This is part two of a two part rant. Part one can be found here: http://campother.blogspot.com/2012/01/rant-why-dealing-with-lyme-disease.html
To continue where I left off, and to share other reasons as to why dealing with Lyme Disease drives me crazy from a patient's perspective:
7) Because the organizations and institutions which have the most influence on treatment and research for my condition are engaged in a political battle of the wills where if "you ain't with us, you're against us". It's a position where being in the middle is difficult at best.
Most patients with persisting late stage untreated Lyme disease and those with post treatment Lyme disease have voted to stick with ILADs doctors and other non-ILADS LLMDs for treatment, and support the organizations and advocates which support ILADS and other LLMDs. They think that a chronic infection is the cause of patients' persisting symptoms.
Most chronic Lyme disease patients and advocates view the IDSA Lyme disease guidelines group as being highly restrictive in terms of treatment of their disease, and not only that - think that the IDSA Lyme disease guidelines group does not care about patients and only cares about profit. The IDSA guidelines group thinks that some autoimmune condition is the cause of patients' persisting symptoms.
One segment of the chronic Lyme disease patient population has grown a general distrust of scientific researchers and allopathic medicine in general. This growing group of patients voices its dissent against not only the IDSA - but any group which may be viewed as profiting off of those with chronic illness in some way: The FDA, pharmaceutical companies, government and non-government researchers with patent rights to their technology, grad and post doc microbiology students, and then some.
Watching all this go by and unfold, the position I'm in is that because I am not interested in completely aligning myself with any one of these groups in this battle, that I have been viewed by some patients as not being loyal enough to the chronic Lyme cause and not loyal enough to supporting alternative medicine. And for some small portion of my readers, I'm not loyal enough to the hypotheses about chronic Lyme disease which the IDSA espouses, either, because I have this seemingly odd idea that some people may need more than the standard amount of antibiotics set out in their guidelines.
Because of this, sometimes I have not been able to get the support and understanding I need as a patient from other patients going through the same thing - presumably because they view me as fence sitting and it makes them feel distinctly uncomfortable. Heck, last year I was even banned from participating on one Lyme patient support group - so I have a sign that at least to some people, I'm not welcome.
But I'm not here to make people feel uncomfortable. It's not what I want to do, though I acknowledge that some of what I write may bring up uncomfortable feelings. What I do want to do is figure out what the truth is in this area full of conflict and get a greater sense of it. Move past any ideological conflict and look at the science. This is why I do research and try to avoid what all the pundits are saying - whether they are pro or against something - whatever it is.
I think that what causes persisting symptoms in patients is not a one answer deal, after all the research I've read. It's not that simple. And I wish that all of those involved in the study and treatment of Lyme disease would come forward and say that, and admit that they do not know what the best treatment is for everyone.
We need a different starting point than where we've been gridlocked over the treatment for the past two generations of Lyme disease patients. Why can't more people consider that those with persisting symptoms may have them both due to persisting infection as well as changes to the immune system? Or that the cause may differ in different patients? Do more research into how different strains of Bb and genetic backgrounds (e.g. HLA-DRs) of patients influence outcomes?
Two of the most supportive and outspoken figures in the Lyme disease community see the need for middle ground as I do - Pam Weintraub and Dr. Brian Fallon. I think we need more middle ground to be covered if we're going to make any progress on understanding chronic Lyme disease and getting better treatment for it. More research is really the key. More fighting over cause is not.
8) Because parts of the mainstream media continue to sensationalize this taking of sides and fails to examine and share all the scientific evidence available (and areas where evidence is also lacking on either side) about my condition, it contributes to the growing problem of scientific illiteracy in this country. It also contributes to dismissive attitudes towards patients with my condition.
I don't know how to say it enough or loudly enough to be heard: The Chicago Tribune's article, "Chronic Lyme: A dubious diagnosis" is exactly the kind of journalism that fails to address the issue of chronic Lyme disease from a scientific perspective.
I spent a fair chunk of my time deconstructing the article and pointing out how it was about two doctors' disciplinary records and flawed alternative treatments for chronic Lyme disease - rather than about whether or not Lyme disease could actually be a chronic infection. That issue is never really discussed throughout the entire article when one would think that based on the title that would be exactly what it would have been about.
Whether one believes chronic Lyme disease/post Lyme disease syndrome is caused by a chronic infection or not should not affect the fact that patients are suffering from a condition which is not "all in their heads". Articles like the above characterize doctors and patients in the worst light without getting the full picture or an accurate one, while simultaneously failing to examine, state, and challenge the range of research on the disease itself. Anyone reading that article would walk away not having learned more about Lyme disease in general - let alone any reason why some people may think it can be a persistent infection and other people think it cannot.
This article is not the only article or the first article to become a meal to feed the trolls. There have been others. And because so many of these sensationalist articles have been printed, they have made it more difficult for the public to take my condition seriously. A condition which - as you may recall - an academic researcher said that at its worst was equal in severity of symptoms and lack of functionality in patients with congestive heart failure.
