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
I feel as though I'm walking on a tightrope with me on one end, and all of my possible dreams for the future on the other. As I carefully force my aching and trembling body to take one careful step at a time, there's this constant fear that nags at the back of my neck that someone, at any given moment, is going to walk up behind me and push me just enough to send me plummeting to the deepest depths of despair. Thankfully that hasn't happen yet. I'm still carefully placing one foot of my broken body in front of the other, and with that I slowly get one step closer to fulfilling my dreams, even if they are miles and miles away.
My entire life all I've wanted to be is a wife and mother. Ever since I was old enough to know what marriage was, I knew that was where I wanted to be "when I grew up." I envisioned my future husband, my future children, and my future home centered on God, love for Him, and love for each other. As I grew up I would make lists of things I would and wouldn't do as a mother, and lists of what my husband would be like. I would look at picture of homes and decide what I wanted mine to be like. I watched my mother raise all of my siblings, and me, and I took careful note of the loving and beautiful way she treated us, and her husband. I took careful watch of my dad, and how he treated my mother, and I took mental note of how I wanted my future husband to be "just like that." My vision was clear, and every decision I've ever made in my life has been conducive to that dream. That's all I've ever wanted. I believe that the amount of money you make does not determine success. My belief has always been that success is discovered through family, and the love and fulfillment that comes from having one.
The day I got diagnosed with Lyme Disease, was the day that all of dreams went flying out the window and off into a distant existence where I could no longer reach them. It was the day where I began my endless basket of questions for the future, and since then it's only gotten bigger and bigger. I don't know if my dreams are reachable at this point. And it scares me to think that I'll never be able to be the woman that an amazing man gets to come home to everyday. It scares me to think that I'll never have those babies that I'd get to raise and love. It scares me to think that my home centered on God, will never be.
I have other dreams too. I've always wanted to open a vocal studio. and give to children the incredible miracle of music that my first voice teacher gave to me. I've always wanted to write a novel. One that inspires and uplifts the human soul. I've always wanted to take my voice, and perform with the objective to uplift and inspire peoples lives. I've always wanted to learn how to cook. I've always wanted to become a teacher. I've always wanted to be the perfect homemaker and continuously develop skills that would make it so I could do that. I've always wanted to be someone. I've always wanted to help people.
But how will I ever reach such a far away destination when I'm stuck at home in bed, suffering so bad that I don't even know if I'll make it out alive?
I don't know the complete answer to that, but I'd like to try and answer it anyway.
.Chronic illness is something that you take one minute at a time. Not one day, one week, one month, or even one hour, but one minute. In fact, there are some days that I feel as though I'm taking it one second at a time. And with each precious pain, anxiety, and stress free second, I count that second as a blessing given to me from my loving Heavenly Father. Every piece of strength I manage to muster at any moment I consider a gift from God. I can not do this alone, and I'm grateful that God is always with me.
In every battle, there is always a secret weapon. My secret weapon in this battle is faith. Faith keeps me fighting, and faith keeps my hope for the future. I keep telling myself every moment of the day that I have to keep my faith. Faith that I'm going to get better. Faith that I can fight this and come out stronger. Faith that God is always with me. Faith that God can heal me. Or even faith that I won't be healed, but that I'll find a way to live happily, despite my broken down body, mind, heart, and soul. Without my faith, I am nothing, and my hope that I am so desperately trying to obtain slowly vanishes into thin air.
Some days I have faith that I'll get better, and other days I feel hopeless and despairingly distraught. I look at it this way. Every day I try to do at least one thing that brings me joy. Even if it's microscopically small. If I successfully accomplish one small thing, then I'm not finished yet. Lyme hasn't won yet, and I don't intend on letting it. This trial in my life is incredibly hard, but I want to stay strong. I want to fight this battle, and I want to win. I'm exhausted in every sense of the word, but I can't give up. I just can't.
I'm so grateful to my Savior for giving me the strength I need to continuously fight this. I'm so grateful for the support that comes from my family and others that I hold close to my heart. This is a lonely battle, but knowing that I'm never completely alone is extremely comforting. I'm not giving up yet, and even though the tears streaming down my face scream fear, anxiety, and hopelessness for my future, my faith says otherwise. I intend on keeping my faith in the present in order to dispel my fear for the future. I'll still have my home, my husband, and my children. It just my be a little different vision that I had before. The important thing is that the vision I had of endless amounts of love that takes place in my future will not change, Lyme or no Lyme. In times of fear, my faith will always come out conqueror.
