Year 5 – What I Have Learned Living With Chronic Illness

I have recently reached my 5th year anniversary of my diagnosis of Lyme disease and the start of my treatment. Hooray? Not really.

I walked into my naturopath’s office with a bum leg, and a previous diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, CFS, and IBS. I went through my life story and within about 10 minutes of playing my violins, I heard the words, “You have Lyme”.

I was thinking in my head, “Yes! Oh thank God! It’s only Lyme!”. He then stepped out of the room for a minute and came back with a baggie of supplements. I think there were three or four bottles he gave to me that day, which is absolutely nothing in the Lyme world. The second I left his office and began to drive away, I bawled my eyes out. Not only did I bawl my eyes out, I ended up having that ugly cry. You know what I mean.. hyperventilating, snots and and all. That little baggy of supplements scared me.

If I only knew what was yet to come in the next five years of my Lyme journey.

Although he said those dreadful words, “You have Lyme”, we did testing to confirm the clinical diagnosis. He ordered a script of doxycycline to provoke the test and I took it for a couple weeks. It was awful, but in that period of time I was still thinking that after a month I would be myself again. It didn’t work out that way, that’s for damn sure.

I think the test came back relatively quickly and I got an email from my doctor that went as follows…

“Hi Kim. I got the results on the lab work today.

You had a POSITIVE Lyme IgM western blot. It was positive by both IDSA and ILADS guidelines (wow).

So, you have Borrelia and everyone is going to agree on that.

What people won’t agree on is the treatment.

You have an appointment on Friday at 3:30.

I highly encourage you to bring your husband and maybe father to that appointment to hear it all.

I’m glad the labs were clearly conclusive.  I’m sorry things are the way they are, but at least you know what direction to go.”

What the fuck was he talking about??!! People won’t agree on my treatment???! Well, that is just one thing I have learned about chronic illness, especially having one that doesn’t exist, according to the medical industry. The way people are treated with Lyme is absolutely disgusting.

I won’t bore you with an entire five year summary. Okay not that I would bore you because let’s face it, I am awesome, and you should read my story.

Anywho, I wrote a blog a few years ago about the things I have learned having a chronic illness and figured I would see if I felt differently as our thoughts and opinions change over time and we always are learning new things. This article applies to anyone suffering from a chronic illness, not only Lyme. I bet all of you that are suffering can completely relate.

As you know, I also have several tick-borne coinfections, and have opportunist infections, like chronic EBV. I have Narcolepsy, Rhythmic movement disorder, Myoclonus, Tourette’s syndrome, and POTS. I am sure I am missing some, but you get the point. A laundry list of shit.

I am hoping that some of my many issues will improve over time. I will say however, it is important to not blame everything on Lyme. I know some things aren’t Lyme related, although these buggers could have released some of these demons. I’ll never really know for sure.

Tourette’s syndrome and my other involuntary movements are annoying, but at least they don’t actually make me feel bad. PEOPLE can make me feel bad, not the actual disorders themselves.

Lyme sucks. Narcolepsy sucks. POTS sucks. All can be completely disabling to the patient. Not to mention it has all been very expensive. Fortunately for me, I am much better off than I once was. I still have a long way to go, but I am getting there little by little. It’s a friggin’ process. I’ve just had to learn to enjoy the ride. *Sarcasm*

I have learned a lot of things over the years. A lot I could have done without and been completely okay with it. Shitty life lessons. I’m sure many of you have heard the classic phrase, “Everything happens for a reason”. NOPE! Sorry, but it doesn’t.

Bad things happen to good people. Did the guy in the clouds want me to come out of this as a better person? I did steal a $7 mood ring from Walmart once. Maybe this is my punishment. So, let’s not say things like that. We’ll touch base with this thought later. I am a scatterbrain.

