In the fall of 2014, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Asia with the goal of feeling alive in my 25-year-old body. I had been working in corporate promotional sales for a few years, long hours in front of a computer to pay the bills, get up and do it again the next day. My joints were stiff, my eating and drinking habits never graduated from college, my brain was foggy and I had no energy. I thought if I could just get on the open road and see the beauty of the world, I’d come back to life.
For three months, I traveled through Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines then landed in Tacloban, Philippines where I worked for All Hands Volunteers to rebuild and uplift the local community after the world’s largest typhoon on record killed over 10,000 people. Working with Filipinos to rebuild Tacloban, I was blown away by their ability to laugh, smile and hold their heads high despite their tragedy.
I saw families living on dirt floors under roofs made from scrap materials; kids quitting school because they lost their parents and were raising younger siblings; newly single mothers who couldn't make enough money to feed their babies. All these people with big, beautiful brown eyes of hope. They looked at us with gratitude for helping when nobody else did. We looked at them in amazement for showing us what really matters in life.
I couldn’t comprehend how they survived such heartache and suffering.
I hadn’t yet learned that we are so much more than our stories. But I soon would.
A few months after arriving, a pain in both of my legs began to arise. I had muscle and tendonitis issues in the past from high school sports and figured it was flaring up from long days of manual labor. I thought I could treat it with physical therapy in Tacloban City Hospital; however, the universe had different plans for me. The pain got so bad that it crept up into my hips and back, and I would lie in bed crying—more at the possibility of leaving than the physical pain itself. My body grew so fatigued that I couldn’t get through a day without passing out wherever I laid my head.
Cold sweats. Dengue fever.
My immune system was crashing. My adrenals were shot.
My mind wasn’t working, and I was going downhill fast.
In October 2015, I decided to return home for treatment since my condition—whatever it was—had affected my ability to function, let alone work. I returned to the States more heartbroken than I had ever been. I went from doctor to doctor trying to find a diagnosis; instead, I was offered antidepressants multiple times and placed in another physical therapy clinic for three months with little progress. I developed anxiety about all the health issues that I believed could be present, and I was spiraling into a dark place, where no one understood what I was going through physically, mentally and emotionally. My heart was in the Philippines, with those communities, and my friends and family here did not understand why I couldn’t acclimate back to “normal” life.
About six months after coming home, a friend told me about Against All Grain, an anti-inflammatory cookbook for autoimmunity, and within a month of following this diet, I was able to think more clearly and stay awake throughout the day. A few months later, I got a job at Harvest Market Natural Foods and began to build a community of people who made health a top priority. Fast forward a year, and a chiropractor finally diagnosed me with having three strains of Lyme disease, a conclusion brought about through muscle and energy testing, since four blood tests had shown negative.
I have no idea how or when I got Lyme, but looking back on symptoms throughout my early twenties, I think I contracted it years before I even started to feel it in my body. I decided to tackle this from all angles and work with my body’s ability to naturally flush out the Lyme, with the aid of herbs, supplements, all the vegetables, yoga, meditation, plant spirit healing, massage therapy, spiritual practice, connection with the outdoors — I did it all. And my body responded, slowly but surely.
I began to look at Lyme disease as an awakening, the medicine I needed to bring me back to life by dragging me through death. Death of the girl I once was and the life I once knew. Illness invited me to surrender, as my outward identity was pulled from under me. It eliminated hobbies, work, travel, comfort, socialization, and replaced them with the bare essentials, an aloneness that was terrifying to face in a world where most meaning is derived from outside sources.
I thought I was at the end of my road many times until I realized there are just many more turns than I could have ever imagined. Lyme was my portal to the other side. The struggle left me with a new perspective: I was gifted eyes that see more clearly, a compassionate heart, and a willingness to listen openly and deeply engage with the world around me. I had felt my own brokenness, sat with it for a long time and developed a relationship with the suffering. I now view this journey as a blessing, not even in disguise, but in plain sight.
In Native Navajo tradition, the animal world is always helping us to realize what is really important, to deliver messages and bring us back to the Earth. Thanks to this tick medicine, my line of sight has expanded to include the light and the darkness, as above so below, as within so without. The wonders of the natural world have returned to my awareness, just like they were when I was a child. Reveling in the beauty of the outdoors, I recall going out for a walk one day early on in my healing, and within one hour, I saw deer, a flock of bluebirds and a bald eagle. The trees danced in the wind, the river flowed over moss-covered rocks. The wind whispered, “Welcome Home.”
Everything was alive. And so was I.
Lyme Disease taught me to relinquish control, to lean in and accept the unknown, something that proved incredibly challenging for me as I watched my life slip between my fingers. Looking back, I desperately needed this. It forced me to pay attention to what I put in my body, my thought patterns, my feelings and emotions, which I had numbed for years through substance abuse and just plain neglect. It forced me to listen to what I needed on a minute-to-minute basis.
Above all of that, though, I realized that I am not my story. I am not my pain. I am not this disease. I am not even my body. I am so much more.
Most of the time when I tell someone I had Lyme, they correct me with, “You mean you have Lyme. Doesn’t it always stay with you?” Depending on who you ask, this answer differs. If you’re asking me, I’ll tell you: it stays with me because it was a monumental part of my transformation and growth. It stays with me because it was one of my greatest teachers. It stays with me because it taught me resilience. It stays with me because it was the catalyst for my spirituality.
I believe we can heal anything. We are healing every second of every day, on a cellular level, on a spiritual level, and if we embrace the full picture— the pain and the joy, the beauty and destruction, the struggle and triumph—we will know that nothing is permanent.
Two years ago, I spent my days screaming silently, waking up in night sweats and questioning my ability to hang on. Today, I am living my dreams of traveling, writing, exploring the world and connecting with the land that keeps me alive. Lyme is in my rearview, and although I still have to periodically keep the fear of its return at bay, I choose to smile, wink at it and say, “Thanks for showing me the way. I owe you one.”