What comes to mind when you hear the words “Lyme disease?” For most people, they conjure up an image of a tick or a tick bite, and if they’re somewhat informed on the topic, they may think about the tell-tale symptoms of Lyme: chronic pain, flu-like symptoms, and a stiff neck.
While any accurate coverage of Lyme is a step in the right direction, considering the disease is still widely ignored by the medical profession in the United States and is misunderstood by the general public, I’d like to address another facet of Lyme that is often left out of the conversation: the social implications and side effects of the disease that affect our self image.
Because Lyme can wreak havoc on everything from what you can eat and your ability to process alcohol to negatively affecting energy levels and creating a war zone in your head by way of anxiety and depression, people with chronic Lyme typically struggle to maintain any semblance of a social life, let alone a robust one. Even if the person is recovering and is no longer in isolation from being bed-/house-ridden, it’s still difficult to fit in with other people on social outings amidst the specific dietary requests, having to make special accommodations for chronic pain, or dipping out early from an event thanks to fatigue.
Considering I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum (being so sick that I barely left the house outside of going to work to my pre-Lyme days as a binge-drinking, dancing machine who was the life of the party), I can safely say that I struggled to define and understand who I was (and still do) once I became sick.
yHere’s a list of what I’ve experienced over the years:
Change of Interests and Hobbies
When I was an undergrad in college, I played rugby, chugged beers, scarfed down on any cafeteria food that was grilled, and was a pretty bombastic person. I lifted heavy weights, boxed, took MMA classes, and loved anything high-intensity. I scoffed at yoga and meditation, clean eating, and being healthy. Obviously, all that changed once I got sick.
What we might not foresee is that once you get sick and make the choice to get better by way of dietary and lifestyle changes, that means the people you roll with might not be along for the ride, at least at this stage in the journey. I quickly realized that a lot of my friendships were held up by the weight of drinking and partying, which is not meant to be taken negatively or as an insult, it’s just a fact.
I also realized that people were quick to make fun of my new dietary changes and desire to do more light exercise because those decisions weren’t in tandem with who I was to those people, or even to myself.
So after over a decade of being the masculine athletic girl who could kick ass and take names, an identity I wore proudly and loudly, I lost that part of myself and was left thinking “who am I?” And I wondered if I I could no longer drink and dance the night away would I still be considered fun and the life of the party? These things were especially important to me back then, but I’m happy to report I couldn’t care less now.
Body Dysmorphia and Beauty Standards
Even if you don’t have body image distortion issues, Lyme is going to mess with your perception of your outward image. I’ve written this list so many times, but it bears repeating… here is how Lyme has affected my outsides: hair loss, cystic acne, chipping of teeth, muscle atrophy, weight gain, weight loss, inflammation, discoloration of skin, and just all around looking lifeless. And none of these things are necessarily predictable or linear, so each day, you may take a look in the mirror and not have any idea of who’s looking back at you, which is pretty jarring and scary.
I used to be muscular to the point where I was called a man for a large portion of my life. My skin was perfect, my teeth were straight and white, and while my hair started falling out from birth control in 2010, before that I was able to make do with what I had. When my health bottomed out, so did my self-image, which is especially tough on women who are expected to uphold ridiculous beauty standards.
I lost another part of myself and questioned who I was if I couldn’t fit into all of my old clothes, if I couldn’t wear my hair down without it looking like I was balding, if my skin started to erupt in painful cysts. I’m the first to admit that I was vain, but the seemingly overnight changes to my outward appearance really shocked me to my core and left me wanting to hide in my room with a paper bag over my head. While I never thought I was a beauty queen, you can bet that looking like a balding, swollen tomato with pimples turned me into a self-conscious individual.
My Healing Isn’t Linear, So Who Am I Today?
To be honest, this facet of Lyme is probably one of the most difficult aspects for me to accept. There are some days or weeks where I can exercise it up and start to feel like the “athletic” me again. Sometimes I can go out dancing all night and take a few tequila shots here and there. Or my mind is on fire (in a good way lol) and I can get through everything on my checklist.
During these moments, my brain starts to go down the slippery slope of thinking I’m fully healed and can get back to the “old” me, whatever that means. I get overly confident, my extroverted side comes out in full force, and I start shifting it into high gear until… you guessed it (or maybe you didn’t, that’s okay), I wake up and the “sick” me is now in control.