It's crazy how it seems like I've watched my body slowly deplete over time due to my Chronic Lyme Disease. I know that nobody sees it except for a few people that I hold very close to my heart, but to my own two eyes, I look sick. It's one thing to feel sick, but it's another thing to watch yourself be sick. Watching my body disintegrate to what feels like nothing is incredibly scary for me. Honestly, I want want my old body back. I want to feel the age that I actually am. I want to be able to run and not feel like I'm going to pass out. I want to walk like I used to. I want to be able to carry myself with posture and grace. I want the color in my face to come back, and I want my hair to grow back to it's original length. I want to gain the twenty pounds that I lost. I want to feel and look like me again.
Despite all the insecurity and hopes for my body to regenerate itself, I've learned a lot about myself since I've been diagnosed. My perspective of my body and how I see myself has definitely changed, and these changes are perspectives that I will hopefully keep with me all throughout my life, lyme or no lyme.
#1.I can be beautiful despite how I feel physically or emotionally about myself.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
This has currently become one of my favorite quotes. I figure I haven't quite found my way out of the depths yet, but I hope to reach that destination one day. I've known defeat, suffering, struggle, and loss. These are all things that I have agonized over and over again in my head as I've gone through trial after trial. I've watched myself bloom into an entirely different person than how I was before I suffered. I suppose that happens to all of us as we suffer and grow stronger. You don't grow and progress in a state of comfort. You grow and progress in states of misery, pain, fear, and so many other forms of suffering that we as human beings go through.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ suffered all of the sins and pains of the world. My ultimate goal is to become like Him. And in order to do that I must suffer just like Him. It is through suffering that you gain the attributes of Jesus Christ such as patience, long suffering, hope, faith, charity, and so many more. If through suffering I find myself one step closer to becoming like the Savior, then my suffering is completely worth it. Just because I momentarily feel ugly, does not mean that I am ugly. I'm beautiful because God created me to be that way, and I continue to become beautiful as I center my life on Christ and strive to become more like Him.
#2. Having a healthy body is a matter of taking care of yourself and balancing your life out in all aspects.
I'll never forget my high school Physical Education classes I had the pleasure of experiencing while I was growing up. The concept that I acquired from those classes are that if you work yourself to a pulp working out everyday then somehow you're supposedly healthy and in shape. My experiences in those classes were less than pleasant. It was simply a long line of self absorbed teachers that worked their students incredibly hard and then claimed that it was healthy for them. Well let me inform you that for me it just meant waking up everyday for the next week with aching joints and muscles and not wanting to even get out of bed. No offense to all of those teachers of times past, or to even teachers now, but you're teaching physical education completely wrong.
Keeping your body healthy and strong isn't a matter of working out so hard that your body can't move the next morning. Health is all about balance in all things that take place throughout your daily life. Eating healthy, a healthy amount of exercise, and filling your mind and heart with healthy pastimes are all a part of improving your physical health. Being sick all the time has taught me that maybe I can't go on a long run everyday, and maybe when I walk on the treadmill I have to walk at the lowest setting, but that's the level that my personal self is at. That's all my body can take, and that's okay. Living a healthy lifestyle is something we all have to work toward, and for me it's hard. I hate exercising. Just as some people may hate eating healthy food. But we can always progress in life. I've come to know that through living a healthy balanced lifestyle, I can feel healthy and do things to improve my physical self, despite my chronic illness.
#3. My scars do not make me ugly, but instead they signify strength in overcoming hard things.
Throughout my life I've developed a lot of scars. I once drew a picture of what I thought my heart would look like if you could transfer it to piece of paper. Pretty beaten up right? On a creative tangible level, that's how I pictured it at the time. I had been through a lot, and I needed a visual to get my thoughts straight. I suppose if I drew a current picture of my heart it would look quite different. There would still be scars, open wounds, and maybe even a knife or two gouging out a portion of it. But there would be a special part of my heart that has been healed from past experiences. Healed through patience, hope, faith, prayer, and lot of love from my Heavenly Father, and from the people around me.
I don't just have scars on my heart. Chronic Lyme is to blame for not just emotional scars, but physical scars as well. I don't like talking about my physical scars. I don't like drawing attention to them. I don't like their existence. But despite the scarring that will hopefully fade with time, I don't believe that scars make me ugly in any way. A scar, whether it be physical or emotional, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and perseverance. I used to think my scars were a mark of defeat. But I've come to know that they are truly a mark of beauty and continuance of healing. As they continue to fade, they remind me of my journey with chronic illness and how far I've come. I hope one day I'll be able to look back and hardly see them at all, but know what I went through to heal completely. Some of the horrible things I've experienced through this illness I will always hold close to my heart simply because they've taught me a lot and helped me to grow as a person. My scars will be one of those things. Even as they fade, I still hold them close as a reminder of my incredible journey.
