Lyme Disease and Depression – A Personal Story
Studies show that the incidence of Lyme disease in the United States has nearly doubled since 1991. Although the disease is associated with many physical symptoms, there is a correlation between Lyme disease and depression. In fact, Lyme can have a significant psychological as well as physical effect on those infected. Axiom Medical’s Director of Communications, Autumn Brennan, had a difficult experience with Lyme. In this blog, we share her heartfelt story along with tips and tricks for dealing with Lyme’s physical and mental challenges.
Lyme Disease and Depression – The Autumn Story
It was a gorgeous fall day in southwestern Wisconsin, warm and sunny with a gentle breeze. I packed up my girls and headed to a local organic apple orchard, where we had harvested apples every year for over a decade.
I remember sitting in the tall grass of the orchard, admiring my children’s agility and teamwork, and deliberately savoring the moment. After a few minutes of rest and reflection, I got up because the grass was itchy and it was time to haul our apples to the orchard market to pay.
Orchard manager Kate, who is usually found in the field chatting and pointing out the best grape varieties, sat at the cash register with a walker by her side. His normal cheerful demeanor had turned into a grimace of discomfort and fatigue. Kate had Lyme disease.
She could barely walk due to joint pain and her migraines were so constant that she could no longer manage the orchard. In tears, she explained that she had just applied for disability and was trying to work with doctors to find the right medications to treat all of her symptoms.
Lyme disease was prevalent in our part of the country, it seemed almost inevitable for outdoor enthusiasts and farmers to fall prey to it. Lyme disease and tick-borne illnesses are complicated illnesses. From Bell’s palsy and targeted rashes (erythema migrans), to crippling arthritis and chronic brain fog, I thought I had heard it all. I was amazed that a tiny deer tick harboring spirochete bacteria could create such havoc.
Over the next 3 weeks, I felt like I was “revitalizing aging”, waking up each morning more active and lethargic than the last. After a sleepless night with a mind-melting headache and joint pain, I called a close friend and Lyme Literate Doctor to confirm my suspicions.
Before Lyme, I was a super nova of activity as a single mom to a small tribe of girls. I had a demanding corporate job, was on the deans list of a business school, coached soccer, took the girls to gym 6 days a week, and always managed to get through. training almost every day. I prepared our meals at home with the finest organic ingredients and rarely consumed alcohol or coffee.
At the time, I didn’t have a lot of social life, co-parenting support, or family nearby. I far outnumbered the children and quickly became overwhelmed with my responsibilities, all while trying to manage chronic pain and Lyme fatigue.
I was relieved to receive 30 days of doxycycline antibiotic treatment, thinking that we had caught Lyme disease early enough and that the aggressive dose would be the magic bullet. Instead, I experienced a variety of both acute and subtle side effects that drove me down a rabbit hole of chronic pain and depression.
I have experienced the Jarisch-Herxheimer (JH) response, which is the temporary worsening of Lyme disease symptoms that occurs when the Lyme spirochete is killed by antibiotics. The JH reactions triggered severe joint pain, bouts of fever that made me sweat through my street clothes, and Herx attacks that I managed to hide at work. Or so I thought.
I hid a lot during this time: the death-level lethargy that I tried to “fix” with coffee and energy drinks, the blinding pain that I tried to “manage” with a few drinks of wine and ibuprofen, and levels of anxiety as I watched my average plummet and my body weight climb.
After a long day at work with a nagging headache, I was deeply absorbed in thought and oblivious to my wintry surroundings. I wiped myself on the ice. I fell hard and tried to catch myself, but I was bleeding from my hands, knees and hip. I was not only angry at the entire circumstances, but I was at my breaking point emotionally, physically, and (almost) spiritually. I limped into the house, walked straight to my room and sobbed.
It was the first time I cried openly at home. My 14 year old daughter, Maya, came into the room and sat beside me in silence. She held my hand and gently asked me if I was going to die. I looked into her eyes and realized that she had been carrying this question heavily in her heart for months.
“Oh fuck no! I’m your mama and I’ll find my way back, honey.
I knew what I needed to do to heal myself, and until then I had no idea how my chronic pain and accompanying depression was affecting my children. I hid, hurt and dragged myself through life as they watched for fear of losing me. At work, I struggled to hide my symptoms while my colleagues worried in silence.
It was hard to let go of the “I should have known” part of falling down the rabbit hole of chronic pain and depression, but every act of self-healing reinforced devotion to my children and my purpose.
My healing journey:
Disclaimer: The following information is not intended to serve as a prescription for the cure. Don’t try to replicate. Please consult a medical professional to assist in your recovery.
I took time off between Christmas and New Years, quit caffeine and alcohol, and just slept with my kids when I couldn’t make it through the day. I replaced ibuprofen with homeopathy and started an elimination diet to avoid gluten, sugar, all processed foods and dairy.
I started consuming only freshly squeezed vegetable juices to reduce blood acidity and inflammatory markers. The kids loved sipping the wild varieties of juice and modeling their mustaches in green foam. The best part is that they were part of the healing process and finally got to see their mom come “home”.
When I returned to work, my colleagues were refreshed from the break and super curious about the “swamp water” I drank throughout the day. I shared with them my plan to cure Lyme and promised that I would eventually return to our group fitness classes and office shenanigans.
After a week or two, a beloved colleague pulled me aside and asked if we could chat. She shared with me that it was so nice to see “the lights back on the Christmas tree” and that my signature elven glow was back in action!
She shared that many colleagues had expressed concern over the past few months but were unsure how to approach me as they had never seen me so calm and withdrawn. They witnessed my seizures and fevers and were afraid to say anything when they saw me hobbling to the elevator instead of running up the stairs. They knew I was fighting something big but didn’t know how to approach me.
We worked in an unforgiving corporate environment, where reporting a weakness or concern would have raised eyebrows and negative interventions. Our workplace was not a psychologically safe environment to have a health crisis of any kind, especially with the stigma attached to mental health issues.
Receiving feedback from my child that she was seriously concerned about my health and mortality ignited my passion for healing, and hearing a colleague share her experience with changes in my behavior was also a huge step in reevaluating my holistic health, my happiness, and work culture.
I learned that we need to intentionally create safe spaces at home and in the workplace to have these conversations, so people can receive the right tools and resources, at the right time.
If you suffer from chronic pain, depression and/or addiction, you are not alone. It’s important to get the help you need before you have a health crisis.
Lyme Treatment Plans:
Be aware that treatment may involve several strategies and approaches such as:
- Lifestyle change: diet, exercise, behavior modification
- Personal care: setting healthy boundaries, sleep hygiene, meditation, massage therapy, yoga, breathing
- Therapy: several modalities exist – find the best practitioner for your needs
- Functional medicine: nutritional supplements, phytotherapy, complete laboratory tests
- Social support: friends, family, colleagues, place of worship
There is no single magic cure for chronic pain, mental health issues, or substance use. But there is pure magic in our human connection. If you see someone in trouble:
- approach them kindly with your attention, your concerns and a listening ear
- if they are open to support, offer professional resources for assistance
- schedule regular time to check on their progress and catch up on cuddles
By Autumn Brennan
Courtesy of Axiom
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