There are times when winter is reminiscent of being swallowed by a deep black hole. And if we're not careful, we may forget the light that's right behind the cloud cover.
I hold deep antipathy for darkness, and I often look up at the sky in the wintertime wondering if the bleak gray of winter will come to an end. It's common to hear talk of "winter depression" or "seasonal depression," but I almost never hear talk of what it's really like, or what it even really is. I wish I could say that wintertime was merely a battle with sadness, but I've found it's often much deeper than that, and the PTSD that comes from long months of illness is as real as the PTSD that comes from fighting in a war. In all reality, this is a war for those of us who push through winter with chronic illness, one heavy step through deep snow at a time.
Last year at this time my family was walking right into "The Lyme Flare of 2019." I took up my bed in February of 2019 with pain so deep and penetrating that I couldn't lay on one side of my body for too long without having to sorely role over to another side to release any pressure that was weighing on my pained muscles. I had been in this place many times before, but this time was a complete recession from how I had slowly been improving throughout 2018. Like falling down the stairs or off of a tall cliff, I looked up at this beast referred to as a "Lyme flare" that I was somehow facing once again and felt completely destitute and defeated.
At the time I had been struggling with piercing feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and the fear that I will never be enough. I had been striving so relentlessly hard to work through life on my own, that my mental health had completely receded. I prayed for relief from the monsters inside me and instead of relief I was left to cope with physical pain and my ability to do anything removed from my grasp. And it was in this time-frame that I resolved to surrender everything to God and hope that by some miracle I could be pulled out of this darkness that swallowed me while I lay helplessly in a bed or on a couch. The "winter depression," as one might call it, was so heavy that I often felt completely paralyzed. I remember at this time that every time I could manage to glance out of a window my eyes would be met with gray skies and cold frigid air.
What I didn't know at this time was that this wintry flare that left me feeling completely lost and pained, ended up being one of the greatest blessings of my life, and resulted in one of the greatest lessons of my life.
Up to this point in time, I was living subconsciously as if I have to do everything on my own for quite some time. I'd never done anything half baked, and I'd always found myself meeting my problems and pitfalls with ambition and hard work. Unfortunately, there are things in life that one cannot possibly do on their own, such as facing monstrosities like Lyme disease, betrayal, or abuse, and I often found myself passing blame to myself for the misfortunes that happen simply as a result of mortality. I blamed myself for my negative feelings, and I numbed myself to my heartaches and hurts as a way to somehow prove that I was strong and that I could heal and survive on my own.
If there was anything that "The Lyme Flare of 2019" taught me, it was that I simply could not do it on my own. I had been driven to a place where burning over my pains with work and busyness was no longer efficient because my body would not allow me to. And as one can imagine, I faced my pains with the quiet allowance of feeling. It was excruciating. But with that, I learned about grace.
It was as if God had answered my cries for relief by giving me permission to stay in bed and sleep for a month or two. I felt His love and support even when all I could do was rest. And surprisingly, life went on. He took care of what I couldn't and I felt great peace and comfort that this was a time of RECOVERY, STILLNESS, and HEALING.
You see, we are not expected to pass through toil and trial on our own. And in a world where I have heard the phrase "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" run freely from the mouths of those who have yet to taste bitter cups in this life, I commonly assumed that there was something wrong with me because THIS was more than I could handle.
Lyme is more than I can handle.
Betrayal trauma was more than I could handle.
Watching parts of my family fall apart because of this disease was more than I could handle.
Living day, after day, after day for years watching my mother in pain and suffering that is seemingly endless is more than I can handle.
And the heartache that comes from isolation and loneliness is MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE.
The truth is that there are many times in life that God will give us more than we can handle and that is simply because we were not meant to handle it by ourselves. We were given grace, tender mercies, each other, and a Savior who loves us tremendously. So as we pour out our aching souls to Him, He gives us grace for grace, and mercy for mercy. Who knew that lying in a bed in debilitating circumstances could teach me that I am enough, that I don't have to "handle" everything by myself, and that just because I can't handle something doesn't mean that He can't.
So now I face this winter with similar anxieties, pain, and emotions boiling to the surface. I still glance out the frosted over windows to see bleak skies and frigid air. I still often find myself in deep weariness of soul because there are some battles in life that do not merely end.
The increase of symptoms and the seasonal depression can still weight heavily on my body and heart, but this year I fight with a changed perspective. This year I fight with quietly loud faith knowing that I am not fighting alone and that I don't have to face the scary aspects of life on my own.
The winter will always pass through where I am. The skies will always gather clouds and the storms with often rage. The cold will often chill us to the bone, and sometimes coats and scarves won't always be enough to warm our troubled hearts. But one thing I can guarantee is that bright blue skies will always appear again. Light conquers cold and dark. And there is often something beautiful awaiting us in the middle of these merely bleak or utterly terrifying winters of our lives.
The trick is to remember in the middle of them that as we strive, we are enough, we're not alone, and sometimes you can even find some beauty within the storm. For I always thought that snowflakes could turn out to be quite beautiful anyway.
God's grace can and does sustain us, and I pray for that as we persist through another winter.
I always find it minorly amusing when people express to me how happy they are for me that "all my dreams are coming true." I must have developed the art of appearing to be successful on social media the past few years because the truth is that I often find myself on my bedroom floor in tears because my life seems so drastically different than I imagined it to be in my younger years.
Dreams are funny things. Funny in that when I was younger I often thought I could make my dreams come true by wishing on a star, dropping a coin into a quaint little fountain, or blowing out birthday candles. The unlikelihood of dreams coming from those simple acts of belief are slim to none, and when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease I learned that hard lesson fairly quick.
Through the Lyme battle, I've been blessed to learn a few things that have shaped me into a completely different person. This odd transformation hit me not too long ago when I realized that I often don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror anymore. This fighter that was stripped of all of her dreams was once a young girl with her head in the clouds. And it turns out that this dreadful disease has compelled me to see life in a whole new way; a way that I never before would have thought possible. I've rolled this one over in my head multiple times in an attempt to discover whether or not that fact is a blessing or a curse.
It has been five years since I have felt like I have done anything worthwhile, and five years since I received my diagnosis and returned home from my first semester of college. I remember leaving before the semester ended, and feeling like a complete failure because my body could not physically handle being in college for one minute longer.
Since then I have spent lots of time doing things that always seemed useless and often ended in failure. For the first two years, I watched seasons of my favorite shows dozens of times over while I often felt like I was drowning in supplements and protocols, and yet saw no results as the pain relentlessly persisted. I went to three different colleges (and dropped all of them.) I picked up every hobby I could find and quit many of them after I realized that I couldn't keep my brain fog away enough to even finish what I started. I couldn't hold a job due to Lyme crippling my abilities. I planned a wedding; only to call it off and find myself right back where I started (single and still sick). And in my head, all of these failures made up the sum of me as I continuously was forced to fight Lyme every step of the way.