How you feel can change in an instant – Anyone living with a chronic illness understands this. I have learned my better time frames of the day. Sometimes they change around a little bit but I am at my best between 10:00 a.m. and then crash at 1:00. I get a little oomph back from 3:00 to 4:00. I seem to accomplish more during these time frames and have a handful of spoons. I know that is two time frames I mentioned, the spoons just had to cycle through the dishwasher and I was able to grab a few more haha. Don’t know what I mean by having spoons? Read an article, you can find it on Google, called “The Spoon Theory”. This read can give you a general very basic idea how it can be a struggle to get through the day having a chronic illness.

If I go out to dinner, or try to pick up the house and clean, even sometimes just sitting on the couch, I can go from okay to bad very quickly, sometimes with no rhyme or reason. It can literally hit me like a wave. Maybe a giant tsunami wave.

I have found that I have triggers that can make how I feel change very quickly over the years. The biggest for me personally is lights and overstimulation. I cannot handle bright flashing lights, fluorescent lights, or a lot of conversations around me. I have a very hard time with elevators and escalators, even though sometimes there is no other option because it would be impossible for me to make it up a flight of stairs.

With Narcolepsy, I cannot just sit for a minute without distractions. Well, even sometimes with distractions. There has been a lot of times that Dave has had to get my plate of food away from me so I don’t choke or end up wearing it. Knowing these triggers can be helpful, so you can try to avoid them.

It really is difficult making plans and committing to them not knowing how you will feel in the next week, day, or even hour. I try to “prep” myself by basically babying everything I do a few days in advance to try to go out and do something. Try my hardest to not overdo it. Even then sometimes it doesn’t work. You just never know.

You will find out half the people you know are secretly doctors – This is super aggravating. I have to try to remember though, most people have the best intentions for you. There will always be people that give you remedies because their Uncle’s second Cousin’s friend was sick, and he tried such and such and it worked, so it would definitely work for you. “Have you tried these mushrooms? They really would work!”

“A little sunshine, diet and exercise!”. “Have you tried…..”. Or, they blame your medications not understanding what herxing is, even if you have explained it a dozen times. Just smile and thank them, consider their advice if you choose, try not to diss their ideas, even if their cure involves jumping jacks and picked eggs, and move along.

Not only do some of these people have secret medical degrees, there are those who will also try to sell you shit! –

I have seen people prey on the sick in support groups. I get a lot of friend requests and also get a lot of private messages trying to get me to buy this and that. People that I happen to run into that happen to know that I am sick.

I know better, but there are a lot of people that are desperate to feel better and have little hope, and they end up get scammed. A good hint that these people know diddly squat and want your money is when they say something idiotic like, “This is an absolute CURE for your LYMES! You will be CURED with this 30 day program… for only $39.99.”

Ughhh. A) There is no cure, only remission and B) Lyme. Hold the “S”. That is also a big bold statement to tell someone. Be weary of anyone that tells you this, even doctors can do this to people. Yuck. If I just did that Shaun T 21 day fix that some random chick was trying to sell me on Facebook, I’d be better by now. 21 days for a “Lymes” cure isn’t too bad. Shame on me for not having an open mind on this one.

Some people will just not get it – As many of you know, my disease for a very long time was not even close to being an invisible illness. If you are not familiar with my story, check out the “About Me” link on the top of my blog page and watch my video. With it being visible, people knew without a doubt I was sick.

At one point, I had lost so much weight that I was down to 105 pounds. My collar and shoulder bones really stuck out, and you could see every rib of mine. I certainly passed the thigh gap test with flying colors. I was either 50 shades of gray, or jaundiced so I had a lovely tinge of yellow to my skin. I could barely walk and often had to be pushed around in my wheelchair. Not to mention all the involuntary outbursts and movements of all kinds. There was no denying that I was very ill at that point in time.

Now, my symptoms have become much less visible or nearly invisible on a lot of my better days. People that really know me will just know I am not feeling so hot by noticing little things, but for the most part I could pass to a lot of people as having an invisible illness as long as it isn’t a “Tourettesy” day. I am no longer like that 24/7. We’ve got it controlled a lot better without a doubt.

At my best, I would describe myself as looking like I had a fun night out when I wake up in the morning, with raccoon eyes, but otherwise I look like I am doing alright. I look “normal” to everyone who sees me. With this, people often will assume you are fine and officially better.