#4. I'm not beautiful because of how I look, I'm beautiful because of who I am.
"Do you suppose it matters to our Heavenly Father whether your makeup, clothes, hair, and nails are perfect? Do you think your value to Him changes based on how many followers you have on Instagram or Pinterest? Do you think He wants you to worry or get depressed if some un-friend or un-follow you on Facebook or Twitter? Do you think outward attractiveness, your dress size, or popularity make the slightest difference in your worth to the One who created the universe? He loves you not only for who you are this very day but also for the person of glory and light you have the potential and the desire to become." -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Each and every one of us have individual worth given to us by God. Without this quality we would be nothing. Without God, we are nothing. He is the almighty creator that created us and is the reason behind every divine breath we take. He loves us. And in His eyes, we are of infinite worth. To Him it does not matter how sick I am, or how sick I look. His love for me is infinite and it is through THAT knowledge that I have come to know what beauty is.
Beauty comes through living the way that our Father in Heaven would have us live. It comes from prayer, love for God, and believe it or not it comes through our trials and afflictions. I'm not beautiful because of the amount of makeup I use to cover up my gray face. I'm not beautiful because I wear less than a size two and have a thigh gap that is apparently "attractive" according to social media. I'm not beautiful for any physical aspect of me. In fact right now, I feel sick and ugly. But despite that, I'm beautiful because I'm a daughter of God who loves me and my love for Him is everlasting and true. I used to think that if I looked a certain way I would be beautiful. That's as far from truth as it gets. Beauty doesn't come from outward appearances, but from inward struggle, testimony, and purpose given to us by God, our Father in Heaven.
One thing I truly love about writing is that I get to be completely real. We all have struggles and trials in our lives, and yet we cease to talk about them. We paste on a fake smile and play the tough guy while inside we're falling apart. Well my writing is my safe zone to be real. No fake smiles, no masks, no reminiscence of a barbie doll, and no sugar coating. Just me and my inner most thoughts and feelings; imperfections and all. Sometimes coping isn't possible if you can't get your thoughts and feelings straight, and I suppose that this is my way of saying "Hey, I'm real. I'm a human being. No, I don't look perfect right now. Yes I'm in pain right now. And yes, I did just spend my entire day in bed because of my chronic illness and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that."
With that said, I'm going to be completely real with you now. The holidays are not easy. They never have been. Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas, and I acknowledge the most important parts of the holidays. But even then, there are some days that I'm in too much emotional and physical pain to care about the holiday season at all. Two Christmases ago, my mother was so sick that she could barely get out of bed to spend Christmas morning with us. Since then it feels like the domino effect has taken place in my home and family life. Just one thing after another. What do I have to be thankful for when I don't even really have the strength or motivation to get out of bed on some mornings? How do I put the happy into the holidays when knives are stabbing me in the stomach and my legs feel like they're going to give out at any moment? Where's the merry in Christmas when I'd rather do anything but lie in pain, but my chronic fatigue rather have me lay in bed. I was doing so much better for a couple of weeks, and then it's almost as if my Lyme got bored and decided to torture me for its own sick joy.
A few nights ago I lay on my floor, wincing in pain, and praying for some relief. The tears burned down my smeared face and discouragement flooded my mind and heart. All I wanted was a form of rest at that moment. With Chronic illness sleep (if you can obtain it) is your best friend. Your brief escape. Your peace of mind for the time being. I'm so grateful that even despite all the pain I feel, I'm still able to sleep soundly and forget my agony for a small moment. And with that, there are so many more small moments in life that I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of.
Coping with chronic illness is all about looking to the small moments. I'm so grateful for my family and close friends that I have that bless me with those small memories of joy during a hard time in my life. Life is not all bliss, but seeing the bright side of even the smallest things will bring just enough light into life to make it through the day. So to all that are struggling through the holidays, (or anytime of the year in that case) you're not alone. You're loved, and I pray that every small moment of joy will flood your heart which in turn will allow sorrow to flee from your mind. Look to the little bits of joy that life brings. It's those things that will get you through your hardest times. I hope your holiday season to be full of love, and I hope we can all find Christ in Christmas. I wish you enough strength to get through the holiday season. Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas.