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Laughter, the best medicine

Do you journal your experience of Lyme? I did, and though it's painful to read now, I am glad I captured something of the emotional and psychological dimension while it was occurring. I wouldn't have remembered how I scraped the bottom, especially in comparison to the healthy high that is my new normal.

Shortly after diagnosis, I was put on a cocktail of antibiotics that nearly killed me. Every day was a challenge. No, every breath was a challenge. I never knew that severe pain could be a 24/7 ordeal. The physical pain was torture, but it was the accompanying emotional pain that pushed me over the edge into despair. And then, miraculously, and none too soon, pushed me out again.

From my journal: Lately, I feel emotionally raw, and a bit overwhelmed by a radical compassion for the suffering in this world. I am tremendously grateful for my friends and family. If not for them, I would be dead. My heart breaks for anybody who doesn’t have people to lean on in times of crisis.

I was falling apart—in mind and body. Lyme was bitch-slapping me right out of the stratosphere. The illness had triggered some mysterious process that was stripping me of everything that wasn't absolutely necessary for my immediate survival—from certain foods and drinks, to relationships, to habits, to clothes that I couldn't wear (too itchy, too big, too small), to possessions, desires, and even including my lifelong dreams. I was a musician who couldn't practice, a writer who couldn't string a sentence together. I wasn't left with much that I could recognize of my old self. I was being peeled to the core of whatever ragtag collection of trinkets might be left of my inner self. And inside, things were no bed of roses. In there, I discovered I was capable of really feeling my own pain, and other people’s, deeply, probably for the very first time.

But I could laugh—and that's why God made comedy.

Each day, Evan went in mad pursuit of a (hopefully) hilarious movie that we hadn’t yet seen. We'd start it up before bedtime, and cross our fingers it would work its magic.

While I was laughing, I wasn't thinking about my pain. Pain did not exist! Those precious moments were my aim, my sacred chalice. For a few brief seconds, I wasn't trapped inside my misery. I was free. And like cracking a window for fresh air, I believe healing can take hold in those small openings. Episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 were manna from heaven.

But you can’t fake it. That’s the trick. Your funny bone has got to be genuinely tickled. You must actually be laughing, not just ha, ha, faking it. Bowled over, tummy-clenching humor--miracle of miracles. I felt like I’d discovered the Rosetta Stone.

Most people suffering with longterm Lyme symptoms realize that addressing the psychological component of the disease is equally as important as treating the physical one. The two cannot be separated.

Homework assignment: Watch a comedy tonight.


Diet and Supplements

Lyme makes excellent troubleshooters of us. People with Lyme disease are an innovative species. We tend to reach out and try new things. We've got to, because sometimes that's the only way to find the best remedies and treatments for our particular situation.

Every winter, I get eczema on my legs and hands, no matter what I do or how I eat. It’s frustrating. Yet each spring, it goes away as the weather warms up. Along with record-breaking temps and bitter winter cold comes an added challenge: Dry air inside. If you suffer from eczema, these cold, dry conditions can make a breakout unbearable. Your doctor can prescribe steroidal creme. Mine did, but after my horrid experiences with Prednisone, I couldn’t even bring myself to open the tube. I am mega-cautious when it comes to any medicine with steroids in it.

Manuka honey and Shea butter
By chance, I learned about Manuka honey from a friend who works at the local hospital. It comes from New Zealand, and the bees cultivate the nectar from tea tree bushes, with its famously potent antibacterial agents.

Turns out this hospital—a Western-medicine-centric place—like every other hospital in the US, orders Manuka honey by the boatload. Doctors in the ER use it on bad burns, deep gunshot wounds, and eczema.

It’s a good sign when your average hospital in the US starts using healthy “alternatives.” The type they use is trademarked Medihoney. I bought The Wild Bee brand at the local healthy foods store and started applying it directly on my skin. Mixed with a bit of Shea butter, that is.

Of course, nothing beats butter to seal in the moistness. Once in the morning and again before bedtime, I dab honey on the patches of dry skin, then slather it with a layer of Shea butter. Especially in the winter, I’ve found this combo to work like nothing else to soothe my dry skin and keep the eczema from getting worse.

I’ve long avoided eating any honey because our bodies react to it the same as sugar. Excessive amounts of sugar are to be avoided when the body is fighting any infection, but especially when it’s battling a fierce opponent such as Lyme. Manuka tastes lovely, but be cautious adding it to your diet. I do not recommend eating any sort of honey if you’re harboring a load of Lyme bacteria.

At the same time as I started using the Manuka on my skin, I also changed my diet. My doctor recommended that I limit my diet to find out if it could be a food allergy triggering the eczema. It may not be solely due to the cold dry winter weather.

Give GF a try
So I quit eating most of the common allergens. My diet is now 100% gluten-free and dairy-free. Wheat has never bothered me in the past, but by eliminating it completely and then experimenting with adding it back in, I’ve discovered that it actually does make my eczema worse. So, no more wheat for me.

Soy, although another potential allergen, isn’t problematic for me. I drink soy milk and eat tofu and edamame. Soy provides a good nonfat source of protein.

Bamboo leaf tea for silica?
In addition, I’ve added in a daily dose of bamboo-leaf tea. Over the past few years, I have experimented with preparing this tea, mainly because it’s very convenient. We happen to live inside a bamboo grove. I enjoy the process of picking and cleaning the leaves, then roasting them and grinding them up for a pot of tea.

Bamboo leaf tea has a pleasant grassy fragrance. It’s a light green tea which combines well with other teas (I especially like it blended with Jasmine green). It’s also very nice just brewed all by itself. Bamboo leaves are a high source of silica. The second-most common element on earth, silica is necessary to restore and regulate the amount of collagen in our bodies. Lyme bacteria eats away the collagen in our joints and skin. Bamboo leaf tea may help replace it.

What I don’t know yet is how much of the silica actually gets absorbed into our bodies from drinking bamboo leaf tea. How much is bioavailable? I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.

Turmeric with black pepper to reduce inflammation
Now let’s consider a very important spice—one that’s probably in your kitchen. Turmeric is highly recommended for reducing silent inflammation associated with arthritis, gout, heart disease, a whole host of other ailments, and of course, Lyme disease. Research into the cause and effect of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain has pointed to some very convincing scientific evidence that turmeric helps heal the brain, thus slow the aging process itself. But turmeric taken alone is evidently not as effective as turmeric that includes pepper. The addition of black pepper renders it many times more effective.

These are just a few of the supplements, therapies, and lifestyle changes that I’ve personally experimented with over the years. If something isn’t working for you, you might want to try a different remedy. Listen to your own body, be patient, and you’ll find what’s best for you. Different things work differently on different people, but these are some that I’ve come to depend on, to help me maintain the quality of life I’ve gotten used to since healing from Lyme.


Lyme Book Excerpt - The Ghost Caller

You may know that Prednisone is contraindicated when you have Lyme. Ever wondered what would happen if you took it anyway? Before my test results had come back from IGeneX, I was prescribed steroids to stop a spreading rash.

When I finally found a doctor educated about Lyme, he expressed deep concern when I told him about the steroids, which had been prescribed by an IDSA doctor. They had replicated the Lyme bacteria, driven it into my organs and across the barrier into my brain.

The day I started on Prednisone, I began to experience auditory hallucinations--the kind you hear, not the kind you see. I also had kinesthetic hallucinations: I would wake up from a nap convinced I had a raging fever. But the thermometer always read 98.6.

The steroids took a big toll, emotionally as well as physically. The irony was, they didn't even stop the rash completely. So in my fog, I reasoned that I had to keep taking them—follow the doctor's orders. By the time I mustered the guts to disobey the doctor and stop taking it, the damage was done. I couldn't walk, talk, or think.

The following is an excerpt from my ebook, available soon:

So, I took the Prednisone. And life as I knew it started to disintegrate. As the undetected Lyme bacteria began destroying my immune system, it collided with the corticosteroids. I began to learn what it meant to fall apart.

I was in the kitchen when the phone rang. I answered. Wrong number. It rang again; I picked it up. Again, a little girl on the other end asked for someone whose name I did not know. 

Again, I told her she had the wrong number.

But the phone kept ringing. 

Each time, I picked it up and said hello. As soon as I set it down, it would ring again. To the same exact little girl I said, “sorry, wrong number.”

By the third time, I was angry and my voice was rising in pitch. “Please stop calling me,” I said. “Wrong number! Which word do you not understand?”

By then I was fuming, staring at the phone like a snake at a mouse. This was ludicrous. No normal person would keep on calling over and over, thinking she was going to get it right eventually. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting different results?

When the phone rang again, I flew into a rage. 

From another part of the house, Evan heard me yelling into the phone. He appeared in the doorway. My heart was beating fast. I wanted to hit something. I slammed the phone down hard.

“What's going on out here?” he asked.

I shot him a look to kill. “Some stupid moron will not stop calling! She’s got the wrong number.” 

He looked at me. “I didn’t hear the phone ring. Not once.”

“You were in the shower!”

“I was in the bath. I would have heard the phone,” he said. 

I am outraged at his bullheadedness. “Well, if it hasn’t been ringing, what are you saying? I’m crazy?” 

My head wobbled on my neck and I collapsed into a chair, choking back tears. I had tremors and a stammer.

Evan headed for the door. “Why don’t you call your mom,” he said, before pulling it shut behind him.


Chronic Inflamation

Chronic inflammation is the troll under the bridge. It's the nasty culprit creating a dangerous—even deadly--environment in our bodies. Inflammation is at the heart of a long list of disease, including Alzheimer's, asthma, multiple sclerosis, gout, fibromyalgia, cancer, and Lyme. Chronic inflammation can exist inside our bodies for years, suddenly wrecking havoc in our heart, kidneys, or liver.

So what's causing it? I've been reading Kenneth Singleton's terrific book, The Lyme Disease Solution. As he explains, when Lyme bacteria or its co-infections infect the body, the same as when other microorganisms attack--such as parasites, fungi, mold, and viruses—inflammation results. Sometimes you can see it. Sometimes you can't. As I understand it, a little bit of inflammation goes a long way. It is our immune system's natural reaction to infection. A cut on a finger is painful. It swells a bit and turns red. These factors indicate that the immune system is doing its job. White blood cells rush like EMTs to the site of the action. In a healthy person, the infection is stopped. The redness fades and the swelling goes down as the cut mends.

However, if the bacteria isn't killed by the actions of the immune system, the inflammation can become chronic.

“...whenever we are dealing with chronic infections like Lyme, we must be careful not only to treat a person with appropriate antibiotics, but also to address the chronic inflammation problems that have been triggered by Lyme.” Singleton, K. The Lyme Disease Solution (pp. 186-187). Kindle Edition.

The Do's and Don'ts
First, the don'ts. Don't give a helping hand to the inflammation troll. The following activities suppress or kill the endorphins that will help you heal.

Smoking. If you smoke, quit! Here's your good excuse.
Drinking alcohol. Same goes here.
Consuming fried foods, doughnuts, pastries. If it doesn't build healthy cells, it isn't good for you.
Consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Fifty pounds or more overweight.
Nursing a victim mentality and a negative attitude.
Being unable to forgive.
Averaging less than seven hours sleep per night.
Not drinking enough water.
Little to no sun exposure.

The good news? We can take action to prevent the inflammation troll from ruining our party. With shifts in dietary, lifestyle, and exercise routines, inflammation can be reduced or eliminated. The immune system produces these wonderful little gizmos called endorphins. They assist the NK (Natural Killer) cells in fighting the bad guys.

There's a short list of helpers to make our immune systems create more endorphins. You're gonna like it: Belly laughter, massage, chocolate, acupuncture, adequate sleep, and regular exercise. Eat fresh veggies, salmon (or Omega 3-s/Fish oil supplement), range-fed or organic meat consumption, and healthy oils, like olive. Indian curry, in particular the spice turmeric (curcumin), is a well-known anti-inflammatory agent. (However, please consult your doctor to see turmeric is okay for you. People with gallstones are not advised to consume turmeric.)

On the long list, you'll recognize these emotional and cultural keys that assist endorphin production, as well. We've seen them all before, but they're not trite. Not by a long shot. Indeed, these common-sense tips are central to healing body and mind:

Count your blessings.
Cultivate a positive outlook, and a spirit of generosity and giving.
Take time daily to pray and/or meditate—rejuvenate your spirit.
Do some deep breathing in fresh air.
If possible, get exposure to sunlight for ten minutes a day.
And nurture healthy relationships and social circles. You know, the kind that fluffs your feathers and fills up your love and laughter reserves. Seek out the company of people who make you feel good, not drained.

Antibiotics are necessary to kill the Lyme bacteria. Yet in many cases, they are not enough to return the body back to homeostasis, its natural state of balance. This is where lifestyle and dietary changes are needed to help us get a handle on inflammation.