I’d like to tell my story today. I cannot guarantee you won’t cry, but I can assure you I won’t be crying. Why? Because the Lord God almighty knew it all before any of it happened, and He has worked it all for good in me! It took me 18 years to surrender my dreams for His, but after I did in the spring of 2015, He began to truly transform me into the likeness of His Son.
No longer am I weighed down with depression, loneliness from lack of friends or grief. No! He has given me beauty for ashes and turned my sorrow into JOY (Isaiah 61:3). Although I live in constant pain, I also live in constant JOY! It is my privilege to share my story below.
Twenty-nine years ago, while we were living in a suburb of Buffalo, NY, when my youngest was close to her second birthday, I was bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease. I’m not going to get into the details of the stages of Lyme (there are three). You can go to www.Lymenet.orgfor any information you may need.
I had no clue I’d been bitten, because when ticks latch on, they inject an anesthetic, making it impossible to feel a bite, as you would from a mosquito.
The only clue I had was the horrendous “flu” I became sick with about two months later. It was the most intense I’d ever experienced with my fever shooting up to 103-104 degrees within an hour or so. and staying that way for 6-8 hours.
After being sick at the toilet (at both ends) for several hours, I lay in bed in agony, aching in my bones. This aching continued for several weeks after that initial “flu.” Yet, my husband and I assumed I’d gotten a nasty bug that, praise God, neither he nor the children got.
Life went on until the following year when the same thing happened. Walks in the wooded area in our neighborhood, kicking through glorious fall leaves on the paths! This time, my husband remembers I had a very mild, pink, slightly raised rash on my inner, left forearm. Just about the time I was ready to call my doctor, the rash faded away. A new bite with a reinfection…. A new bout with the horrendous “flu.”
Life continued, but I had the same experience with the “flu” the next year, sans the rash. I began to believe I might be destined to have this weird flu every winter! All we could do was praise the Lord none of the rest of the family got sick with it.
I continued to do quite well the first couple of years after my last reinfection. I developed odd symptoms that seemed completely unrelated to each other, but rarely serious enough to see my family doctor. My children thrived as I tried to keep up with them.
I have Bipolar, type II disorder, something I didn’t know I had until two years after my Lyme diagnosis years later. However, I can see now how Lyme aggravated those symptoms to such a degree that I was either verbally abusing my kids while I was manic or neglecting them when depressed. My manias are not “happy,” but are energetic with lots of anger and OCD symptoms. My girls were normal in that they were not perfect at putting toys away “just so,” making beds. etc. to my, ridiculously high standards.
On the outside, we were the perfect family, but in truth I was a hypocrite, wearing two faces – one public and one private.
The beat went on, however. Somehow, our son learned to adapt himself to my unpredictable moods, so he just kept his head down and did exactly what he was told to do. As a result, we favored him. This was so hurtful to our girls, two years and five years younger than he, that it has taken years for us to be truly reconciled. Praise be to the Lord He did just that over the years during my recovery from Bipolar!
It wasn’t until we made a permanent move to southern CA for my husband’s job, that my Lyme worsened so much I could no longer function normally at all.
We were involved in a wonderful church and just beginning to make friends when I was struck down by my new, bewildering symptoms. I went from a very active lifestyle to sleeping 18 hours a day and barely able to shuffle around the house. I set my alarm to wake up in time to drive my kids to school, returned home to sleep until the next alarm sounded, so I could pick them all up. I went back to bed again, often unable to crawl out long enough to make dinner or eat at all.
The guilt I felt for being so sick and burdening my husband and kids with having to make dinner, doing their own laundry and trusting the kids to do their best at their homework was suffocating. Add to that the fact that my new friends melted away, you can see how I became very depressed and so lonely.
There were so many changes at church that kept me from making and keeping friends that it discouraged me deeply. But friends forgot me, as it was/is a huge church. If I had the strength to go, people were amazed. They thought we’d quit coming!
I was wounded ever so deeply when the woman I considered my best friend at that time abandoned me and cut off all contact with me. I knew her opinion of “weak” people, and I was certainly that now! Our youngest daughter was bereft over the loss of her friendships with their two boys and blamed me.
After two years of increasing pain, weakness and exhaustion, I found a doctor, through the word of a woman at church, who might be able to help me. It was from her lips I finally heard the word “Lyme.” I was convinced I did not have it, however, because I never had any “classic” symptoms, the main one being a bull’s eye rash. She insisted I needed to see him. She also had Lyme and was in second stage.
I made an appointment, and my husband drove me 100 miles one way through freeway congestion to see him. When I made the appointment the receptionist, his wife, told me to write as much history down as I could remember and to use my husband as a source, since she said I would forget many symptoms.
Dr. Ling went over my history in detail and gave me the most thorough physical exam of my life. He declared I had Lyme, based on my history of symptoms, even as he sent me across the street to have blood drawn to send to an IGENEX laboratory in Palo Alto. They were and still are the only lab in the country to do all three tests needed to diagnose Lyme correctly. My lab work came back very positive two weeks later.
In the meantime, Dr. Ling put me on a strong dose of Amoxicillin. When I returned in two weeks, he added a strong dose of Doxycycline. The Doxy caused severe burns on whatever body part was exposed to the sun, so he took me off that and prescribed Biaxin, an excellent substitute. Unbeknownst to me, the Biaxin caused my moods to shift dramatically.