What does sick me look like you ask? Instead of exercising I’m in chronic pain from head to toe and hopefully taking an epsom salt bath. Instead of being out on the town in my snazziest outfit dancing I’m in my room in sweats with Netflix on queue until the foreseeable future. Instead of getting through everything on my checklist, I’m lucky to get anything done on my outside-of-work checklist.
Sometimes I don’t even have the energy to make food for myself or shower or take care of even the most rudimentary of tasks. Naturally, this juxtaposition of being healthy and then not takes some getting used to. It used to be a slap in the face every time I had a flare or a set back. I would cry and get frustrated. I couldn’t figure out if I should label myself as “healthy” or “sick.” I didn’t know what to tell people when they asked if I was getting better. But I learned to just accept that this is how things are right now, and I don’t need to slap labels on myself. I’m just me, as cheesy as that may sound.
My Head Is A War Zone That Can’t Be Won
One of the most troubling symptoms of Lyme are the mental disturbances that come with it: anxiety, depression, OCD, suicidal ideation, PTSD, panic and anxiety attacks, hearing things, etc. You name it, I’ve most likely experienced it. And when you couple all of the aforementioned issues with not being able to have a high-functioning brain from time to time, it really takes a toll on you and how you see yourself.
How can I have paralyzing anxiety yet be an adventurous go-getter? How can I be depressed yet so full of life? Should I listen to what my brain tells me when I’m anxious and depressed? Are all the horrible things it’s saying true? No, they can’t be true. Wait, yes, I think they are true. WHO AM I? This is a tiny snippet of what goes on during my head most days.
Sometimes, it gets to the point where it all is too overwhelming and painful to deal with so I dissociate - that’s my last-ditch effort at protecting myself from my worst enemy: Lyme brain, as I like to call it. But coming back from hours or a day or two of going through the motions and disconnecting yourself from the world around you can be jarring and difficult. It’s kind of like when you don’t start your car for a really long time and have to jump it to get it going - it takes awhile to get it running like it was before you left it in the garage to collect dust.
To close, I could really write a whole book on this topic, which is why this post is longer than my others, but I think it’s important to shine a light on how people with Lyme can lose their identities and sense of self. Not knowing who you are in this crazy and mad world can make you feel scared and alone, when most of us with Lyme already feel that way to begin with, especially on our worst days.
Do you feel like Lyme has made you lose your sense of self? Feel free to reach out if you need someone to talk to! I’m always here to listen.
Before I dive in to this post, I want to note that I recognize that on the surface the clear connection to networking for introverts and chronic illnesses may not seem apparent. While I don't think that every single introvert has generalized anxiety, I would assume that enough of my fellow introverts do. And considering that a lot of my anxiety stems from mineral, hormonal, and biochemical imbalances thanks to my chronic illnesses, I think that this topic may be helpful to my readers. So, here goes!
Ah, networking. It’s a buzzword, a commonplace piece of advice that’s doled out at panels, and also a very beneficial skill to hone if you want to “make it” in this world. For some, it’s their time to shine in the limelight and work their magic amongst potential professional connections, and for others it can be anxiety-inducing and full of dread. Regardless of where you fall, it goes without saying that networking is important no matter what profession you’re in, considering most people find and land jobs thanks to the help of their connections.
But what if you’re introverted, shy, or have social anxiety? Does that mean that you’re doomed to be jobless or end up in a job that you hate? Well never fear, because I’m here to tell you that you can still be a rockstar at networking as an introvert; I’m living proof.
I like to describe myself as an extroverted introvert, but I’m also a little awkward and struggle with small talk, so the combination didn’t make me a grade-A networker at the start. But with a little work and taking baby steps to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I can now go to networking events without wanting to put a paper bag over my head or avoid them completely.
Want to check out the rest of this article and read up on the five things that have helped me network as an introvert? Then you'll have to head on over to my dear friend Rachel's website, Rachel L. Macon, where this post was originally featured.
Passion. It’s defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion. Plenty of public figures have weighed in about finding, chasing, and making sure your passions are at the center of your life. Oprah Winfrey has said that “passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” There are self-help books, podcasts, blogs, and other forms of media that center on discovering what ignites you and incorporating these passions into your everyday life.
Generally, thinking about and pursuing our passions is filled with excitement and good vibes. It can be enthralling to daydream about our dream job, achieving a long-term goal, or simply carving out time to do something that makes us smile. But what happens when your health isn’t in tip-top shape and you’re struggling to keep your head above water?