But I did something recently that made me realize that a person is not the sum of their failures. It is often when you stand back and look at your life as a whole that you realize that most of those seemingly big failures were stepping stones to successes, and Olympic moments weren't meant to occur every day.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a vendor event where I was able to sell laser engraved products that I've been working hard to design and produce. Learning something new is always scary and can often seem like a large task when you begin to glare it in the face. I had many a moment where I was ready to give up. Moments when I butchered an entire basket of products while I was learning to use the laser (to which I now call the basket of misfit items!), moments when the wind and rain would destroy my entire display after I had just barely set it all up, and moments when I would spend the morning in discomfort and pain from Lyme, only to get up and buckle down for the busy evening and rush of busy customers. But despite it all, I persisted and pushed myself harder than my Lyme disease has ever allowed me to before.
Many may not realize this, but this vendor event was a huge victory in the life of Lymie like myself. I spent eight days on my feet and overworking my body in ways I haven't done in years. I spent eight days around huge crowds while my Lyme riddled nerves burned with anxiety. I spend eight days surrounded by food vendors that were a constant reminder to me that I don't eat what "normal" people eat because I'm sick. And I spent eight days smiling and rarely ever mentioning my illness because every time I mention Lyme to the average person, it is rarely graciously received.
My overall response to the crazy week I just lived is pure victory. Victory that I set a goal, saw it through to the end, and it was a success. Victory that people liked and bought a product that I made and that I just had a whole new start to a business that I'm hoping will grow and be a success. And victory in that I was able to interact with hundreds of random people and my nervous system was strong enough to hold its ground and not put me in a panic.
Although the experience was far from perfect, and there were days that I fought through pain and Lyme symptoms, I feel like I just broke through a massive wall in my Lyme journey. And that wall was the big fat lie that Lyme disease makes me a failure. Lyme disease in no way made this event easy as I found myself fighting symptoms all along the way (and now paying for the overworking of my body), but it made it worth it because that wall in now broken and never again will stand tall.
The fact of the matter is that I learned some things through this experience, and they're things I'll hold with me for life.
The first lesson being that people with chronic illness and disability can still do wonderful and amazing things. The fact that they fight through debilitating life challenges makes them all the more strong for being able to do all of the great things that they accomplish. A great victory for someone who is sick may seem minuscule to the average person, but when a child is learning how to walk we never complain and tell them how they should be talking by now. So when my biggest victory was managing the pain just enough that I could manage to take a shower by myself again, that was something to celebrate. And now my biggest victory is starting a small business that may go absolutely nowhere, but that isn't going to stop me from trying.
The second lesson learned came to me the last day of the event when I thought to myself how I wish I could go back to that sixteen-year-old girl who had dreams of being a vocal performance major, opening her own vocal studio, getting married and raising a family. I wish I could go back to that girl and tell her that all of those dreams were going to be utterly smashed to pieces by a disease that can manage to strip you of everything. But I also wish that I could go back and tell that girl that through all of the rubble and scattered pieces of her broken dreams, she would find beauty, peace, and great joy in her renewed view of life and the endless possibilities that it holds. Life is not easy. And it isn't supposed to be. For if life were consistently easy, we would miss out on some of our greatest victories.
My third and perhaps most important lesson I have learned from this experience is that it is the little things in life that bring us the greatest joy. Little things like laughing so hard your stomach hurts, and crying tears of joy for the first time in forever. Things like stopping to smell the flowers or walking barefoot in the grass. I often missed the little things in life that give depth and meaning, and I often gave too much of my attention to things in life that are artificial and temporary. For I have found that the only thing that can strip a person of their artificiality is great trial and affliction that burns the artificiality out of us and compels us to look a little deeper and take note of the little things that the average person misses. And although I sometimes question that deep sensitivity I've developed in the past five years, I am also deeply thankful for it, for I have come to see the world in a completely different manner than what I saw it before.
The reality of life is that the cure for broken dreams is to dream again and to dream deeper. And as you walk the painful path that's lined with seemingly shattered dreams, you will find new dreams among the rubble and the ashes, and I guarantee you that you may grasp some of your dreams past as well. Whatever you do, just don't step off the path no matter how painful it may be. Because walking the path of your broken dreams can lead to the most beautiful of destinations.
Stay in bed and cry all day, and you're not trying hard enough.
Show improvement and look beautiful, and you're not actually sick.
Share your terrifying reality with others, and you're seeking attention.
Keep to yourself and pretend that everything is okay, and you're not actually sick.
Smile, and you're not in pain.
Cry, and you're in more pain than the people around you can tolerate.
I've found myself spinning this dizzy cycle in my head lately and trying to understand how I'm supposed to act and feel as someone with a chronic illness. I've found myself listening to the discouragement that comes from this vicious cycle from other chronic illness warriors. And I've seen lots of posts on social media expressing the same concerns in attempts to understand what exactly we're supposed to look and feel like as chronically ill people.
Unfortunately this perception that other people can sometimes give is frustrating and causes a lot of guilt and an unnecessary inward struggle. I often put extra pressure on myself because apparently there is a certain "look" that chronically ill people have and if we don't fit that particular "look" then we're not an acceptable sick person. The irony of that is that nobody actually knows what that "look" is. They just believe that it's different from whatever vibe we're giving off.
I believe this pattern can be found in any kind of misunderstood suffering. If you haven't been through it yourself, you don't understand, and while it's okay to not understand, it's also important that we increase our love and compassion towards that level of suffering because generally, the person is already suffering enough without that extra pressure. We don't need to put that pressure on ourselves or others because the reality is that PAIN AND JOY CAN COEXIST, and it's okay!
Your Traumas Don't Define You
"I don't want to be known as the sick girl."
I remember having that thought when I was at my worst. I remember feeling extreme frustration from my desire for people to offer extra love and kindness that I desperately needed at the time, but also to know that there is more to me than Lyme disease. It seemed to me like I couldn't have both and I remember feeling like I was never enough because I was now some disease that controlled my entire life and trashed my hopes and dreams for my future.
Fortunately, that was never the case at all, and I've since learned that it's not your traumas that define you. I have Lyme disease. That doesn't mean I am Lyme disease. Your traumas, afflictions, and adversities in life are there to shape and refine you into the person that God intends for you to be. They exist to soften you and shape you. It's through the furnace of fire that we become flexible and transformed into something beautiful. The piece of coal that never had to undergo heat and pressure was still just a piece of coal in the end. We may come out with a few burns. We may be wounded. But we're not eternally broken or stamped with our eternal label. Nobody comes out of this life with a big stamp on their forehead that states their largest trauma.
It's not our traumas that define us, but how we choose to respond to those trials. And sometimes our response is a day in bed or a day in tears or simply doing the best we can do at the time, and that's okay. And other times that response is laughing through the tears and smiling through the heartache, and I've learned that those days are often some of the best days. Some of those days are the days that we learn important life lessons that change us forever. On those days there is no "look" that I feel the need to have. It's just me in my most raw form, and sometimes that form is exactly what I need to be in the moment.
