Lauren Lovejoy : Lyme Warrior
A few years ago, I lived the life of a normal 20-something. I worked for a legal office by day, went to graduate school at night, and filled any of my remaining time at the gym doing CrossFit, or staying social.
One weekend, I was making the 8-hour drive down to Atlanta for a tattoo appointment, a trip I had made millions of times and began to have a panic attack. It started slow, but by the time I got to the Georgia border, I was shaking and having an almost out-of-body experience – something that had never happened to me before. I somehow pulled myself through the appointment, and extremely slowly, I made the drive home, and chalked the whole incident up to a fluke or stress.
I returned to my lifestyle of running around. Like a rookie, I went the gym, and got a small infection in my fresh tattoo, so I went to a dermatologist; she gave me an antibiotic and I was on my way. A few days later, I was sitting in class and all of the sudden, I felt like my body had spontaneously caught on fire from the inside while my outside layer felt like ice, mixed with disorientation. I sat quietly waiting to see what was happening and then my vision began to tunnel. I fully lost my sight for a second. When I snapped back I grabbed my phone and excused myself quickly from class. I called my friend and was taken to a hospital where they never got around to seeing me; after three hours, the feelings slowly subsided. What I didn’t know then was that I had my first delayed allergic reaction to medication, a phenomenon that many doctors still deny its existence.
For the next month, I began having episodes where it felt like my body was fainting. I never lost consciousness, but it was an experience I could barely sit in a chair through. I went to about five doctors before I ended up going to see an allergist, who told me I was having delayed allergic reactions to food. This seemed odd to me, since I had never had any sensitivities in my life, but after a few weeks of removing the culprit foods, the reactions stopped happening.
However, while the reactions stopped, I became slowly sicker and sicker. I was so lightheaded, shaky, and generally weak, that I had issues functioning at my office job. I went to doctor after doctor, but after another month full of missed days of work, I had to acknowledge that I could not function.
I spent almost every day in bed. Lying down was the only small amount of relief from my symptoms. Sometimes, I could pull through a low-key get together with friends, but for the next year, I stayed bed-bound except to visit a multitude of doctors.
I saw piles of primary care doctors, every category of specialists (twice), and functional medicine, you name it, I tried it. On a particularly awful visit to a renowned neurologist, he put me through grueling tests, then, with no interest, told me that there was nothing that he, or any doctor could do for me. I had a rare and unidentifiable disease, and I needed to accept my life as being homebound. After a year of losing my independence, my job, my education, most of my friends, and just about anything that had given my life purpose, this was an absolute low for me. I dragged myself into attending therapy, and fully admitted to him that I was contemplating suicide if my life didn’t change. My current reality of being a burden on my family, and not being able to give back to society in any way was a fate that I could not live with.
On a phone call to a holistic clinic, the nurse politely informed me that they would not take me as a patient, because I lived too far from their clinic. This was the end of the line for me. I had no idea who else to turn to, and in my low, I completely unloaded my feelings and frustrations on this nurse. His response would change my life. He said, “Well, based on your symptoms, you sound like you have Lyme Disease.” I told him I had already been tested for Lyme twice. He encouraged me to go to a clinic in Washington, DC, anyway. At my point of desperation, I followed his advice, and ended up in a leading clinic where they diagnosed me with Lyme Disease.
What about a hundred doctors didn’t know, was that Lyme Disease tests are unreliable. Lyme is a clinical diagnosis, and more importantly, Lyme is a silent epidemic in the United States, and many other countries. For the next year, I was treated with combination pulsed antibiotics. I reached times of being so sick that I thought I wouldn’t make it through, to times of unimaginable rage, and a multitude of terrible symptoms. Eventually, a day came where I felt like a functional human again. Then it passed. Weeks of more suffering, then a few days of feeling good. Up and down, the rollercoaster of Lyme carried me. When I got to days that I could sit up and work at a computer (but still could not drive), I knew that despite my limitations, I had to change this.
During my time of learning about Lyme, I found that my story was extremely common and even optimal. Hundreds of thousands of people lived the same hell that I did, searching for an answer that 99% of doctors didn’t know about or openly rejected. A disease that had been documented for forty years, yet was still denied by my government, and most doctors.
I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew it was my job to try to keep this from happening to as many people as possible.
From my couch, I created a company called Lyme Warrior. Its focus was to stop being a victim, and to fight back against the injustice that comes with Lyme Disease. I used social media and reached out to others suffering with my message of what I wanted to accomplish. Within a few weeks, I had a small team of people backing me and supporting my business. From this team, we created a small online retail shop, we created projects that people could do from home, and most importantly, we spread our message wide and far that we were sick, but we were warriors. From our message and programs, we raised money for research, awareness, and to help those impoverished by our disease.
While I am still working through my treatment and cannot return to a normal 20-something life, everyday I wake up and push past my symptoms to get on my computer and change the face of Lyme. Until I can step outside, this gives me a way to fight and contribute every day. Lyme takes not only your health, but your independence. It may have put almost every aspect of my life on hold, but in the end I will win the fight and further fight back so that it cannot take from others what it took from me. I am a Lyme Warrior.