Speaking from personal experience as a person with chronic illnesses (read: Lyme disease and co-infections, Hashimoto’s, anxiety, depression, among others), having impaired health can create obstacles in pursuing passions. For instance, my illnesses cause the following symptoms: lack of energy, unstable moods, chronic pain, reduced cognitive abilities, and a general sense of not feeling well, to list a few.
All of these symptoms can make it difficult to pursue goals and passions in a timely fashion, as much of my time is spent taking care of myself or maintaining my health. Additionally, having chronic illnesses can be costly, so money that could be spent on sessions with life coaches, workshops, equipment, or anything else spent on my passions goes toward organic food, supplements, doctor’s appointments, etc.
This begs the following question: Is it still possible to have your passions be the driving force of your everyday life when you have chronic illnesses? My answer: Yes, but it may look different.
Adjust your mentality/manage your expectations
I’m the first to admit that being more flexible with expectations of myself hasn’t been easy. I am a 100% Italian from New York. I was raised by go-getters. I am Type A. I am a perfectionist. All things that played a role in my health issues, to be honest. But there is no way that I can progress through life like I did pre-illnesses and have these qualities take the steering wheel.
I can’t pull all-nighters, I can’t juggle three jobs at once, and trying to be perfect at every facet of my life does nothing but hurt me. As a result, I’ve changed aspects of my life. I am more of a burst worker. When I have a string of good days I throw myself into projects and tasks. Conversely, when I have a string of bad days, I try to be patient and accept that I need to slow down. If I try to force myself past my limits, this prolongs my healing period.
Mentality also plays a huge role here. I have to accept that I am a different person than I once was. I don’t have to love that fact every single day, but if I am constantly working against myself and trying to force myself to be someone I’m not, then I won’t even have time to pursue any of my passions; I’ll just be at war with myself in my head.
Find New Passions and Rediscover Old Ones
My main interests used to be eating and cooking unhealthy food, drinking and staying out late, and high-intensity sports and workouts. After I got sick, most of these passions had to fall by the wayside, but this made room for so many others that were healthier and more productive.
Now, my passions are health and wellness and helping others heal. I care about the environment and humankind. I’ve found my way back to being a true empath and connecting with others on a deeper level. As I continue to heal, I’ve created time to fall back in love with playing music, exploring the outdoors, and consuming information any way I can (read: books, documentaries, podcasts, etc.).
If I never got sick I wouldn’t have a passion for health and wellness as strongly as I do. I wouldn’t have started an Instagram account and blog to use my voice to help others, and I wouldn’t have become such an advocate for patient empowerment and alternative medicine.
In fact, I thank my illnesses for making this possible. Do I think positively about my situation every day? No. But does it help to take the “lemons” I’ve been handed and make the most of my situation? You bet.
Break tasks down into “digestible” tasks
I think this suggestion would help anyone chasing their passions, but it’s especially helpful for those with chronic illnesses. For example, trying to write a book if writing is your passion is a lofty goal, but if you reframe it as write five pages every day or a chapter a week, it won’t seem as overwhelming.
This way, you can still feel a sense of accomplishment while taking smaller steps toward your goal one day at a time. Sure, it might take you longer to say you finally reached the top of the “mountain,” but you’ll probably better maintain your health and sanity this way, so what do you have to lose?
Ask for help when you need it
Last but not least, create a support system that can help you during your times of need. For instance, when I’m feeling overwhelmed my parents will help cook food for me so I can focus my time on finishing up a blog post or going to a volunteer event. It’s okay to lean on others when we're not capable of doing something ourselves, especially if it will free up space to do things that make us happy and charged up.
So what do you think? Has having a chronic illness changed how you pursue your passions?
Ah, coffee. It is typically associated with frantic mornings trying to get everything situated before we leave for work, a quick pick-me-up when we need a caffeine boost, or what we rely on to pull all-nighters. Although I was never a big coffee drinker before I couldn't consume caffeine (caffeine has never been a friend of mine anyway), I've found another way to consume it, but (and no pun intended ha ha ha) I recognize you might need some convincing first.