I have learned there is a huge misunderstanding surrounding invisible illnesses. Look good, feel good! What they don’t see is neurological battles, or levels of pain one may be dealing with. They don’t see extreme exhaustion. Anything that happens to be the struggle of the day. Most of us become great actors pretending we are fine and continuously keep a smile on our faces.

Those who don’t get it can and will say the dumbest shit to you. Not necessarily with bad intentions I should clarify once again. A lot of these things are from your secret doctors. I have to bite my tongue a lot. Chronic illness isn’t a cold or flu that goes away in a week. Chronic is chronic!

I have had the suggestion that I just need to go on a vacation. I just oversleep and that makes me more tired. Have a baby, stop taking my meds, just get off the couch and do something. That sunshine and exercise! If you would just….

The lovely feared comment that can make you feel the anger pressure building up in your body, the comment that just might make your head explode, “At least it’s not cancer”…. Thanks? I really think it is trying to help give comfort, but that totally minimizes what you are going through. Things like this prove your disease is just plain not understood.

Invisible illness can be really hard. I’ll leave it on the note, “You don’t get it until you get it”.  Also know that sometimes you cannot teach someone about your illness that is not open to it.

Chronic Lyme disease is controversial and misunderstood. You often find yourself talking to a brick wall. It will only hurt you in the end. You will always have someone that gives the comment when trying to explain things, “I get so tired too, it is such a dreary day!” No. That is not what we mean at all.

Pure exhaustion is when your body doesn’t even want to move, it is a struggle to keep your eyes open, and you have not had a restorative sleep for as long as you can possibly remember. This is very common with any chronic illness. Trying to explain brain fog, anything to get loved ones to understand what you are going through.

Educating people that don’t want to learn is pretty much impossible. Like I said, brick wall. I know a lot of people that try to talk to their families or friends, and they really don’t believe them. Or they don’t even take the initiative to know about the disease their family member or friend has. I’ve seen people try very hard to get their loved ones to watch “Under Our Skin”, and they won’t take an hour or so out of their lives to sit on their ass and watch a movie to learn a little. Try giving them a few articles that remain unread. Doctors more often than not are also not open to learning new information.

Instead of getting involved and learning, people will make assumptions, judge you, be rude, stare. It is best to just let things go as much as it can sting. This all sucks, but you just can’t force it upon people that don’t want to learn. You just can’t. Shaking it off and letting things go will make you much happier and less stressed. Stress = worsening of symptoms. Who wants that?

Once everything changes and you begin to get really sick and you are no longer able to go out or do the things you used to do, you will find out who is there for you, and who isn’t. Those people who you may have thought were your friends quickly turn to acquaintances. People who you thought would stick by your side literally vanish. Some people you believe that are great friends will listen and sit with you, but you will find that they are talking behind your back with judgements.

I once had a “friend” that I thought was one of the people in my life that would be there through thick and thin tell everyone that I was just being lazy and I pick and choose what I do. He even went to the extent of saying I bring things upon myself, like having seizures. I don’t know how this is possible, but that is just one example of what has been said about me.

Another “friend” who I thought would be there completely disappeared, only to show up at my house nearly a year later and asked me for money. Wha wha what??!!!

I get hurt when I sometimes no longer get invites. I often find myself wondering if it is me, if I am seen as burden, wondering if I have done something wrong. Depending on how I am doing, I either have no feelings at all and am out of it so I frankly do not give a shit, or because I don’t do a whole lot and couch it, it really eats away at me even though I try very hard to not over think and let things bother me.

Longer and longer down the road, you will find that pool dwindle down a little more, or you feel dynamics change. People may lose their families, or their marriages fall apart. It really sucks. Absolutely do yourself a favor, snip the fat if you need to. Sometimes it is just too much and you have to let go. I realize this can be certainly easier said than done. However, when there is negativity and stress in your life, it prevents you from healing.