A friend once told me that it's okay to cry. It's okay to stay in bed for a little while. It's okay to be debilitated for a moment. Just don't freeze. The joyful message is that even in moments of pain and paralysis, we don't have to freeze. We can continue on to the best of our ability with hopeful hearts. Our best efforts are always counted in the sight of the Lord, and when we're given that knowledge, we don't have to submit to all the views of other people. When we press forward the best we know how in our adversities, we can come to a place of self-love where we can be happy with our own state of being, whether that be in tears or in laughter.
How is it possible for joy and pain to coexist?
I've often found in life that opposites can regularly coexist. I've found that I can make a list of things I love about myself, while simultaneously making a list of things I hate about myself. I've found that I can be in pain and still find things to smile about. I've found that even when I feel hopeless, there's still hope in the journey.
How is that possible? How can pain and joy exist at the same time? That phenomenon is made possible through a loving God who keeps His promises, and a Savior who was sent to succor and sustain us when we can't manage to sustain ourselves.
First, God promises us that ALL trials come to an end, even if the end isn't seen in this life.
John testifies in the book of Revelation of the people who "come out of great tribulation and have sanctified themselves... that God will wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Revelation 7:14-17)
He then later testifies of God's people and how "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." (Revelation 21:5)
And then there is our Savior, who He Himself declared at the end of His sufferings: "It is finished." (John 19:30) There will come a day when every single one of us will be able to declare that "it is finished." Our sufferings do come to an end, not always through death, but through healing and enabling love and power made possible through Christ.
That fact alone is something to rejoice about.
Second, God consecrates all of our afflictions for our good and promises us that our glory in heaven will be returned twice as much as our suffering on earth.
Peter tells us that the trial of our faith is more precious than gold. And "although we may be tried with fire we can be found unto praise, honor, and glory at the appearing of Christ." (1 Peter 1:7)
He then later tells us to "think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
God reveals to us in those words that we can REJOICE during our fiery trials. That does not diminish our pain. That doesn't say that we're not actually suffering on such a horrendous level. That doesn't tell us that we're not allowed to feel our pain because that's a sign of weakness, and we lack faith if we feel pain. It declares to us that suffering isn't a strange thing to our Father, and He understands, and He promises hope for a better future. We can be ourselves, and we can find joy in the moment. Not the kind of joy that promises no pain and tear-less eyes, but an inward joy that declares in our hearts that this too will pass.
It's okay to look like you're struggling. It's okay to look happy and beautiful. You should absolutely share your reality with others, and if you feel the need to fake it until you make it then that's okay too! It's okay to smile when you're in pain, and it's okay to cry in front of people even if it makes them uncomfortable! Life is full of ups and downs that we were meant to experience. And as we become accustomed to pain, we are granted the blessing to experience joy, even in the midst of suffering.
Thank goodness for a merciful God and Savior who loves us through it all.
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
There is one truth that for the longest time I never believed for myself. But now I believe it, and I want everyone who suffers on levels such as this to know:
HEALING IS POSSIBLE. HEALING CAME FOR ME, AND IT WILL COME FOR YOU TO!
Healing is not something that occurs in one swift motion. Healing does not come in an instant, and healing isn't an easy process. Healing is a cleansing process. A cleansing process of one's mind, heart, and soul. Healing is a choice. We are NOT a result of what happens to us in our lives. We are a result of how we REACT to what happens to us. There are things that will come that are completely out of our control, but how we choose to react to those things will determine our destiny. If we choose wisely, we can experience healing along the road that at times will seem relentlessly long.
And here's the good news: WE ARE NOT ALONE ON OUR PATH TOWARDS HEALING! Isn't that a glorious message!? We have a loving and merciful God who is there for us every step of the way. We have a Savior who knows EXACTLY what we are going through because he suffered all of these pains we feel long before we felt them. And we have angels that we cannot see who are there to love and support us and they are fighting our battles with us. You see, we are never truly alone on our painful journeys. That was something I had to learn before I was able to get up, overcome the initial shock, and move forward in faith.
Healing doesn't come through choosing to be the victim in any certain circumstance, and for me I had to push past the agony that was taking place in my mind and heart, and make specific decisions and take action towards healing. Small choices I made back then made a massive impact on the state of my heart as time passed. These are action steps that every single one of us can make. And no, making these decisions doesn't make the heart-stopping pain hurt less, and it doesn't induce instant healing, but it teaches and heals one step, one second, one minute, and one day at a time.
These are the things I had to experience in order to reach healing:
1. I had to decide right away that I wasn't going to let this destroy me. Throughout the course of events I resolved to be strong even if I felt like the weakest person on the face of the earth. For so long I felt like a little girl that couldn't control her feelings or emotions. I felt insane and I figured that my sanity was out of my control at the time. To a point it was... there were things I couldn't control. I couldn't control the deep ache that settled in my chest for weeks. I couldn't control my inability to sleep, or my lack of appetite due to the nausea that seemed to follow me everywhere. I couldn't control the horrific nightmares I had when I did sleep, and I couldn't control feeling overwhelmingly heavy all the time, almost as if an elephant was constantly sitting on me.
So, I took hold of the things I could control. I controlled how often I fell on my knees and talked with my Heavenly Father. I controlled opening up God's word and reading to find peace and wisdom. I controlled the fact that I wouldn't allow myself to be left alone at any given time for the first little while. I controlled who I spoke to and who I did not. I controlled which texts and phone calls I answered and which ones I did not. I was constantly seeking for peace. Hidden in all of these little insignificant choices was my deep desire to not let this tragedy destroy me. I wanted so desperately to be strong, and I learned along the way that all of us are blessed with that strength inside of us. God is more powerful than pain, and He can bless us with extra strength if we so choose to develop it.
2. I decided to find myself by losing myself in the service of others. One wise teacher, mentor, and friend once told me that "you find yourself by losing yourself in the service of others." I figured in this case I didn't have anything else to lose so I might as well distract myself at least. I expressed at one point my deep and painful feelings to this friend who offered me the opportunity to come volunteer as his TA for a semester at a local high school. I'd be working with high school seniors, and for whatever reason I felt a desperate need to except his offer.
Without going into great detail about that glorious experience, I have to admit that it was a MASSIVE blessing at this time in my life to get to know those high school seniors. Being greeted with "Good morning Miss Dalton!" every morning brought such joy to my soul for a time, and my heart felt full with love for those bright and beautiful teenagers that I was working with. Serving others played a tremendous role in my healing process, and it can in yours too. It's all a part of opening up your heart again to be able to love. Love is the greatest healing power in the entire world, and when I let a small piece of my heart love again, it meant the beginning of that small piece being mended and restored little by little.
3. I had to purge my past and forgive. Forgiveness was one of my more difficult tasks on my path to healing. I wanted to believe that I had forgiven him from the beginning. And I had reached forgiveness to a point, but I hadn't let it all go. I spent so much time being angry at him for destroying me. I spent so much time agonizing and reliving those moments of horror. I spent so much time feeling terrified of the people I came in contact or with, or afraid that maybe I didn't have a future past this experience. Honestly, I had to experience those difficult feelings in order to truly forgive and surrender my past in a way that doesn't let it define my future. Along the way I learned some things about forgiveness.
First, forgiveness does not mean putting yourself in a place where your heart keeps breaking. It doesn't mean reinserting yourself into someones life who has hurt you tremendously. Sometimes we have to love and forgive people from a distance, and that's okay. Second, forgiveness is not the same as excusing. We do not have to excuse someone's wrongdoing in order to forgive them. In fact, the more we allow ourselves to experience and recognize the damage that has been done, the greater our capacity to forgive, change, and move on. And third, forgiveness creates a safe space to allow God to heal your heart. Restitution for me came from my Savior, and it came in the form of healing and restoration of my heart and mind. Once I achieved forgiveness with the help of the Savior, I was able to feel free again which opened my heart up to be healed and purge the negative emotions I had towards the one who had wronged me. We all have that power to forgive. And if we don't have that power in the beginning, pray for that power. God will bless you with the innate power to forgive and move on.
4. I had to give all of my pain to my Savior. I remember a very specific time in the course of events where I learned this crucial life lesson. I had just moved with my parents, I was in a new place, and I had met some new people that I was terrified to open up to or think about to much. I was sitting on the edge of my bed one night in horrendous emotional pain. I felt panicky and weak and my heart hurt tremendously. I felt confused and angry and I sobbed uncontrollably for the loss of my peace of mind. It had been months... I should be over it... I shouldn't be hurting so much. In that moment I wondered if I would ever feel peace again.
At the time a thought came to mind that I had read about how the Savior is just waiting to heal us of our wounds and misfortunes, but in order for us to allow Him to heal our hearts, we have to ask for healing. It occurred to me at that moment that I had not yet simply asked for Him to take my pain. It seemed impossible for one moment of inquiry to heal such a wounded and broken down heart. But I had to try, and I had to muster up enough faith for healing to occur. I retreated to my knees and pleaded with the Lord to heal me. To take my pain. And I remember clearly stating, "Please... I don't want this anymore!"
At the conclusion of my prayer I felt stillness, and I felt an obvious lift in my heart. I felt anger melt into the floor, and I felt peace fill my soul as the tears flooded down my face. I knew in that moment that my prayer had been heard, and that I was currently in the process of having it be answered. My merciful Heavenly Father was going to take all my broken pieces and build them into something beautiful. I just had to excersise patience, and after that moment, my grief and pain in the days to come was less intense, less excruciating, and more bearable. It was nothing short of a miracle and I know it's because when we lay our burdens at our Savior's feet, He heals us.
5. I had to recognize that I still had worth. I was broken, wounded, damaged... I've used those words to describe myself so many times. I knew that to most men I was "damaged goods," and in my mind I didn't disagree, and I didn't believe that I had anything to give or offer anymore. But in order to experience healing, I had to learn differently.
Nobody is ever just eternally broken or damaged unless they choose to be that way. I have so much worth, and so much to give in my interactions with others. I may be broken, and I may have some scars, but my brokenness has transformed me into something beautiful. It's ironic because in the midst of it all, in the past year my capacity to love others has grown. I know now that someday when I discover the man who I was meant to be with, my love for him won't be any less because of the love that I had for the man who hurt me.
You're not broken! You're not damaged! You're not worthless! And in the sight of God, you have infinite power and ability to love and be loved, and continue on your path towards success and happiness. That was something I wish I would have understood faster, because it's so crucial when we are healing to know who we are, and by knowing who we are, we can take back our power that God blesses us with to prosper and live life to the fullest.
6. I had to be thankful. Gratitude is essential for healing. Either I was cursed because I lost who I thought was the love of my life. Or I was blessed because I was saved from being put in a situation that would have destroyed me so much more if it would have gone on longer. I've come to know that I was gloriously blessed, and I thank my Heavenly Father every day for saving me without me even knowing that I needed to be saved. When we express gratitude, we open our hearts to healing and happiness and let go of things that we no longer need to hold on to. It's not easy to find gratitude after such horrific experiences, but it's possible to find it. We simply start by seeking for the desire to be thankful. After that, it will come if we exercise faith.
6. I have to keep striving. Stop crying. Get out of bed. Put one foot in front of the other. And continue on in faith doing the things you know you should be doing, and the rest will fall into place. You don't get anywhere in life if you spend it crying in a bed or a chair. You experience peace and healing by living and moving forward. And I will be the first to admit that it is not always easy. There will be days for a long, long time where you grieve and cry. There will be days where you will feel like you cannot continue. There will be days where all of your feelings come to the surface in the form of tears. And there will be days you just want to scream because you cannot avoid the prickly parts of healing from trauma.
But I promise you that there will also be days where you find unexpected smiles creeping across your lips. There will be days when you'll meet new people that you're meant to love and be loved by. There will be days when you find yourself laughing again. There will be days when you'll experience joy in the moment, peace for the past, and hope for the future. These moments are what make the painful moments completely worth it.
Healing is possible. It doesn't come instantly but IT DOES COME. There are still days that I hurt and struggle. There are still days that I have to relive the past. There are still days that I experience longing and hopelessness, but they get less and less the more I strive for healing. It's important to remember that you are always loved. And there is ALWAYS help and happiness ahead.
When a person undergoes such a deep traumatic event that is the betrayal of a loved one's trust in such a circumstance as mine, there are two realizations that occur. These realizations came so quickly for me, and they destroyed me to a point where I couldn't feel anything in the moment. I simply felt dreadfully numb.
The first gut wrenching realization was the betrayal itself. I felt like I'd been cheated on. It changed my entire relationship with him including all the happy memories that we had shared in the past. It made me feel worthless and unlovable. It made me feel like it was all my fault, and if I would have just done one thing or another differently, I could have changed something. The betrayal itself cut like a knife, but the second realization cut even harder.
My second realization was that someone I loved and cared for deeply had been expertly lying to me for the entire length of our relationship, and possibly longer since we had been friends for so long. All at once I was with a stranger instead of the person I thought I knew so well. In an instant I could never trust those lying eyes ever again. In order to lie to somebody that you spend such large amounts of time with, it takes expertise thought and effort to hide such a big secret. So not only did he lie, but he planned carefully how to lie and get away with it. And not once did it ever cross his mind how much that would hurt me. That fact stung. It stung deep, and it stung hard. All I ever wanted in a relationship was honesty, and it quickly occurred to me that the only honesty I'd known at that point in time was fake.
