11 years ago this week I contracted Lyme disease. I was 15 years old, energetic, happy, looking forward to college, and planning to be a missionary to Thailand. I traveled a lot that summer and never found the tick bite, so it’s unclear when exactly I was bit. It was most likely at my high school summer camp, given the woodsy nature of the camp.
I came down with a flu-like illness with bad body aches. But unlike the flu, the pain didn’t go away. Instead it grew stronger and more symptoms sparked up over the next 5 years before I was diagnosed. I became more and more sick as the bacteria was spread unchecked to every bodily system. By the time I finally was diagnosed with Lyme disease, I had colorful spots and large white opaque shapes in my blurred vision. I had night terrors, anxiety, and sleep paralysis, when I wasn’t fighting insomnia. I had moderate to sometimes severe joint pain in every inch of me from my hands, to my toes, to everything in between. I had terrible nausea and dizziness. My muscles sporadically twitched at random, I had hot flashes and chills. I had difficulty controlling my hands to produce legible letters; words and letters would be in the wrong order as I wrote. Both my longterm and short term memories were affected, as I sometimes got lost on my college campus, mixed up morning and night times, and found myself unable to recall the names of my familiar friends. My immune system was completely overloaded, I caught cold after flu, after flu after cold. Severe headaches plagued me day and night while ringing in my ears filled any silence.
Before I was diagnosed, I was so ill that I could no longer carry on at my college. I had to drop out and move back in with my family. I had run out of options. I had been tested for so many things only to have those tests come back clean and clear, with no answers to what was tormenting me. I had lost all hope that I would recover, and indeed, I was so sick I wondered if I would soon die from this unknown illness.
I had wrestled with God for five years as I questioned His will in allowing this unnamed illness to limit me and to change my plans–the plans I thought were His. But after five years I was so tired and so worn out. I could feel my body shutting down. I had my appointment on the calendar to meet the Lyme doctor, but I didn’t know what would come of it, so many appointments before had been useless. In the weeks before my appointment I surrendered my life to God; surrendering myself even to death if that was what God was indeed calling me to. I was filled with peace as I came to realize that even if my life would be short, and even if I never made it to Thailand or got married or had kids or made any kind of lasting impact in the eyes of the world; I had done enough. I would have lived as long as God had required me to and I did the best with the abilities I had and that was enough for me.
But as you know, I am still alive. I went to that appointment and I had my blood tested and I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. To receive a diagnosis, the name of my enemy, and the hope of recovery with treatment, it is a feeling I cannot do justice to describe. To go from no hope of recovery to the promise of recovery after 5 long and difficult years filled me with an incredible and joyous huge sigh of relief. But I still had a far way to go on my journey, as I now had to focus on beating Lyme.
I immediately started on treatment of antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals because I didn’t just have Lyme disease. My body was so broken down with Lyme that the door was left open for dormant viruses and molds to wreak havoc. The treatment, while I was so grateful to be receiving it, made all of my symptoms even worse at first. But gradually, I started to feel better. I was told I’d be better in 6 months. But Lyme is so difficult to beat in the later stages. I ended up being treated for 2 years before I finally had my test results come back clean and clear of Lyme. I lived free of Lyme for 1 year, but then relapsed and went back on treatment for 6 weeks before I beat it again. It’s been 2 years now since my relapse; 3 years since beating Lyme disease the first time.
Today I as reflect back on my journey, I can see how it would be easy to look on all of this as a negative, bad period of my life. It would seem like something I would want to forget, to put in the box of the past and close the lid on it forever, to press forward and move on. But… without having gone through this experience, and continuing to go through this experience as a Lyme survivor, I wouldn’t have experienced so many positives in my life.
Living with a chronic and debilitating illness has shaped me. It has made me into the person I am today. The long nights of worry and fear solidified my trust in God as I called out to Him in my dark moments. The sleepless nights opened the door to a personal prayer ministry, as I lay awake at night and prayed for ministries, friends, family, and kept a prayer journal. The doctor’s visits that left me confused and hopeless pushed me to turn to God for help and trust in the hope we have in heaven and our renewed bodies that we will receive there.
Without Lyme disease, I wouldn’t have dropped out of college, moved back to my home area, and then met and married my husband. I wouldn’t have had my sweet little baby girl, and my wonderful in-laws in my family.
I didn’t become a missionary to Thailand, but I did go to Thailand on a mission trip. Being there after reading about it and studying the culture and language for so long was a life-changing dream come true. That passion and that drive I had to go didn’t go to waste. God has used that in me to uniquely prepare me for being a wife to my husband, and for joining his family. My husband is Chinese-American and his parents speak little English; but because I studied the Thai language I found that I could pronounce the difficult sounds in Cantonese. When our cultures have clashed, we’ve had smooth-sailing because of the similarities with the Thai culture that I studied. It’s not upsetting or earth-shaking to me when we had to change our wedding date because the date we chose was unlucky for our birthdays.
Without Lyme disease, I wouldn’t have had this blog for the past 5 years. I wouldn’t be a part of the Lyme community and the even larger chronic illness community. I wouldn’t have the personal ministry that I have to my followers that have contacted me directly through comments on the blog, Facebook messages, and emails asking for advice, encouragement, and prayer. As much as I’ve written on this blog, I’ve written even more in the messages to people who have needed help. It has been my blessing to be able to use my experience and share my faith with those who need it most.
In short, although this post has been far from short; I am thankful that I was brought on this journey of Lyme disease. I thank God for everything He has done in me and through me on this journey and I pray that He will continue to use me and work in me in the anniversaries to come.
May you be encouraged by the work God has done in me. I pray for anyone reading this who is still in the fight against Lyme disease that you will recover and count yourself among the survivors. I pray that all you fighters will be encouraged and strengthened in the fight and that you will be filled with God’s peace as you learn to trust Him in your journey.
-Beth Leung, aka LymeDiseaseVictor
If you would like to reach me directly for prayer, encouragement, advice from my experiences, or to inquire about speaking engagements, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.