I thank God for that, since it ultimately led me to a therapist, who recommended an excellent, Christian psychiatrist. After taking several personality tests, she diagnosed me with Bipolar, type II, which is mostly depressive and whose manias are not happy, unlike people with Bipolar type I. No wonder my behavior was nothing like my biological father’s! We had always known there was something wrong emotionally, but nothing was diagnosedDuring the time of initial Bipolar treatment, I met a young woman who was interning as a marriage and family therapist through a Christian counseling office in our city. After 15 years of therapy, she has become my dearest friend and confidante, as well as my biggest cheerleader!
Life went on, as I experienced severe die-off symptoms of Lyme bacteria, called Herxeimer’s Reactions. Old symptoms returned, some I’d totally forgotten about. I would “herx” for two weeks and have two “better” weeks. This cycle continued for about two and a half years, so making friends was still next to impossible, as I could never commit to any kind of activity with them. Sometimes, I’d herx more often than every two weeks.
So began my roller coaster ride of die-off reactions and trying to become stable on the medications my psychiatrist was prescribing.
As I learned more about Bipolar in general, I found out Biaxin causes severe mood swings. I told Dr. Ling, and he immediately replaced Biaxin with Zithromax, which was his last, effective medication for Lyme treatment.
I so wished at the beginning that my insurance would have paid for me to have I.V. antibiotics for six months to two years, but insurance companies didn’t and still don’t pay for that necessary treatment for me and thousands of other Lyme patients.
I improved, but was left with deep bone pain, including all my major joints and back from top to bottom, as well as increasing nerve pain in my left upper torso.
I made a change in my family doctor about five years into my treatment, because I was confident she would believe I had Lyme, as my former doctor had, and keep me on my antibiotics. I was feeling so well by then!
Alas, like most doctors, she thought Lyme disease was a fake illness even though I’d lived for 11 years in a Lyme-endemic area. She refused to continue my antibiotics, and my symptoms began to return within a year.
Trying to find somebody who knows how to treat Lyme is a challenge, especially in southern CA. I found a doctor, who wanted only to treat me with alternative treatments, which cost us a small fortune.
I had an episode where my arms and legs were spastic and weak. I couldn’t use them at all, so my daughter drove me to the local E.R. since my husband was out of town.
I slept through every test they ran that day. The exhaustion reminded me of my cases of flu of the past. However, nothing definitive was discovered; I was released after a day. I was to see a neurologist the following week. He found nothing either. I was sent home from the hospital with a walker and an appointment with a physical therapist who came to the house.
It took eight weeks to recover full mobility in my limbs. At the start of those eight weeks, my husband took me to my supposed Lyme specialist in a wheelchair, who said the spasticity and weakness had nothing to do with Lyme. I fired him a little over a year later….
During those eight, long weeks, I longed for human interaction less fleeting than that I received from my family, who were so busy. I called our church and asked for a visit from the two women who led the Women’s Bible Study, which I attended. I waited several days; the visit and conversation were stilted at best. They left, much to my relief, after approximately 30 minutes.
As the years went by, my identity became enmeshed with both illnesses – Lyme and Bipolar. The few acquaintances I had at church saw me as “sick,” and I was told by many of them that, if I just prayed harder, read my Bible more, and trusted God fully, I would be healed. In other words, it was my fault I was still sick.
This is common to those of us with chronic illnesses. I cannot tell you how many times a well-meaning Christian told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. Believe me, I did pray; I begged God to heal me of both illnesses! I was prayed over and anointed with oil, and I truly believed my God was able!
Yet, year after year slid by with no healing and, in fact, worsening symptoms as I sought out new Lyme “specialists.”
I became bitter, and like Naomi in the book of Ruth, I renamed myself “Mara,” which mean bitterness. On the outside, I looked fine. Folks always told me when they saw me how great I looked. What they couldn’t see was the excruciating pain I was in physically. As Jesus instructed His disciples when they fasted: They were to go about their day looking well, so that only the Father would know they were suffering from hunger. I tried to do the same.
I was starving for love and friendship, but nobody seemed to care because I “looked great.” I attended Bible study at church and shared my struggles with the ladies around the table at which I sat. To no avail. There was never an invitation to go for coffee, lunch or an activity, although I knew from their conversations around the table each week, they were spending plenty of time together outside of Bible study. As I said, my identity at church was “sick Sheri…..”
You can understand, I’m sure, why I felt always on the outside looking in longingly. I ached for a deep and lasting friendship. At the same time, I was closing myself off from God, who I saw as the One who was keeping me locked in my high tower away from human love. My husband loved me, but I longed for a girlfriend!
I sank into what is called “low-grade depression.” I went through the motions of Christianity. That lasted for about 15 years.
Then, my husband decided to lead a Navigator’s 2:7 discipleship experience, and I came alive. The people involved were eager to learn and participate and socialize. I had a couple of ladies who became my dear friends and another who joined later who is also a wonderfully close friend.
I was able to share my transformation with them, and I’m sharing it with you today! In 2 Corinthians 3:18, God’s Word says “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
In a process of transformation or transfiguration, as the original Greek says, we are all being remade into the same likeness as Christ Himself. We simply have to trust Him enough to give up our shattered dreams for His much better ones for our lives!