Neither of these deep realizations felt real to me at first. I woke up every morning for quite some time thinking that maybe it was just a sick joke and tomorrow would be better and back to "normal." It seemed so unreal to me, and I didn't know how I was ever going to live my life without him, or without my "happy wedding" going through. Along with everything else I was feeling, I felt dreadful loneliness deeper than I've ever felt before, or that I've ever felt since.
These intense feelings lasted for quite some time, and there were days that I wondered if I had lost my mind, or my sanity... or both. Nothing seemed to make complete sense to me as I was forced to navigate functioning in this cold and distant reality while everyone else went on with their lives in the present. I felt stuck as I learned that navigating this form of trauma was something I had to take one day at a time.
The first signs of healing were the greatest blessing to me. The first signs of healing were like a massive weight being lifted off my shoulders by some Power beyond my own. That first taste of healing came in the form of less tears and a clearer mind. At one point I had finally lost the constant feeling of needing to scream all the time, and that elephant that was sitting on me finally left my presence. When that occurred the tightness in my throat and the constant nausea lifted and I felt incredibly thankful. The first bits of relief made me feel like I'd been delivered into a place where I could function in the present again, and I began to find myself and navigate my new skin. What I didn't know was that navigating my new skin would not be an easy task.
My new skin... I didn't even know I had shed an old skin. I just felt awkward and uncomfortable most of the time, and I didn't completely understand why. I felt vulnerable at that time, and as I learned to navigate my new skin that vulnerability beamed a little too brightly.
First, I found myself talking too much. Up until then I'd spent most of my life like a little mouse too afraid to say anything in fear of "rocking the boat," or "offending someone." Now, as if in one fell swoop, I couldn't get myself to stop speaking my mind. It's like I woke up one day and realized that I had intelligent things to say, and then I resolved to not let anything stop me from saying them. I felt like I had a story to tell, and I was going to tell anyone and everyone who was willing to listen. I rolled the events in my life over in my head a million times, and as a result of that I probably rolled those thoughts over to a half a dozen random people. Some of those people left deep hand-prints on my heart as they played an incredibly important role in my healing process simply because they were willing to listen. Some are now some of my closest friends, to which I'm thankful for that unique time in my life.
After this odd phase of grief, I went through what I felt at the time was a relapse. I spent many long nights crying myself to sleep, grieving over what I'd lost, and trying to keep silent about it because I didn't want to burden anyone with past pain that very much manifested itself in the present moment. I told myself it was past and I had no reason to be hurting this greatly now. I learned later that what I was experiencing was completely normal, and you don't just overcome trauma in a few months time.
Believe it or not, that phase of grief passed as well, and little by little I started to feel like myself again. I suppose that brings us to the here and now. It's been one year, and I feel like a completely different person. It's funny how pain increases your capacity to feel both the good and the bad...
I am now driven to tears so much easier than I used to be.
When others express their pain to me, I quite literally can feel their pain.
Fear is a constant companion of mine.
The thought of opening my heart up to someone again makes me feel sick and panicky.
I almost always feel suspicious of the people around me that I don't know.
The walls around my heart are stronger than ever and it's going to take a miracle to break them down.
I don't trust people. I just don't.
The problem with walls is that the resolve to have such a strong defense is lonely and isolating. But it's so much easier to resolve to never love again because if I stay on my own, I don't have to fear the cost of betrayal, or the cost of a broken heart. Such dilemmas as this are not things that I will even pretend to have figured out, because I have not. But... I do know that with the negative impact there have also been blessings...
I have discovered my strong will and determination to stand for what's right.
I now found the courage to speak my mind and the temperance to hold my tongue when necessary.
I have a new sense of resilience that rests in my heart at all times.
I have recognized that after such a deep wound to the heart comes the greater capacity to love those around me.
I have also identified the need that everybody has for compassion and the great ability I have to offer that love and compassion to those in my life who are going through difficult things.
I have gained a greater faith and hope in God's plan for me and for His eternal perspective of my life's purpose.
My trust in people my be slim to none, but my trust in God has increased ten fold and continues to sustain me through the pains that I still sometimes suffer from.
Betrayal trauma is real. It's long term effects are real. And the pain it causes is real. As a victim of betrayal trauma, you have every right to feel your pain at it's true capacity. And then once you've recognized the true capacity of that pain, it gives you the power to be able to shed it and then create something beautiful out of it.
Note from the Writer: This article is in no way, shape, or form intended to be used as a way to "man bash" or condemn my ex-fiance. In the past year of my life, I have felt complete forgiveness towards him and the decisions that he made at that point in his life. I truly hope the best for him and wish him well. I share my story today in hopes to reach a point of understanding and compassion for everyone who is going through, or who has gone through something similar. I know I am not the first woman in the world to be betrayed, therefore I feel a deep connection to all of my fellow sisters who have been hurt. This is to all of you who feel dreadfully alone... You are not. You are understood. You are loved. Heaven is watching out for you and God is aware of your tears. There is hope and happiness ahead.
I have always been a very religious person. Religion has always been the core and center of my life and actions, and I grew up being taught true principles of the institution of marriage and family. I was always taught God’s purposes for marriage and family, and how to seek for and live in such a way that we can be blessed with an eternal family and an eternal marriage.
“Families can be together forever.” That was my dream since I was a young girl observing my older siblings lives and watching them marry in the Temple and find joy through obedience to the doctrines and principles of the gospel. I wanted a marriage that would last forever. I wanted a love that was governed by God’s law, therefore making it the only true and pure form of love that exists in our world today. I dreamed of children and my joy being made full by raising a generation of strong and faithful children of God. These were all righteous and worthy goals and dreams. There was just one problem with this vision: I thought it would be easy.
Not only am I single as I write this article, but I’m THAT girl. That girl that spent 6 months with a ring on her finger thinking that I had finally found what I'd been looking for. The girl that was about to step foot into the journey of her "dreams coming true.” That girl that planned an entire wedding only to find a week prior that it was all a lie from the beginning. That girl that has a story to tell. That girl that believes that experiences like this MUST BE TALKED ABOUT because keeping quiet only leaves blank spaces for deeper wounds and undeniable scars. So today I’m finally talking about it. Because my hope is that someone else out there that reads this knows that she's not the first one to go through something similar, and it’s okay to hurt for a long long time. It’s okay to take time to grieve. It’s okay to feel broken for a while. And there IS HOPE FOR HEALING, even if in the moment, the healing that you seem to desperately be seeking for seems unreachable.
It’s been one year. One long year where I’ve had the opportunity to experience a cleansing process that has left me feeling like I’ve shed my old skin… And the funny thing is that at times I still feel like I’m trying to get used to my new skin. The new me. The me that was born out of indescribable and insurmountable levels of pain that I never thought I’d experience. It’s been one year since my entire world came crashing down within seconds, and my whole life changed.
I still remember that night as if it were yesterday. I was sitting on the couch with my fiancé, and everything seemed blissful. I was to be married in a week, and I loved this man very much. We had spent four years building a friendship, and almost a year cultivating a relationship of love that is patient and kind. A relationship that I thought to be above any other relationship I’d ever find. My life seemed like pure bliss, but even so, I felt a distant sting and fragility in the air that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, so I stubbornly pushed it in the back of my mind and tuned my thoughts to visions of wedded bliss.
