panic! At 2 a.m.
“Are you feeling better?” people sometimes ask.
I normally pause.
“I guess so?” I say. “To be honest, it’s hard to tell.”
I want to be totally better, to have a clear definition between sick and better. But chronic illnesses like late-stage Lyme don’t work like that. It’s like having a cold that lingers and you think that everyday might be the last day and tomorrow will be better, but it isn’t. Then you slowly start to forget what feeling better is like and your baseline of feeling “normal” changes. Occasionally, you’ll wake up and find you don’t have the cold anymore, but you don’t know what or why it finally stopped.
This is the in-between phase. The phase of unknowns, of doctors who remind you to be patient, of feelings of desperation to try anything that might help. I take 15 pills a day. I eat a strict anti-inflammatory diet. I detox through infrared sauna sessions. I sit in hyperbaric oxygen chambers to boost my immune system. When I can manage, I practice yin yoga and “slowga” to help calm and balance my nervous system. I pay close attention to my body – almost to the point where I’m tired of being so attentive to it.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to write today because the past week has been an absolute bender of emotions – a state in which I’ve always been uncomfortable.
To add further to my list of frustrations, last night I experienced my first panic attack. Ever. I’m talking middle-of-the-night-in-a-deep-sleep-but-your-body-wakes-you-up-anyways attack.
Panic and anxiety attacks are common with late-stage Lyme, but this was my first experience of having one. Let me tell you, it freaked me out. Since I’ve experienced vasovagal syncope with occasional seizures for the past 8 years, my first thought was that this was a combination of the two – my struggle to breath, pressure on my chest, full body-convulsions - weren’t exactly new. However, it was new to experience them all at once in the middle of the night for an extended period of time. Even as I tried to reach a state of calm through deep breathing, my breath continued to escape me and an overall feeling of being out of control coursed through my body.
This got me thinking about control.
To recover from late-stage Lyme disease is to battle for control – control of symptoms, treatments, emotions, reactions to your diagnosis by others, the length of time your life is on “pause,” etc. In other words, it’s the ego seeking control – control over circumstances, the body, and the people around you.
Last night was a physical and powerful reminder that only to a certain degree can I control the circumstances of my recovery. Sure, I want to be better, like, yesterday, but clearly that’s not the journey I’m meant to experience.
Power and mastery are what matters to the ego, so naturally the ego will resist any form of surrender. But last night I found myself forced to let go and surrender to my circumstances. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t control my body or my breath or the wave of emotions rapidly unfurling. I succumbed to the stress that has been building in my body for months, to the wave of panic that refused to remain unseen.
But last night’s panic attack was a reminder that while I’m not always in control of my physical body, I do have the power to change the language of fear and frustration that has slowly crept into my thoughts and vocabulary – to rewire a relationship and cultivate a language of love and kindness towards my self and my circumstances.
So today I choose to focus on my gifts and blessings (like my parents who comforted me last night and my friends who reached out to share similar experiences). I choose to focus on my love, dedication, good intentions, and the forgiveness and compassion that come with accepting your true self.
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