Well-Being//

What I Learned From Getting Lyme Disease

Getting a serious illness helped me to love myself.

Food Travel Stockforlife/ Shutterstock
Food Travel Stockforlife/ Shutterstock

I’d been vacationing in a lovely home on a beautiful, small pond in Maine with my husband and daughter. The peace and quiet were broken only by the primeval calls of loons. It was an unusual year in that, instead of a typical mating pair, five or six of these creatures had recently taken up residence. These striking black and white birds were swimming with and calling to one another day and night. Magic was everywhere on that first morning when my daughter and I were swimming, and hanging out on the dock, moored just off the shore.

“I think there’s something on your leg,” she said as she pointed just above the back of my left knee.

I reached down with my hand, and could feel that it was a tick. It seemed like it was barely hanging on, and after all, we’d only arrived the afternoon before. It didn’t seem likely that it had been on me long enough to have dug in, since I hadn’t been hiking or walking in tall grass. I’d removed a tick or two off of my dogs, so, without even looking, I swiftly pulled it out.

My daughter, trained in tick identification by her naturalist mentor, said, “It’s a dog tick.”

Fine, no problem, dog ticks don’t carry Lyme, I thought to myself. The spot where it had been looked angry and irritated. Each morning, for the remainder of our visit, I checked the bite area. Although still red and swollen, it wasn’t getting any worse, and I assured myself that I would have it looked at when we returned to California. I was beginning to regret my casual approach to removing it, although I was still confident that dog ticks didn’t carry Lyme disease. At most, I rationalized, I’d need to deal with a secondary infection.

The Wake-Up Call

Exactly seven days later, we were in a hotel in Portland, Maine, en route to Concord, Massachusetts.  I awoke, did my daily meditation, and checked the bite, as had become my routine. What I saw caused time to come to a complete stop. I felt the room begin to spin around me because what I saw was a ring of red around the bite. It was a fairly perfect circle, the kind I’d heard about being an indicator of Lyme disease. My mind didn’t quite know how to process this information. It didn’t seem possible that it was Lyme, because it had clearly been a dog tick.  Yet a very distinctive red circular rash known as erythema migrans had appeared. This frightening harbinger was the bullseye rash of Lyme disease.

In the slow motion of my thoughts, it was slowly dawning on me that the tick must have burrowed in overnight, giving it plenty of time to transmit the disease. My cavalier removal of it would have increased the risk of transmission. In the blink of an eye, I relived the entire experience, desperately wishing I’d done things differently. I noticed an instant of panicked imagination, thinking that there must be some way I could go back and redo it. 

An inescapable dawning of comprehension poured over and through me. I struggled as I realized that this disease, which I had seen become excruciatingly disabling for others, was now attempting a coup in my body. This sent me into an even deeper state of shock. I felt my chest tighten, my mind was frozen, and I was certain the entire hotel room was tilting like a scene from the old Batman television show. In that moment, I felt torn between two feelings. I would either climb back under the covers to weep and sob, or I’d get active and research everything available about Lyme. Both were an attempt at escaping the avalanche of feelings threatening to swallow me up.

I was in shock, I shivered, I cried, I hopped onto the internet and looked for information, all at the same time. I was walking through a deeply personal and frighteningly intense internal earthquake, and I was grasping onto anything that looked like it would help me keep my balance.

Then inexplicably, quietly, with clarity, I very distinctly heard these words from inside: “The tick is not the enemy. The infection is not the enemy. This is not a battle to fight, not a war to win by the decimation of the adversary. Be.”

I was bewildered by this message, unwilling to allow it to be true, and scared by what I thought it meant for me. 

When the tick bit me, infecting me with Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism responsible for Lyme plus 10 other viruses and bacteria, it was telling me something. I was being given an immersive, foundational, and transformative awakening. It was communicating to me that the inner walls I’d built throughout my life to ward off the toxic energies around me weren’t going to work anymore. In fact, it wanted me to know, they probably hadn’t ever worked in more than an illusory way, even though they had been enough to get me by. Until now.

The moment that I realized that I’d contracted Lyme disease, in that potent instant, my experience of my life radically changed. Prior to this, I’d always been aware that I didn’t want my life lessons to come in the form of a health issue, as I’d observed in others. I’d heard about and read the stories of people experiencing great transformations after or while experiencing a serious illness. I’d also seen how the mantle of illness could substitute for personal identity, something I found deeply disturbing, and never wanted to happen to me. 

From a fairly early age, I had a conscious knowledge that I preferred to meet my life lessons in other forms. I’d even promised my inner self that I would willingly show up for those lessons if we could agree to leave my health out of it. The path that I’d clearly asked not to have to travel lay before me, and it felt like so much of it was unknown and suddenly terrifying. How would I walk through this experience? 

Let the Healing Begin

All the stories I knew about Lyme disease, the bacteria, and viruses, and how they behave are based on what we know. Not surprisingly, none of it is based on what we don’t know. And what we don’t know is a lot. I felt strongly that if I was going to make it through this, I would need to refrain from making any premature cognitive commitments to these stories.

Instead, I chose to listen to the story I was being told inside, all the while integrating the known science and real-life experiences of others from the outside. Despite the incapacitation I was experiencing, as I had on the day I discovered the rash, I heard once again that same message from before.

This time, it was followed by a message that these microbes are ocean, too. This was referring to a teaching I’d been given, about how we’re each like waves on the ocean. We look like we’re individuals, and yet, we’re ultimately still just ocean. What this meant in my new situation was that these microbes are manifestations of the same Source that I am, that trees are, that cupcakes are. As such, I’m connected to and in communication with these beings. As I learned more about them, I found myself admiring their design and skill. If I was not to kill, smash, destroy, and obliviate them as enemies, what then could I do?

Then, in my mind’s eye, an unexpected and powerful scene unfolded. I witnessed a powerful and primal lioness pouncing on and bringing down a zebra. Again, it was clear that this was a teaching. In that moment, I received the understanding that the lioness is never at war with the zebra. It’s simply her nature to hunt, bring down, and eat the zebra. Likewise, I didn’t need to be “at war” with these microbes in order to restore health, harmony, and balance within me. It’s simply the nature of my form to “hunt down and dismember” anything at odds with my vibrant health and wellness.

This vision opened up an awareness of a surprising, yet completely familiar truth. It was clear to me that I’d never truly valued my own form. I’d never unreservedly and wholeheartedly committed to my form. In truth, I’d never actively preferred my form, my being, my manifestation. I’d never declared my deepest love for me and my form. Suddenly, it became clear that in order to have permission to fully live out its true nature, I’d need to admire the design, skill, and beauty of my particular manifest form. I’d need to acknowledge how smart and successful I am in this form. In other words, I’d need to finally love myself.

What I learned, as I shifted from someone without a potentially life-threatening illness to someone with one, was that I didn’t become someone different and I didn’t become my illness. I suddenly had a new job and a radically different priority.

It was utterly clear to me that my path to healing would be through this saturation of love for my self. I began to see that I must prefer my self to all other forms. Like George in the film, A Room With a View, I must embody the eternal yes. I would have to say yes with every fiber of my being to this authentic and original manifestation that I have chosen to become.

The Healing Paradox

In order to dissolve any barriers to this self-love, I needed to first understand that there is Self and self. Love of the self won’t facilitate healing without the seamless awareness of the Self. Love of the Self combines the sense of being equal in worth to all things, and at the same time, amazing and unique. There’s a line in the movie Contact, where Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie says “…how tiny and insignificant, how rare and precious we all are…” That’s from Carl Sagan.

It’s a paradox, yet true. Each of us as a wave is tiny and insignificant compared to the vastness of the ocean. Yet each is also unique and valuable because each of us is the ocean. It was clear that I would need to find a way to hold on to these opposing truths. I would need to find myself in both of them, and also somewhere inbetween. It was clear that my path to healing would center around a kind of embracing of my self and my Self that I’d never experienced before.

The earthquake that had begun with the appearance of the Lyme bullseye rash had shaken loose some pieces of my personal foundation. They had needed to go. The journey through illness, something I’d so dreaded, had offered me a vista onto my life that I hadn’t known was possible. My fears that a serious illness would cause me to become broken or deficient hadn’t come true. I had found myself and I had a refreshed path with a new job. This derailment of my life was actually a calling to learn what it meant to truly love me, and to be.

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