I expressed to my fiancé the thoughts and concerns that seemed to buzz through my mind, but he assured me that all was well and that all would continue to be well. I believed him. I trusted him. And I resolved in my mind that I was just being paranoid with my own worries that were irrelevant and irrational.
I resolved to keep busy, concluding that my worries would subside. I suggested we go and run an errand for the long-anticipated wedding we’d been planning for the past six months. And for whatever reason, I stood up and reached for his phone instead of mine to inquire as to when a particular store would be closed.
That’s when I found it.
Three words on his search bar that changed my entire visage. Three words that concluded that he’d been searching for pornography possibly just hours ago. My entire demeanor must have changed in the brief second when I read those words because he inquired of me what was wrong. I asked why those words were typed into his search bar, and I looked at him with pleading eyes hoping that there was some logical explanation.
Somewhere within the course of those events, I exited out of that window on his phone, only to find multiple windows open of sick and twisted ideas of what women supposedly look like. I felt sick to my stomach.
He did a great job.
He put on a show.
He reassured me that his brother had a problem, so the only obvious answer was that his brother got a hold of his phone and it wasn’t him.
The coldest thing I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life is the lying eyes of the man I love gazing deep into the windows of my soul as multiple lies rolled from his lips. He knew it was all a lie, but for some reason, he could look at the woman that he claimed to love so dearly straight in her eyes and lie straight to her face. I never knew until that moment how unconsciously cold a single person could be.
We talked for hours… it felt like days… And somehow, he managed to semi convince me it wasn’t him.
I came home that night with a pit in my stomach. Feeling like there was darkness all around me, and for some reason, it wouldn’t leave.
I’ll never forget when the truth finally came out.
I called him on the phone and asked for reassurance again. I pleaded for the truth, but I didn’t believe it was him until it finally came out.
Those words still sting. “It’s me… I have a problem.”
At first, I thought it was some sick joke. It never occurred to me that pornography addiction would ever leak into my life or affect me in such a deep and excruciating way. I’d never thought too much about that particular aspect of people’s lives until it glared at me in the face through dark and wicked eyes. At first, I thought maybe I called the wrong number. I thought there isn’t a way in the world this could be true. I pleaded with God: “Please no… No. No. NO! Please don’t do this to me!”
The phone fell out of my hands and hung up before I had a chance to say much more. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to kick and punch the wall. But in that moment, I felt paralyzed. I had a sudden frightening sensation of someone grasping at my neck as if someone or something was attempting to suffocate me to my death.
It wasn’t long before I found myself sobbing and screaming uncontrollably. Between sobs, my heart felt morbidly dysfunctional and stone cold. Little did I know it would feel like that for a very long time. I firmly called my wedding off as I sat across from the man I loved who suddenly seemed to be a stranger. I spent the night restlessly in a panic with uncontrollable tremors from my head to my toes. Everything felt dark and empty, and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the sun wasn’t going to come up in the morning this time. Maybe I’d be swallowed up by this suffocating darkness for the rest of my life.
The occurrence of events after that is irrelevant. Looking back, everything seemed blurry and painful for days and weeks on end. It was all over with him. But the pain wasn’t. And it wouldn’t be for a very long time.
The days passed in everyone else’s world, while my time seemed to have stopped. Time for me was now measured by all of the different kinds of agony I was feeling. It seemed to change so frequently.
At times I felt as though someone had taken a dagger and fiercely pierced it into my heart. Over time it would then slowly be yanked out and then thrust back in again.
I almost always felt on the verge of tears. And no matter how hard I tried to keep them inside me, my tries were futile.
I couldn’t eat.
I couldn’t sleep.
Everything felt lonely.
Everything reminded me of him.
Everything made me feel overwhelmingly sick to my stomach.
I felt paralyzed.
I felt traumatized.
I felt worthless.
And I felt incredibly afraid.
There were lots of times where I felt uncontrollably numb.
I’ve scrolled through Facebook countless times and have seen all of my friend’s wedding announcements and happy wedding days. When this whole journey began, I didn’t understand why the whole world seemed to be able to marry the first person they were engaged to. And I didn’t understand why everyone else deserved love and happiness, but I didn’t. I felt like I’d been robbed… Robbed of my eternal marriage and cheated out of my eternal family. And unfortunately, this feeling of being robbed was accompanied by emotional pain and suffering I never even knew existed. I didn’t even know that all of my extreme thoughts and feelings had a name. But for some reason, once I found a name for it, I felt less alone.
Dr. Jill Manning, a marriage and family therapist and Certified Clinical Partner Therapist, defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or overwhelming experience that is commonly followed by emotional and physical shock. If left unresolved or untreated, traumatic experiences can lead to short and long-term challenges.” Dr. Manning then goes on to state that “betrayal trauma occurs when someone we depend on for survival or are significantly attached to, violates our trust in a critical way.”
Considering the fact that there’s a clinical name for it, I don’t believe that betrayal trauma is a rare condition. Nor do I believe that the number of people that are affected by it are small in number. Unfortunately the world we live in is filled with evil influences, traps, and snares that lead people to make poor choices, and therefore hurt the people that they are supposed to be loving the most. I suppose that’s why it’s so important that we cling to a loving and merciful Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ who is always the way back to hope and healing, no matter how far you’ve strayed, or whether you are the victim or the perpetrator in any given situation.
For my particular situation, I was the victim. And in such cases as mine, I had to reach the point where I stopped seeing myself as a victim, and saw myself as a woman of God with innate power and ability to experience healing and wholeness once again, which is exactly what I intended on doing…
Throughout my life, I've had the privilege of sharing my story with lots of different minds and hearts that I've met along the way. Putting the intense battle of so many various kinds of pain into words that are relatable to the average person always seems to be an arduous task on my part, and I frequently seem to receive the same message from people that don't know me very well yet:
"Wow, Claire... That's really personal." or,
"I'm surprised you just shared all of that with me... that's really personal." or,
"Wow... you've been through a lot."
As expected, these comments are usually accompanied with wide eyes, dropped jaws, and a look of bewilderment. It wouldn't surprise me if at times people read my blogs and think similar thoughts.
Now, don't get me wrong... I have experienced very valuable conversations with people about my adversities as well, and this isn't to say that I don't appreciate the chances I do have for listening ears and open minds to hear me out and answer my cries for help with love and compassion. Those people know who they are, and they are very much loved and have forever left handprints on my heart.
But for this particular post, I want to articulate to my dear readers why I'm so very vocal about illness and tragedies, and why I feel such a deep desire to share my story, even if at times it may sound terribly personal, or be overwhelming to listen to or read.