There are still a lot of great people out there – I have found many good people come out of the woodwork and truly care about how I am doing. They genuinely want to help. Several people in my town came together and held a benefit for me when I first began to go to DC for my treatment. I was amazed, I felt blessed. I have a friend who would wash my hair twice a week the entire time I had my PICC and Powerline in. That is 16 months of a huge help. I would have had a hell of a time without her. She’s snuck into my house when I wasn’t home and cleaned it from top to bottom. It made my day… okay my entire week.

I have a friend that will just come over and chat with me, and we sit and watch movies. A friend who has taken me out for a cup of coffee. A friend that I have smoothie dates with. Friends that find articles relating to my illness and share them with me so I know they are thinking of me. All these little simple things are big things.

For all those bad people in your life, don’t forget that there are always people in your life that really do care. You are never really alone, even if you may feel like it. If you just want someone to talk to or offer support some days, utilize social media!

There are tons of great people out there that although we all have our different stories, they know and understand what you are going through. It is great to get advice and share things, as sometimes your loved ones cannot relate to this all.

I’ve made some good friends this way, including one of my now closest friends that happens to live nearby! It’s a small world, huh?!  She shares similar experiences, and I lucked out.. she is just as weird as I am, gets my twisted humor, and throws it right back to me. We have had a lot of laughs and a lot of cries together. I really needed this type of friend in my life, one who completely gets it.

Dry shampoo is my friend. Over the years, I have had plenty of time to bond with dry shampoo. Sometimes it is just near impossible to get ready for the day and look your best when you feel downright awful. I am guilty of alcohol swabbing my pits, slapping on a little extra deodorant, and calling it good. I guess what I mean here is that what you wear, what you look like for the day doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

I used to be one of those people who would be a bathroom hog, perfecting my makeup, spending entirely too much time to get my hair “just right”. I’d try on a bunch of outfits before heading out the door. Do these things give you a pick me up in a sense? A boost of confidence? For sure. Although some may disagree, there are way more important things in life. But hey, this is things I have learned during my own personal journey. I’d rather put on a comfy sweatshirt and jeans, and throw my hair in a messy now, rather than spend all that time getting ready. By the end of getting ready, I don’t even want to do anything anymore. It wipes me out. I still like to look nice once in awhile, but this is no longer a priority to me. I’d like to think I look fabulous either way. 😉

Don’t always make everything about you – I know this one can be tricky. This disease has taken over your life. Every single day you live it and breathe it. Those that are close to you and have stuck by your side are wonderful, as well as those that take an interest in how you are doing. However, they do not want to hear the negativity (or a complete medical report) all the time.

Yes, it is okay to share, give updates, and vent once in awhile, but don’t forget to ask how they are doing, what is going on in their lives, and listen to what they have to say. These people have lives too, and struggles of their own that we often forget because of what we are going through. Support them equally in any way that you can and be their friend too.

Never forget others are going through this journey with you – Although it is hard to see the big picture, I always remember that Dave is living with this disease too. Life hasn’t just changed for me, it has changed for him. He went from my spouse to my caregiver. He has made tremendous sacrifices but has stood by my side every step of the way. You are not the only one fighting this battle. Appreciate these great people in your life.

You need to have a sense of humor! This is so important! Sometimes the shit that you deal with on a day to day basis you just have to laugh about. I am sure looking back, there are probably a lot of “funnies” you’ve experienced, especially if you are a brain fogged mess.

Here is an example… I once sat and waited at a restaurant to pick up my takeout for dinner for what seemed like an eternity. What is taking so damn long???!!! Well, turned out, I was sitting in the wrong restaurant. I got so embarrassed when I was arguing with them that I definitely called and placed an order and they proceeded to show me on the caller ID that I had not called their restaurant and was mistaken. Ahh! Who the hell did I call then???!!!  I finally got to the correct place and picked up my cold and soggy food as it had been sitting so long, feeling like a dumbass. But common’… that’s just plain funny.

