“You definitely have Lyme Disease.”
That’s what the specialist said barely a minute into my first appointment with him. I was tired after spending most of the previous two days in various airports. More than that, though, I was weary and scared after dealing with confusing and increasingly strong symptoms for two years. I hadn’t really slept well in months, my joints ached, and my brain often felt fuzzy, as though I wasn’t sure about what was going on or even what I had been doing ten minutes before.
Outside, the summer sun was shining in Coeur D’alene, Idaho. Inside, the specialist pressed into a joint between my shoulder and collarbone. I cried, it hurt so badly. Blood tests could have come back negative for Lyme, but this joint was the telling sign. My specialist began making notes on supplements and my detox process.
I can’t have Lyme. I can’t.
I had watched over the past year as both of my sisters were diagnosed. I had texted them certain symptoms I’d experienced, casually, of course, because I didn’t really think I was sick, just that I was a lazy undergrad who needed to buck up and get her life together. I couldn’t explain why my body continually broke down with fevers, aching joints, and coughs and colds. I couldn’t explain why I was never tired, but would crash unexpectedly for days and not be able to work. Had it been up to me, I would have just kept pretending everything was fine, even though my symptoms were getting worse. My parents, though, encouraged me to seek a diagnosis, just in case.
I can’t have Lyme. I’m going to Korea.
Korea had been my sister’s idea, but it was something I latched on to with excitement. Post graduation I felt a burning desire to leave the small Arkansas town I attended university in, and experience life in the real world (while paying off student debt). I applied and was accepted to teach English in an immersion academy in Seoul.
My specialist assured me that I should be fine, and that I could detox while working in Korea. I left the U.S. with high hopes for the coming year. Everything was going to be fine.
But everything wasn’t fine. Detoxing from Lyme while living in a foreign country was more difficult than I could have imagined. Everywhere I went there were more things to figure out on my own, something my brain fog made increasingly difficult. The school schedule was grueling, with class from 8:30 til 7:30 most days of the week. I had barely an hour for lunch every day, and only ten minutes between classes. I was also working with very young children most of the day, something that seemed more like hell than anything I had yet experienced.
The perfectionist in me kept saying, “Suck it up and deal with it. You’re fine.” As the days turned into months, though, it became more and more difficult not only to get to work, but to fall asleep when I came home. My detoxing was not going well, and I lived in a state of mild panic and exhaustion most of the time.
Finally, I had to stop. After a tear filled conversation with my boss, we decided I would I fly home a few days before Thanksgiving. Within days of arriving at my parents’ home in the Redwoods, I came down with a terrible case of chicken pox.
“I lost my job, my home, and now I’m losing my beauty,” I thought, and then had a self-condemnation party because I was being so vain. I tried to be positive, tried to be happy that I could rest, but there was no end date for my treatment, no finish line I could look forward to. Treatment for Lyme looks different for everyone, and I was only getting started.
It’s hard to describe the despair I felt during this time. My journals are an argument of sorts between the perfectionist in me and the poor scared little girl who had no idea what was going to happen. Most days I would wake up and watch Netflix for hours, rather than try and fail at something one more time.
My sister and brother in law offered to let me live with them in Wisconsin, and I accepted, wondering what on earth God could possibly do with me in Wisconsin. It was a place I had sworn I would never live in because it was too cold, the people seemed unfriendly, and they were all nuts about this one football team. (Seriously, there’s a journal entry where I say exactly that.) Wisconsin definitely seemed to be the end of the world, or at least the end of all my beautiful plans.
I was trying to believe that God was acting. It’s easy when we go through tough times to completely focus on the rough things: losing a job, losing your pretty face, losing a sense of control. I was trying to think about the good things, to find encouragement, but it was hard to find any sense of equilibrium. The bad always seemed to outweigh the good. I missed who I was before the Lyme came and ruined everything.
A friend recommended I study Romans. For a while, I did that at the same time every single day. I gave my perfectionist self some time off, and decided that I would do what I felt like doing, which often amounted to me scribbling, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand, and I don’t have the energy to pretend that I do.” This went against years of missionary kid training, but I decided it was better than acting as if I understood God, because really, who does?
Music had always been a part of my life. Lyme made it hard to focus, though, which made it hard to learn new pieces, something I had a hard time forgiving myself for. I had always reveled in the freedom of being able to create at the piano, or even in my journals with words. Now, though, all the creativity came in short supply, and I had barely any strength to follow through on the bit that was there. “Why did you make me this way, why did you give me these desires, and then put something so confusing in my way?” I asked God over and over. “You should have picked someone else for this. I’m no good.”
Romans 8:28, “And we know in all things, God works together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.”
I knew this verse, had heard it preached since before I could read. I started saying it to myself over the next few days and weeks. “All things, all things,” I would mutter. Even with all my Biblical training, I had still read my own feelings into this verse, and thought it said, “All good things.” I knew that wasn’t true, though, especially after Lyme. I began to see more and more that God’s purpose was in all things, good and bad, and His purpose was to glorify Himself.
With Lyme disease, I am constantly asking myself, “What is my body feeling right now? Why am I feeling this way? What can I do to help my body?” Today, for example, I feel pretty awful, and have taken a lot of things off of my todo list as a result. (I don’t know why, but Lyme always seems to strike the people who like to achieve a lot of things.) I have come to see that this is a great picture of my spiritual journey as well. There are a lot of things that I want to accomplish, a lot of big, beautiful things I can do for God. But, a lot of times, I have to just keep doing small ones, like taking care of my body, resting, and praying for people. I really believe that He looks at those small things and says, “You are mine. All things are mine. These things that you do will bring glory to me, even if you cannot see how it all turns out.”
I still have Lyme, and somedays, like today, are a real struggle. I don’t always know why I am feeling the way I do, other than admitting, “Oh hey, I have Lyme. That’s why my body is doing this.” It’s frustrating, but I have found that He is there, even in the frustration and the confusion. He is the one certainty I can count on. All things are His. I am His. That is what matters.