I recently came across this quote on a Facebook page I follow that is dedicated to spreading awareness for Endometriosis (something that I've struggled with for years). This quote really hit home for me personally and is partially why I felt inspired to write this post. Which brings me to my first reason for refusing to stay silent in the midst of suffering:
1. It took me a really long time to develop a voice, and now I finally have it. I vividly remember in high school I obsessively agonized over what people thought of me. I was the "perfectly well behaved high school girl." I couldn't stand it if a single hair on my head was misplaced, or if a single drop of makeup was smeared or absent. I didn't have enough courage to say what I thought most of the time, and when I did say what I thought I was usually ridiculed or quickly shut down by my peers or teachers. This subconsciously lead me to believe that being fake and keeping my mouth shut was the best option in most cases. That, or subconsciously believing that I was incredibly unintelligent at least kept me in a social standpoint where I never had to step outside of the status-quo unless I was around a trusted friend where I could finally just be myself.
All of these false beliefs turned out to be incredibly damaging to me as I grew older and suffered greater tragedies than mere harsh judgments from my peers. I reached a point where I truly believed that I was stupid and worthless, and it's been a battle ever since to remember who I am and why I'm here. About a year ago, I suffered tremendous loss in my life, and when that happened, something inside me finally woke up. Ultimately, I'm tired of pretending. I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of thinking that what I have to say isn't worth hearing. I FINALLY found my voice. And now that I have it, I'm not going to be silent.
2. Deep connection and inspiration don't come from silence. Here's something to consider: Why would all of us be put on this earth TOGETHER, to experience pain and suffering, if we were never supposed to talk about our experiences? Adversity and hardship exist so that we can learn, grow, and be inspired, but we were not meant to do that alone. If we were, we wouldn't all be here TOGETHER.
Everybody has a story that can bring tears to the toughest of people, but cold hearts and false beliefs are born out of silence. If I choose to stay silent about my suffering, I'm depriving someone else of the strength that they may not know exists yet. If I'm too afraid to share my story, I'm sending a message of fear to a society that is already riddled with fear and anxiety for the future. In order to understand and truly appreciate the light in life, you have to experience and understand the darkness. That's non-negotiable, but thankfully God blesses us with other people to help us to understand the darkness so we don't have to experience every ounce of suffering by ourselves. And through our pain and suffering, we can learn to succor others... which is my next point.
3. We're not meant to suffer alone. When I think back to the times that I've been bedridden for months on end, I've tried multiple times to pinpoint the worst part of it all. And I have to be honest... The worst part of Lyme disease and Endometriosis isn't the long nights of seizures, puking, and indescribable lower abdominal pain. It's not endless exhaustion, joint pain, and muscle pain. It's not panic attacks, depression, and fits of Lyme rage. The hardest part of chronic illness... is the isolation. I've had so many nights where I've felt like I'm the only one in the world who is suffering on such an immense level. I've felt completely and utterly alone as I've come to realize that while I'm fighting a disease, everyone else's lives are continuing on without me.
Nobody deserves to suffer alone. Almost 50% of America suffers from one or more chronic illnesses, and while the other 50% are near oblivious to the excruciating suffering of us warriors of invisible illness, we're fighting for our lives. Everybody needs help. Every one needs support. Every person needs compassion. We were put on this earth to help each other. We're put on this earth to experience pure love, but I truly believe that we cannot do that without experiencing hardship and being willing to walk the more difficult roads in life. If my story can bring hope, peace, or strength to even just one person... it's worth it to me. It's worth the vulnerability. It's worth the chance that I could be shut down or ridiculed by some. It's worth opening up and being personal. We all need people we can relate to. Silence cuts us off from that connection that we all need in order to survive this life.
This is why I refuse to be silent anymore. This is why I speak up and speak out. This is why I believe that we all need to be a little more personal... because connecting hearts and promoting comfort and healing is so much more important than feeding our fear and protecting our pride.
Note from the Writer: I've suffered from Lyme disease all my life, and one of the very critical symptoms of such a disease is severe anxiety. This is my personal account of what it feels like to suffer from severe anxiety caused by the physical bacteria in my body. Anxiety disorder is not always necessarily just a disorder all by itself, rather it is often times a symptom of greater imbalances in the body. This has been my case for years, and I've finally decided to open up about it and raise awareness for the inward torture that so many people seem to struggle with.
I've spent such a large majority of time thinking as I've laid in bed sick, and I've come to believe that life often involves large amounts of loss...
The loss of a job...
The loss of an irreplaceable item...
The loss of physical abilities that you once had...
The loss of someone you love dearly...
The loss of certain people you know should be in your life, but they just aren't because they choose not to be... I've lost all of these things at one point or another, and it's lead me to believe that loss is something that creates anxiety and depression in the minds and hearts of so many hurting people.
Because when you lose something precious, it opens the door to the fear of what you could possibly lose next.
I supposed that's what happened to me in the midst of my Lyme journey... Lately, I feel as though I'm losing more imperative things...
My will to live...
I don't believe that my anxiety triggers my Lyme disease. Rather, my Lyme disease is a root-cause of the severe anxiety that plagues me on a daily basis. And because Lyme disease never appears to cease, I've come to recognize that I've already lost so much... and my fear of losing more is petrifying at times.
There are countless times where I'm sitting in church, and my heart feels as though it's pounding relentlessly hard in my chest. Over the next passing minutes I begin to fear that one day my heart is going to suddenly jump out of my throat and run down the hall. But I cannot vocalize that feeling to people... because it sounds crazy.
There are times when I'm shopping in a store, and I feel like no matter how deeply I try to breathe I cannot possible intake enough air in my lungs to stay alive. So I feel this desperate need to breathe harder in attempt to acquire more air, almost as if all the oxygen in the room will never be enough. But I cannot express this awful sensation to people... because it sounds crazy.
There are times where I feel like I have microscopic bugs crawling down my spine, hiding in my joints, and lingering under my skin. And I feel like if I can scratch them out of my skin then maybe I'd be a little less broken, and a little more beautiful. In reality this illusion that my anxiety creates only leaves me with ugly scars and more feelings of brokenness. But I cannot verbalize this itch to people... because it sounds crazy.
There are times I fear like everyone is out to attack me. There are times I can't get my hands to stop trembling. There are times that the pit in my stomach just seems to grow bigger and bigger without any warning, and suddenly I feel as though the world around me is about to explode in one massive freak accident. These feelings exist in my head, even if the world outside of me is perfectly silent, and perfectly at peace. But putting such feelings down on paper makes me feel crazy.
These are a few of the MANY sensations of anxiety brought on by Lyme disease, and the saddest component of it all is that these symptoms that so many of us suffer from are NOT TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH! Nobody is listening and nobody is expressing enough compassion and love, therefore creating a more fear, anxiety, and a sense of loss in the hearts and minds of our society.
So what do we do? How do we cope? How do we gain a sense of safety and security in an anxiety-riddled body among our fear-riddled society?