Be grateful – As I wrote above, be grateful for those amazing people in your life. Be grateful for the things that you CAN do, and try not to dwell on what you cannot do at the moment, and remember that things will get better in time. Always find the silver linings. There are ALWAYS silver linings, even if you feel that you are at rock bottom. Hold onto these things, as they will help you during your darkest times.

I never forget that I do have a few amazing friends, a husband, my family, a home to call my own, there have been several of my symptoms that have improved, even when I feel like the world has turned upside down. These are all my silver linings that make life so much better for me.

In past articles I have mentioned even if it sounds silly, writing down the things that you are thankful for. Maybe the things you are able to do. People you love. Your fur kids. You will come up with more things than you would have thought!

Be proud of your accomplishments, big or small – If you do something that you haven’t been able to do in a long time, even if it is something like being able to sweep and vacuum, be happy. It might be a very big deal for you. Share it with your friends, your family. Be proud. You deserve it.

Your doctors are only human-  I love my team of doctors and I have faith they will one day get me well, but they are human. They make mistakes, they do not know everything in the world. They are also not mind readers. Do not underplay how things really are. He or she doesn’t know how you are feeling or experiencing unless you tell them. Let them know everything even if you think it is not a big deal. Sometimes they have to connect the dots. Bring notes with you to your appointments, keep a notepad handy for information you may want. I know I forget everything very quickly, so this is a great tool. A life lesson with Lyme brain: Sticky notes are a life saver!

Know your body – If you absolutely know you cannot do something, then don’t do it. It is okay, we have limitations. Sometimes you have to cancel plans, sometimes you may not be able to switch that laundry over or fold it (that is me this afternoon haha), sometimes you just have to say when.

If you know that something is wrong or missing (this goes along with my next topic), then try to fight for it. It took me a long time to push doctors when I knew there were missing pieces of the puzzle. For a few years I knew there was a huge piece missing. I fought tooth and nail for testing because I just knew something was very wrong.

Did I sit there and self diagnose? No.. I wouldn’t advise that either, and I didn’t know what it could possibly be. I knew I was out of the realm of what is considered chronic illness tired. Turned out, it was Narcolepsy. That is a very big deal! I struggle daily but now I have a much better quality of life. If I didn’t know my body well enough and speak up, would I have gotten this huge piece figured out? I am thinking most likely not.   

Do your research/be an advocate – This is so so important! I cannot believe the amount of people that do not do any research on their disease! Google is your friend! Books are your friend! Learn everything you can about your illness. If you are being sent to get blood work done or any test, find out WHY.

Get the results in your hands, and see what they may mean. You may find some things along the way that you have not been tested for, or something that you think is missing from your treatment. Bring it up! ALWAYS get your dictation notes. Research the medications or supplements you may be given.

Don’t have full trust going into this, and don’t have 100% trust in your doctor. Doing research might even make you realize your doctor is not right for you. Not all doctors are created equal!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you disagree with something. Fight for yourself. Be an advocate for yourself. Knowledge is power.

Pushing yourself can be entirely worth it – There are some days that I want to do nothing but lay on the couch or stay in bed. Something as simple as dinner or a movie seems like an impossible feat, but I push through it and it feels great to be able to get out there. I know that there can be consequences, sometimes lasting for days. A higher level of symptoms, pure exhaustion. That night going to dinner with friends, laughing and being social is worth it, I promise you.

Mind- over- matter can get you to do some great things. I didn’t feel good today, but I pulled myself together the best I could and said to myself, “YES I CAN” and accomplished a lot. I went to work, left for a doctors appointment, went back to work, went to two different post offices, the bank for work, my bank, the store, and had to run around the yard to grab my trouble making dog who suffers from selective hearing.

This concept has kept me working (even if it is for my Dad just a few hours a day), kept me wanting to keep going and fight. I never give in or give up. This concept has probably kept my sanity through all of this.

Hold onto hope – Things will get better. You just have to believe it. This is by far the longest journey that I have been though, and I am sad that I have given up a big chunk of my twenties and am now into my thirties, but I know that in time I will get more and more back to “me”.