9) Because having my condition has been life changing and entirely game changing for me. All the plans I had before I got ill have been completely trashed. Many opportunities I would have said "yes" to I ended up having to turn down. And as such, for a number of these plans and opportunities - there are no second chances.
This is the same story that many people could say about other conditions, I know: Car accidents leave people with injuries and disabilities that can affect them for the rest of their lives. Cancer and many chronic conditions can affect people for the rest of their lives, too. Someone with my condition shares this much in common with many other people. And we might improve; we might not. No one knows.
That said, I can not easily describe just how much I have lost to my condition and complications related to it. Lost income and the loss of my career and the ability to work, lost opportunities to travel and go hiking in the mountains, lost time spent with friends and family because of illness preventing me from participating in events, lost positive life changes such as buying my own home and filling it with the things I want... all of these things and more have happened to me and many other people.
But these are the big things. Sometimes even the small things can be a noticeable and painful loss. Not being able to wash my own back put me at an all time low when it happened.
10) Because just living with my condition and all the symptoms it causes is crazymaking, and few people really understand it. They don't "get it". Seeing someone with a broken leg makes it clear to someone else that something is wrong and what their limitations are - seeing someone like me makes it clear as mud what is wrong and what my limitations are. And things change from day to day.
This is a more difficult thing to explain, and perhaps some of it can be better articulated by web sites about invisible illnesses. My own attempt at it is to say imagine that you have a splitting headache almost constantly, have trouble taking full breaths day and night, your muscles ache - and ache worse with any repetitive motion, even after a short period of time, and your joints ache all over your body. And no one can see the pain you are in. At most, they can see you are moving more slowly than they would be. But other than that - you appear normal to them.
And tomorrow, those symptoms might change. But still be limiting and make you dysfunctional in different ways.
This is a small snapshot of how life has been for me. Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse. But if it weren't for walking around with a cane or borrowing a scooter to get around, a lot of people may not see that anything is wrong with me. Someone with a broken leg has the benefit of an obvious visual sign they are messed up. I don't. And because of this, some people have either forgotten I'm not well when they next see me - or worse, don't believe I am unwell in the first place.
And if I am at home in bed? That's a truly invisible illness - out of sight, out of mind.
That is its own problem: lack of external confirmation and validation of my condition.
Another problem related to this is my not knowing what to expect from my body and to expect from myself from one day to the next - and sometimes one moment to the next.
I may be able drive to the doctor's office, the hardware store and grocery store and come back home and still have the strength and energy to do something else the same day. I may not, and have trouble getting out of bed at all. On those days - if I get back and forth to the bathroom - that's my travel for the day.
Attached to that is a host of problems around how difficult it is to make plans and keep them, and the economic, social, and other costs that come with poor follow-through.
I feel alienated about living in my own body. It doesn't cooperate with what I want and need to do. And at times, the pain, fatigue, and isolation are hard to bear. I hurt. I've lost sleep on many nights because pain kept me awake. I've had to struggle through that pain alone, and wished there was someone to keep me company through it - yet at the same time, did not want to subject anyone to my misery.
Sometimes I don't even want company - and the funny thing is, during those times I don't like my own company, either. I become a total ass. I find my own ruminations while ill to be counterproductive and leading down the path to a dark and deep sense of hopelessness, one where there is no point in making plans for the future because I'm likely not able to keep them anyway. Serious depression here.
And even when I reach a stretch of acceptance of my condition and its limitations (and there is acceptance, but it's part of an ongoing process where it is revisited and not a destination where I can park), living with it is still so damn HARD...
When I am around other people, I feel like the ghost at the table. I am there, but mentally and physically not solid. I can affect things, but only indirectly and weakly compared to one's normal human form. I can hear people and engage in conversation with them, but from my own perspective it always seems as if there is a thick layer of atmosphere I have to communicate through where speaking requires extra force to push the words out of my mouth and listening is like trying to decipher the words of people talking underwater. All of this communication takes extra effort I never needed to make before I got sick. I never would have even imagined one could get sick in such a way that normal social interaction would be draining. This is what chronic fatigue and brain fog are like. I didn't know it until I got it.
This is hard on an extrovert, and over time I've had to become more and more introverted in order to cope and adapt to my condition. I "don't have any spoons" to be the energetic and engaging person I used to be. I don't have it in me. Only a few people close to me are lucky enough to see a glimmer of my former self for brief moments of time.
In a very real sense, my condition has robbed me of being me. Which is one of the highest insults I can imagine any condition causing to anyone. I've been forced to become someone I do not want to be because of my condition. How sucky is that? It's pretty sucky.
So this is the end of part 2 of why dealing with Lyme disease drives me crazy. Maybe there will be a part 3 sometime in the future - I don't know. For now, I'll leave it at this.
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