Well... I can share with you what I do:
I spend a little time every day breathing deeply and remembering the strength and power that I have as a daughter of God. I avoid talking down about myself as I seek to recognize that the disease that I have is very real, and I still have worth despite the regular symptoms that I deal with. I seek to stand out in a shallow and uncaring society and attempt every day to love deeply, care about others, and seek to have compassion toward those around me.
You see, illness and symptoms of illness such as severe anxiety are not in control of us. It's important to recognize that we aren't losing our minds, and there is ALWAYS a reason to keep living. Severe anxiety doesn't cause weakness, rather it strengthens us. Every time I have a brutal flare, I wake up the next morning a little bit stronger than I was the day before. I become a woman with a little more resilience, a little more patience, and a little more appreciation for the moments when I can and do feel a joy more pure and penetrating than I could have ever experienced before Lyme disease. The hope comes from knowing that all of us can grow from our sufferings in this way.
We all have the ability and the means to respond to our suffering in a meaningful and strengthening way. It will never be easy, and there are absolutely days where you will feel crazy, but it's important to remember that you are absolutely NO SUCH THING. You're not alone, you're not crazy, and you have something to offer. Every one of God's beautiful children has something to offer, even if you suffer from an illness or from some other trial or struggle that seems insufferable at times.
You are loved.
You are remembered.
Your tears are accounted for.
And most importantly, your joy is something worth fighting for, and it is absolutely obtainable.
I believe that one of the most important things we can all do is listen. Stop shutting people down and shutting people out due to the discomfort that comes with discussing such difficult things. Stop spending the majority of your time looking inward. Instead, look outward and look up. Listen. Love. Care. Have compassion. Everybody needs those things from others, that's why we were all put here on this earth together. Whether or not the battle is worth it all depends on how we choose to respond.
We all can be Chronically Beautiful. Even in the midst of being chronically ill, chronically anxious, or chronically in pain. There is always hope. We simply have to look for it.
It's been about a year since I've written in my blog, and as I recently skimmed through some of my old posts I found tears streaming down my face and I wondered how I could have left such an immense and deep-seated part of my soul in the past. My heart resides in this blog, and shame on me for burying such a special part of me in the dirt. I've changed and experienced so much this past year, and I hope to be able to share new messages of hope and peace to anyone who is struggling with any struggle, whether it be an outward struggle, like an illness, or an inward struggle, like feelings of inadequacy and fear of the future. I hope whoever comes across this can feel overflowing love from God, and hope for better things to come.
I desire to focus on healing. But I'm not one to sugarcoat experiences, or pretend like my healing journey was comfortable and effortless. I desire to share the good and the bad. The beautiful and the ugly. The tears and the laughter. The suffering and the blessings. The miracles. The hope. All of these things together make up my healing journey from chronic Lyme disease. And yet, I still find myself battling this dreadful disease. It's simply a different battle than it used to be.
Lyme disease is a monster. Perhaps one of the scariest monsters I've ever had to face. At times I feel as though I fight a grueling battle, only to wipe the blood off my sword and prepare for the next battle. It's been brutal. But it's been worth it.
My healing journey began with my angel mother. Despite her own extended battle with Lyme disease, while I was at my worst she spent all of her extra energy and time on discovering new ways to help me heal. And it was her who studied for days on end about the protocol I was to engage in. Everybody deserves to have someone like my mother in their lives. Someone who fights with you every step of the way and doesn't give up on you, even when the nights get long and the days get dark. It takes courage and endurance to be a caretaker, but the best of people do it because their love for the person who is suffering is stronger than any disability or illness could ever be. I'll forever be grateful to my mother for being that love that I needed. That love that helped me to find answers.
I woke up on my first day of treatment with a deep seated fear, but also a renewed hope. At the time I felt like I had reasons to fight. I was fighting for my future family. I was fighting for my Heavenly Father. I was fighting for all the people who suffer from Lyme disease and feel hopeless. I was fighting for my mother who has suffered twice as much and three times as long as I have.
My treatment was a seemingly simple detox therapy. The theory of the protocol consisted of killing the bacteria, bringing the bacteria to the surface of your body, and then sweating it out through your skin, which would then later be washed off in the shower. This happened in a step by step process that I completed every day for two months. My morning began with a protocol that would specifically target the Lyme bacteria, and kill as much of it as it could in one shot without killing me. I'd then orally take a specific dose of niacin and other supplements, followed by 30 minutes of exercise. The excersise would then induce what is referred to as a "niacin flush" which means that my entire body would light up bright red, bringing the bacteria in my body to the surface, which then puts my body in the perfect position to sweat out all the toxins. I would then spend the next hour and a half to two hours in a infrared sauna, at approximately 131° sweating, hurting, burning, and detoxing. The treatment was then completed with a quick shower, and spending the remainder of the day feeling weak, exhausted, and achy.
Ultimately, this treatment was a miracle in my life. But there's no denying that while I was suffering through it, I questioned whether or not it was worth it. I recall days where walking on the treadmill seemed impossible. I have memories of passing out and throwing up at random. I remember times when I felt as if I were enclosed in a box and experienced panic that comes from feeling like your air is being taken away from you. I remember the burn that came so fiercely across my skin. The kind of burn that feels as though there are tiny shards of glass embedded in every pore of my body. I recall the heartache and the tears, and the desperate waiting and watching the clock. The glorious mental relief that came when the timer would go off, signalling that treatment was done for the day.
We sometimes see healing and miracles as things that are easy and painless, but I can't say that's always the case. And if it were, we wouldn't ever have the divine chance to learn the crucial and vital things in life that we need to learn in order to overcome our greatest pains and suffering. Painful healing is sometimes necessary for the growth of one's soul. I was blessed with the glorious opportunity of a significant amount of healing from the plague that is Lyme disease. After two months I found myself with renewed energy. My pain slowly became less and less. My strength increased little by little. Even things like my face, hair, and skin seemed renewed and glowing towards the end of this era. It was nothing short of a miracle and I will forever be grateful for all the loving hearts and hands that supported me through such a crucial time in my life.
So to anyone who feels as though no matter how hard you try the more painful it seems, I encourage you to hold on. Because God may be healing you as we speak. Soul stretching moments of healing aren't supposed to be easy. But they're always nothing short of a miracle. There is always hope for healing. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. The day will come when we will all find healing from our seeming brokenness. The peace in the meantime comes from knowing that we're not alone, and that we have a loving God who's hand is divinely guiding us through it all. It's critical that we don't lose hope.
I've found that trauma and emotional anguish, over exertion, and a failure to continuously practice healthy living feeds Lyme bacteria. I've found that my greatest desire is to be made COMPLETELY whole, but I've also learned that that may never be a reality in this life. Despite all that, despite feeling like I've been pushed a little backwards, and despite that life is hard sometimes, I have a renewed outlook on life. I have a new perspective that helps me to see the beauty, the healing, and the mercy in life. My prayer is that we can all find that in life, even if at times that entails pain and discomfort.