It is definitely okay to “have a day” once in awhile, let’s be real here. I know I am big on the butterflies, rainbows, and unicorns but sometimes you just need to have a day to let it all out. It happens!

Honestly, some days I have a feeling of immense grief, losing the life I once had. Some days I absolutely lose it with frustration and am angry at myself for not being able to do everything I want to do, angry I feel so lousy, and I am just plain angry at the world. I get overwhelmed once in awhile, and that is okay. On these days I try to go to bed with the thought that tomorrow is a brand new day. It doesn’t mean I have lost hope, I hold onto it but I would say this is entirely normal.

Positivity is an amazing medicine and if you keep your head held high and think of the good, you will be so much stronger beating this. Check out my blog post on positivity,https://kimmiecakeskickslyme.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/staying-positive/  , you will find it is even scientifically proven that keeping the faith really is an amazing medicine.

I have learned how strong and brave I can be. I couldn’t have imagined being this sick in a million years. Treatment can be so brutal. I never thought I would be doing all sorts of heavy treatments, be glued to an IV pole, or have my schedule be filled with doctors visits, the hospital, and trips to the pharmacy.

I advocate for myself as strongly as I can. It can be scary having to stick up for yourself whether it be with doctors, loved ones, or even complete strangers. Although I have always considered myself outgoing, I am not a confrontational person. But now I have to be!

The emotional toll of being sick has been awful. It is so tiring dealing with it, not having control of your body or your mind. As I see it, there are two paths I could have taken. I could have had a terrible outlook and let these illnesses eat me alive, consume me, let them win. Or, I could fight like hell and know this is not the end of the road for me. I decided to fight like hell. I haven’t given up no matter how hard it may be, and I will never give up. I will never let chronic illness define me, and that makes me a warrior.

I would like to thank everyone who have supported me over these years. It means more to me than you will ever know. Love you all so very much.

P.S. A “Where’s Waldo”… Can you spot Miss Olive?

7 thoughts on “Year 5 – What I Have Learned Living With Chronic Illness

  1. I am so sorry you have to deal with all of this. I am not facing chronic illness, but I do understand what your saying about people who don’t get it saying some pretty dumb shit to you. But as you say, there are people out there who are supportive. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers – speak766

    • Thank you for your understanding. I appreciate it a lot when people not going through this show support. And thank you for your thoughts and prayers 🙂 I certainly need them once in awhile hahaha

  2. Beautifully written, the ups and the downs. Thanks for always sharing, seeing your updates makes such a difference for me, it gives me new ideas and makes me not feel so alone, and often remotivates me to keep going. You are awesome. Keep up the good work, may the next 5 years be happy healthy ones.

    • Thank you 🙂 I am glad my writing helps you, I need to keep up with the updates better. You know how it goes though I’m sure. Once you are done for the day you are done, and your brain shuts off. Wishing you continued healing!

  3. Hi, I want to reach out to you as I can toltally relate having chronic Lyme through out both of my children’s very important teenage years and didn’t know it. As a result they, like you said in your blog, have not watched under our skin or do they even understand, one does not talk to me and the other blames me for his issues.
    As well as a lost marriage, to man who was remorseful for two weeks when I found out I had Lyme. I have since been diagnosed with IDC breast cancer, so when you said people have told you “ at least it’s not cancer “ I roared. My journey has shown me who really cares. That said I have wonderful doctors for cancer treatments that allow me to still do my alternative treatments, so to my point, have you ever heard of BVT?
    Google Elle Lobel and check out Healing Lyme with bee venom and bee venom therapy for Lyme on Facebook. Apitherapy has been around for years and not only is there major testimony’s from fellow lymeis on these Facebook support groups, I first hand have been doing apitherapy for 17 month( at the same time as my cancer treatments as I said I have awesome doctors)
    I have improved to almost 95% of my former self. I am so thankful for the Facebook support groups as we all speak the same language and these are specific for BVT, so we help each other if we are at a loss, nothing a doctor can do for us.
    I don’t know where you are on treatments, but any time I see a post by someone from Lyme sucks I want to share about BVT.

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