A couple of posts back, I talked about how I cleared up my cystic acne. One of the biggest elements of my success has been employing various detox methods to help get rid of bacteria and other toxins hanging out in my body. Under the umbrella of highly beneficial detox methods is none other than coffee enemas. Now, before I jump right into explaining how to do a coffee enema, I'm sure you're wondering why in the world would anyone willingly put coffee up their butt. Yup, buckle in kiddos, we're about to get real.
Firstly, this practice has been around for a number of years - we're talking B.C. times and ancient Egypt. Naturally, you wouldn't expect a regular practitioner in our Western medical system to suggest you do something "alternative" like a coffee enema, but many health practitioners across the globe suggest that patients with autoimmune diseases and terminal illnesses try their best to do coffee enemas regularly. But what is it about coffee enemas that are so useful for our health? Well, let's take a look...
Benefits of Coffee Enemas
Well, that's all fine and dandy, but if you're like me, you're probably also wondering the science behind all of this and how putting some brewed beans up your bum can help your health (one point to me for that alliteration, right?).
How do coffee enemas work?
When coffee is administered into the colon, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the liver. Then, there is an increase in the production of the aforementioned glutathoine, which plays a key role in moving toxins out of the body. From there, the coffee stimulates our "biliary ducts to open and release toxins into the intestinal tract for excretion," according to Lindsea Burns, nutritional therapy practitioner at the Atlas Health Care Center.
tl;dr coffee enemas act as a way for your body to do some quick "spring cleaning," if you will.
How the heck do I do a coffee enema?
Well, this is where my sage (lol) advice comes in. For starters, you'll need to invest in an enema kit. I have one from Amazon that's made out of silicone and I've found it pretty easy to clean and I haven't had any user errors with it. Other people use buckets. Just hop onto Amazon and type in enema kit and see what tickles your fancy.
Then, I'm going to recommend that you really do your research on this before you dive right into putting something up ya bum. I'm certainly not a doctor, and I only know my body, so you'll have to make sure that you're going about this the right way and not putting yourself in harm's way. Here's a really awesome how-to on doing enemas that goes into way more detail than I'm going to go into, and it outlines a lot of the moving parts that you should take into consideration.
Okay, so you have your kit and you've done research. You've done enough water enemas (I recommend getting familiar with the enema process with just water first so you don't have to worry about making a mess) to feel comfortable, now what? Here's what coffee enemas look like for me in steps:
Tips, Tricks, and Other Information
Okay, so I totally understand that if this is your first time trying this that it sounds uber intimidating - I was 110% once in your shoes. The reason why I recommended getting familiar with water enemas first is exactly for this reason. They'll help you overcome the fear of messing anything up and they don't require as much prep or retaining time. There's no need to rush into doing any of this - the coffee isn't going anywhere, and you want to make sure that you study up and do this the *right* way so that it's beneficial to your health and well being.
Obviously, you'll also have to get comfortable with your body. Thankfully, I've always been one for telling people about my bowel movements and love toilet humor more than the average person, so the concept of enemas never made me embarrassed or afraid, but I understand not everyone is like me (thankfully :P). So, figure out how to overcome that obstacle if you think it's going to get in the way of taking advantage of this amazing detox method.
Once you're ready to rock and roll, go to the store and buy a coffee that resonates with you, making sure it's organic. After making the coffee, try using a coffee strainer or paper filters over a different pot so that you get those pesky grounds out of the way. The last time I did a coffee enema I got a bunch of grounds into my solution, so I had to get creative in removing them from my bag to get things flowing.
If you're concerned about making a mess, you can hang your kit on the shower rod (I know I said you don't have to hang it that high, but I do and don't have any problems :)),administer the enema in the shower, and then move to the floor to lay down and hold the solution. Obviously, when I let out my solution to remove air bubbles I do that into the shower, and once I'm done with everything I just run the shower for a few seconds and clean up the spillage.
You may also be wondering how the hell you're going to hold coffee in your butt for 12 whole minutes. I concur. If you're like me (a big ball of gas no matter what's in my digestive tracts), this is something that I have to overcome each time I do a coffee enema. I put on meditation music, focus on alternating between deep breaths and fast controlled breathing. I also try to settle into a comfortable position that I know will give my stomach room to "breathe." Feel free to Google other tips and tricks for overcoming this obstacle.
Ultimately, you're going to have to figure out what works for you, but don't get discouraged if you can't hold the enema for a full 12 minutes the first time you do it.
