I feel very lucky. That wasn’t always the case. Stricken with Lyme Disease after moving to Ojai, California in 1997, my life went from a very busy job as a Nurse Practitioner in the second busiest emergency room in Los Angeles county to virtually bedridden. Initially, I found the tick bite and had prophylactic treatment with antibiotics but six months later learned that the treatment was a failure. Taking daily calcium with the antibiotics prevented absorption of the medication needed to combat any bacteria spread from the tick. When I awoke one morning with my left knee swollen four times its original size, and was unable to weight bear, I knew something was terribly wrong. I had all but forgotten about the earlier tick bite and treatment until I saw the orthopedic surgeon. One look at my red, swollen, left knee and he said that because it was an atypical presentation, he wanted to order blood work, which included Lyme Disease titers. I was given anti-inflammatory medication and sent home on crutches.
Four days later, I received a phone call. “Don’t panic,” said the ortho doc.
Don’t panic! That pressed my panic button and as the alarm was sounding, his voice echoed over the phone telling me that the blood work was positive for Lyme Disease. How could that be? I had been treated. That’s when his investigative skills honed in on what I ingested while taking the antibiotics.
“Calcium probably prevented the doxycycline from getting into your blood stream,” he said.
Oh great! Now what? Now what was another prescription and gentle words that there was nothing else he could do. Go home and rest. Well, once home, there was not much resting as the pain in my leg refused to respond to medications and my nervous system was assaulted. Meningitis reared its ugly head. Then cardiovascular complications and irregular heart rhythms, not to mention the worsening fatigue. Following suit was depression. Fearing caregiver burn out to my darling husband, I took to reading everything I could get my hands on to help myself. That’s when I fell in love with reading books.
It was reading that sparked something else in me that probably saved my life: writing. It didn’t matter what I wrote, just write. I sat down in the chair before my computer and poured my heart out. And my gut. I vented. Complained. Wrote to God. Complained some more. Words formed into meaning. Meaning took on paragraphs that made sense. My body felt a little less tired. My head cleared of a few cobwebs, the depression lifted.
It didn’t matter what I wrote. Just the fact of sitting before a blank screen and typing words, sentences, paragraphs, helped me to feel better overall. It didn’t have to make sense. Not yet. Not until I wanted to share my insides with my husband. I knew support groups worked to help people feel better but I was way too ill to venture out to one and so I sought it where I could, at home. The confused look on my hubby’s face told me what I was writing was clear to me, not to him. That motivated me to read about writing. And when I was feeling better it motivated me to take a writing class.
In a wonderful writing class with the very talented Deb Norton in Ojai, I learned how to move paragraphs together into a story-line. What fascinated me was when I stopped trying, out came the ease and flow of words that told things. Things about plans, outings, life events, all consisting of a beginning, middle, and end. Things I had discussed, before becoming ill, with a friend. The constructs of a story is inherent in all of us, I just had to get out of the way and let the story reveal itself without trying too hard to make it lyrical, poetic, flowery, etc.
I worked hard doing exercises in that class, reading my writing out loud to the group, risking, and one day during one of the exercises Deb had us do, an entire story idea came to me. It was a photo of two women in dark long dresses, circa late 1800s. Who they were, why they were together, what geographical and historical events impacted their lives came to me. They were just ideas but they made sense. I liked them. I wrote about them.
I haven’t stopped writing since. That was a long time ago. I am now 95% healthy. Every once in a while, when it gets real cold or I get overly stressed I feel what I call “my Lyme symptoms” but that’s now the rare day. Most days are good. Productive. The best part, I am no longer depressed. I attribute my good fortune to reading and writing. As simple as that sounds, it’s true.
Along with my regained health, I do volunteer work. I work alongside my husband to help rescue dogs from kill shelters. I also work as a volunteer mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse. And I do pro-bono work helping women with cancer. With all the time that has passed, I am left with one main thought. I can sum it up in one word. Gratitude. I am grateful that I made it through. Not all will be so lucky and there was a long time, a lot of years, when I didn’t feel so lucky but what I learned during those times was that no matter what I thought was going to happen, my thoughts didn’t always guide me accurately. What I am living now is not what I imagined when I had my darkest days. There is that light, however dim, that awaits us all. For some it may be the end of the line. For others a new beginning. In not knowing what tomorrow will bring, I rest comfortably.
In this new year, 2020, I hope that each person reading this embraces that light available to all of us. May this indeed be a Happy New Year.