining a thankful heart might just be a tool in our toolbox to finding joy despite our grieving hearts or pained bodies.
When I was at my darkest place in my illness, I didn't believe that gratitude could change anything, and I often went about my day filled with bitterness and resent for people who were blessed to live their lives pain-free. Being thankful for what I have would do absolutely nothing in relieving my physical pain, so why should I try so hard when I felt I had nothing to be thankful for? Why should I try so hard now when my past pains often burden my heart in a way that seems unbearable in the moment? Gratitude will not take the PTSD from my nerves and mind. Gratitude won't make my heart any less heavy. Gratitude won't take my past or future flares from occurring. So does it matter at all?
The answer is yes! Practicing and expressing an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving changes you. Allowing thankfulness to envelop your heart and senses can be the difference between having a happy holiday and having a hollow holiday. Will it relieve all of the pain from the injustices of life? Of course not, but it will take the edge off in a way that gives you the power to endure the pain, and endure it well. A thankful heart often reminds us that there's always a reason to keep going, even if your circumstances are less than desirable.
With that said, there will always be times when gratitude will seem unreachable.
I didn't feel thankful during my panic attack today.
I didn't feel thankful during my endometriosis two weeks ago.
I didn't feel thankful when my heart pinched with pain when I was reminded of the loss of someone I love on Thanksgiving Day.
So what? Do we throw the towel in and quit? NO! We recognize that we're not always going to be happy, and allow ourselves to feel our pain. We then get up and trek onward with hope in our hearts for a better future and faith that God will give us the strength to endure. And when we feel like we can't even do that, we plead with our loving God and lean on His strength and gratitude until we can find it in ourselves. God is waiting to help us hold our burdens, we simply have to ask to put it in His hands for a time.
I'm not going to pretend to be the expert on gratitude. I'm not. But I invite you to take time to write five things you're thankful for everyday. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. I never knew I had so many things to smile about until I took a little time everyday to be thankful. Even if you can only find gratitude for the chair that you are sitting in, it is more than some people have. So take time to feel and express gratitude. It may not take your pain, but it will transform your pain into something beautiful.
This year I'm thankful that the years past are over and that I don't have to live in that consistent darkness anymore. I'm thankful for the health I do have. I'm thankful for the people I've lost so that God can heal and open my heart to new people that I can love. I'm thankful for life, breath, and hope that my Savior, Jesus Christ, instills in my heart if I allow Him too. There's always something to be thankful for... we simply have to take time to see it.
I found myself reminiscing today. I found myself look back, and then regretting it. I frequently resist moments of nostalgia that creep into my mind merely because the happy memory is usually accompanied by a deep ache that penetrates the strongest of walls around my heart. Happy memories are often escorted by laughter that's been silenced, love that somehow managed to slip through my fingers, and time that's been burned over with more time. It often feels like the road behind me is coated with blood and ash which drives me to never look back and fear the moment I choose to take a step forward.
I suppose this is grief at it's finest. I often grieve the life I had before, or the life that never existed because it was replaced with pain and tears that were accompanied with my diagnosis. I often grieve when I watch young people that are out living their lives without a thought as to how they feel physically, or what they eat, or what they're breathing in. I suppose that ignorance is bliss... but I never got to experience that bliss in my first years of young adulthood, and I the grieve the idea that maybe I've missed something. I grieve the idea that my moments of bliss were replaced with heartache and pain... and that just can't be fair. Becoming so well acquainted with grief at such a young age just can't be fair.
I remember when I was six year old and my pet rabbit died. I cried for one night.
I recall when I was fifteen and my best friend betrayed me. I cried for a week.
I was sixteen when my "first love" broke up with me and I cried for a few weeks.
I was seventeen when I lost the presence of my mother in my life to a disease the robbed her of her quality of life. I cried every time I came home to her screams of pure agony.
I was eighteen when I lost my will to live after I was diagnosed with the same disease I watched my mother suffer from for so long. I cried for years as I fought long and hard for my life. I still cry if I think about those moments for too long.
Perhaps I'm just an "emotional person." Perhaps I don't have what it takes to cope with real life. Perhaps some of those things were silly at the time and weren't worth my tears... but despite everything, I've found that it's possible that our hearts are meant to bleed this hard. Maybe we were meant to be broken so we can be healed and revived twice as strong. Maybe life is fair simply because it's so unfair for everyone. How does one experience pure joy if they are never exposed raw pain?
I've bled and cried, I've kicked and screamed, I've complained and raged, I've faithfully and willfully continued to put one foot in front of the other despite the hardship. And what's come from it all is a sense of comfort despite the strong discomfort that plagues me regularly. I suppose the kind of bliss that comes from ignorance isn't really bliss at all because someday you'll find yourself in the sick bed... and you'll wonder what went wrong... just like I did.
I've come to love my sensitive nature. I've come to appreciate my keen sense of air pollution and unreal food. I've come to smile at the funny looks I get from people who can't comprehend why I eat organic. I often ask myself who in their right mind would want bliss if it is required to be accompanied with ignorance? I've come to realize that joy and bliss are two different things, and wisdom doesn't come with age... it comes with suffering...
I've come to gain a deep love for people who suffer on deep and penetrating levels. I've gained a deep respect for people who suffer in ways that change them forever. Suffering that erases the ignorance and replaces it with a sense of comfort and peace even in the storm of discomfort and pain.
These kinds of people are warriors. These kinds of people are the people that have been sculpted in the midst of adversity. These people have let go and let God transform them into beings of light and vitality. These are the people that have discovered great depth in life. These are the people that have experienced the great ache that leads to resilience and fortitude that I myself have not yet mastered.
Perhaps hearts were meant to bleed this much. Perhaps bodies where meant to break down. Perhaps tears were meant to be shed. Not because we live in a cruel universe... but because God has a Divine Design that can transform blood into healing, breaking in wholeness, and tears of grief into tears of rejoicing. May we all learn that lesson in hopes that we can grow in strength and everlasting joy.
Perhaps we all need to reminisce sometimes... Because the past is at times our greatest teacher and mentor. And in the meantime, I've come to love the sound of my feet walking in the direction that God intends for them to be... because the blood and ash behind me doesn't matter at the sight of beauty and light ahead of me.