Okay, so I think that about does it for this post, but as promised, here are a bunch of helpful links that should start you off on your VERY IMPORTANT research stage of enemas. Also, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions. My email is in the 'About Me' section on my website, since I'm sure some people don't want to drop a comment about dropping a coffee inspired deuce :P SORRY! Couldn't help myself...
Coffee Enema Instructions - Benefits, Recipe, & How to Do
Fight Cancer & Detoxify with a Coffee Enema
Home Enemas: How and Why You Should Perform Them
How to Perform an Enema at Home - YouTube
How to Take an Enema - How to Cleanse Your Colon Safely
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Although the data is a bit outdated, the NIHM estimated that over 16 million people, which is roughly 6.9 percent of the population, had a depressive episode in 2012, and as always, we can expect that number to be higher since not everyone reports having a mental illness.
I am part of that 6.9 percent, and I recently went through a difficult depressive episode following a healing crisis brought on by a liver and gallbladder flush (that's quite a mouthful, huh?). And unfortunately, as I've gotten older my depression is sometimes more severe because the ups and downs of adulthood can have more serious implications than what I went through as a teenager.
After over a decade of going through the same rigmarole of being depressed, wallowing in self pity, wanting to disappear off the face of the planet, and then feeling extreme embarrassment and remorse once I bounced back, I thought I'd do it up a bit different this time. I took a little break from social media to collect my thoughts. I decided to be more patient with myself and give myself permission to be sad. I didn't push myself to achieve everything on my checklist if it wasn't necessary.
And now, I'd like to address my depression through letter format as a way to personalize and humanize it, which I know will be therapeutic for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you.
A Letter to My Depression
We have known each other a long time now - going on 16 years - and this is the first time I've addressed you directly, and publicly, no less. For years, you have told me that I'm not enough of this (e.g., smart, pretty, talented) or I'm too much of that (e.g., emotional, loud, opinionated), and for as long as I can remember, I've believed you.
I've taken your words (or thoughts, really), internalized them, and held them to be true. I've spent days, weeks, and months feeling apathetic and like a loser, stifling my voice and stomping out my inner light. In turn, I've looked to others as being the enemy or the ones who want to put me down, causing me to take out my frustrations on the ones I love and negatively affecting my relationships.
I recognize now that it's been me, and you, all along getting in the way of my happiness and ability to move through life without feeling like a failure. As a result, I've struggled to figure out who my authentic self is, let alone present that version of me to the outside world, which is no way to live.
But I'm hoping that we can have a less harmful relationship moving forward.
I understand why you show up on my doorstep and make your way into my body, soul, and mind, albeit it's taken me nearly two decades to get to this place. I get that I'm genetically predisposed to being depressed. As an empath and a highly sensitive person, I am pretty reactive to what directly affects me and the energy other people put out into the Universe. I struggle with sensory overload and over stimulation and sometimes have to shut down and hide. I've fully come to accept that as a person with chronic illnesses that the symptoms of said illnesses and major inflammation going on in my body and brain will lead to depression.
But what I can't accept any longer is letting you drag me down to the darkest and hopeless of depths where my apathy becomes terrifying. I won't accept negative self-talk that's so ridiculous to the point that if I ever said the same thing about others I would feel ashamed and horrible for the rest of my days. I won't accept being my own worst enemy because of what you bring out in me.
Yet, I do want to thank you for being a presence in my life. Sometimes, you help me realize that I need to take things slow and that I'm putting myself in harms way by going full-throttle toward every goal and health aspiration I have. Sometimes it takes me awhile to pick up on the cues, but they're there, and they're essential to my survival.
You've also provided me with the ability to be compassionate toward others who are also dealing with depression. Someday, I hope to work in a capacity where I can help people live more harmoniously with their depression, if not overcome it. I wouldn't trade having empathy for others for the world, so again, I thank you.
Through my battles with you, even though you have kicked my ass in every direction imaginable for years on end, I have been forced to learn and do a lot in order to survive: mindfulness, gratitude, patience, self-love, meditation, yoga... the list goes on. I can't picture myself seeking out these beneficial practices and techniques without your presence in my life, so thank you for forcing me to arm myself with tools that will serve me well for the rest of my life.
And moving forward, I want to switch things up:
I hope you'll hear me out. I know I've said I'm going to change before, but that was coming from a place of anger and shame. Now, I'm coming to you with open arms from a place of curiosity and self-love. So what say you, depression? I know, I know. As always, the ball is in my court.