I was bitten by a tick when I was ten. It's the only tick bite I remember, though a large number of those with Lyme don't remember a tick bite. There's no way to know if this bite or another was the culprit. I do remember a rash on my hand the summer I was pregnant, and I now wonder if it was from a tick, but there is no way to know. I always had weird medical things happen as a kid though, so we have wondered if maybe it's been dormant for many years. Your immune system has an amazing ability to keep things in check (even if you've been given a taste of that forbidden formula). And your immune system is amazingly susceptible to stress, which arrived on my, well, ashy, crumbling doorstep when I was eight months pregnant.
I had Kellen and went into my six-week checkup, where they did a pap, which came back abnormal (yeah, my fall pretty much sucked), and gave me a flu shot. Four days later (and four days after returning to teaching) my face stopped working. I was home nursing Kellen (or trying) and tried to smile at him, at which point I realized I couldn't move the right side of my mouth. Earlier in the day I had noticed that it felt like I was talking with braces on, like my lips were having to make way for an obstruction on my teeth, despite not having had braces in well over a decade. That morning I drank orange juice that tasted dull as well as had a Starbucks sandwich that made me question their place as a food establishment. It turned out that my taste buds were not working on the right side. After I finished nursing Kellen I decided to go back to school to finish teaching. I was really scared but didn't want to deal with it at the moment (because the only two options I could think of were a stroke and brain cancer). As I was driving down the road I lost my ability to blink my right eye. I turned around, and we went to the hospital.
The good news is that it wasn't a stroke or brain cancer, though the way the Dr. told me it was "just" Bell's Palsy made it seem so benign--as though I hadn't just lost full functionality of one side of my face and now looked like this:
"Are you sure nothing else is wrong?" I asked the ER doc. I just couldn't fathom that the nerves in my face would stop firing just because they felt like it. The doctor assured me that nearly all cases of Bell's Palsy are spontaneous and have no other underlying cause than a small virus. (Had I lived in the Northeast, it is likely I would have been tested for Lyme then, as Bell's Palsy is common in Lyme and the first symptom of it moving into your brain, when things get really dicey.) They gave me anti-virals and steroids. (It was because of this I stopped breastfeeding.)
Dan and I decided to head down to San Diego. I had taken a leave of absence from work because I was overwhelmed. The stress of our house burning down in a fire and the rebuild was compounded by this new development, and I knew that I was spread too thin. It has always been hard for me to walk away, and while it was sad, I am proud of my ability to say, "I can't." We left the day after Thanksgiving, a trip that was nearly thwarted by an incredible and overwhelming sense of anxiety. I couldn't sit down at all because I felt so antsy and uncomfortable. It was one of the only times I've ever had the urge to scrub a floor. It's unknown if this was a natural progression of the Lyme or because I had been prescribed Zoloft to deal with the PTSD. It's been posited that SSRIs (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors) may actually exacerbate Lyme symptoms in some people (many also find them helpful).
That was also the day that the dizziness set in, and it's kept a firm hold on me for over a year. I spent the entire trip in San Diego sleeping. When I wasn't, I was scared. I truly thought I was going to die but was afraid of going to the ER because I didn't want them to think I was crazy. I wish I had gone while in California.
I made a deal with myself that I would make an appointment with my neurologist in January if I was still sick after Christmas. I scheduled an appointment. That week I woke up and felt fine, nearly canceling the appointment to see the doctor. At that point my being dizzy was the biggest issue; it was debilitating and frightening. The symptoms came back strongly the day before I went to see the Dr. It would be the first of many cycles but also the clue that led another doctor to Lyme disease nine months later.
At first I was diagnosed with Benign Positional Vertigo, which is caused by ear crystals shaking loose. The test for this is tilting your head back to see if it gets worse. It did. But the exercises didn't work. So an MRI was ordered. While I passed the muscle tests with the neurologist and chiropractor I was seeing, I dropped things a lot (more than normal), so I worried a lot about MS, especially because I was told that mid to late 20s was typical for age of onset. With every click on the MRI machine I just hoped that I didn't have MS and if I did that the test showed it. I didn't want to be sick, but I also wanted an answer to why I felt so badly.
At the neurologist's office I brought a huge symptom list with me and detailed exactly how and when I got each symptom, which showed a clear cyclical pattern. I had a history of migraines, so my neurologist said it was either migraines or Lyme. I started meds for migraines and physical therapy for my dizziness. I was tested through IGenex and eventually received an official diagnosis from those tests. I also had a yeast problem and probably bartonella.
Every day I feel like I am going to die.
It's pretty difficult to sleep at night when you are afraid that you won't wake up in the morning, leaving your 18-month-old motherless. And in the "capable" hands of your husband who, when it's his night to make dinner, relies on boxed Mac and Cheese. Without me he'd probably revert back to Kraft, leaving organic Annie's behind.
Neurologic disorders are their own beast, I think. The symptoms are literally all in your head, and yet you feel them everywhere. My feet tingle. Sometimes I can't stand the feeling of pants on my legs because my nerves are hyper sensitive. My hands go completely numb some nights. Just a minute ago I was pretty sure that my tongue had stopped working and that maybe I was having a crazy allergic reaction. When I touch the skin of another person, sometimes it feels like it's burning.
I've been to the ER too many times this last year. At first it was chest pain, which was treated with Ativan. Turns out I have chest wall inflammation. Advil was much more helpful than the anxiety drugs, but I'm a woman so must be "crazy." Then I went to a doctor for what felt like the flu in the height of the swine flu outbreak. She listened to my heart, which had become tachycardic. She thought I was having a thyroid storm. Nope. Just Lyme disease. (It would have been helpful to know it was Lyme then.)
Lyme is also extra special because it causes psychiatric changes. Remember IRENE from the Real World? Don't you wish you were my husband? I swing between uncontrollable anger to lying on the floor thinking about death. Suicide is actually the leading cause of death for people with Lyme. When I was first diagnosed and reading about the disease, I couldn't figure out why there were links to suicide prevention lines. I get it now.
And then there's the memory deficits. I've always had a really sharp memory. My mom hates me for it. Pray that your children don't remember every phrase you ever uttered to them! I'm also a word freak and can play some serious Scrabble. But now, I have trouble remembering the word for "countertop" (yep, happened the other day). I don't know how to spell things. And I often just stop in the middle of a conversation unsure of what we were talking about or what I was saying or what I want to say next.
My stomach hurts. My knees ache. I lose my sense of taste sometimes. I can't sleep, and yet I'm profoundly exhausted. I get night sweats. Bright lights bother me. And low lights bother me even more. I feel jittery and can't sit still. But I'm too tired and sore to move. And I constantly feel like I've just gotten off a Tilt-A-Whirl, that's how dizzy I am.
This is my life. I don't tell you this for sympathy. I tell you because it's real.
Brooke Linville, ID