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Cross training

New practice, new healing

Healing through cross-training
Surprises. Some are fabulous, whereas others we could live without. Before I was diagnosed with Lyme I never would have guessed that it could happen to me. Took me completely by surprise. But the nastiest blow was being told by the IDSA doctor, “Looks like MS. My advice is to apply for disability, get a wheelchair, and get ready to spend the rest of your life in it.”

Needless to say, I changed doctors, and was lucky enough to stumble upon a group of smart ones who had a clue about Lyme, and as much faith in me as I had in myself. I didn't get a wheelchair. I learned to walk, talk, and think straight again even through the pain. Over a period of years, I found ways to heal my body, mind and spirit through cross-training.


Time is a river
I thought about the element of surprise yesterday. A friend told me an anecdote about the way different cultures perceive the concept of time. Westerners and Easterners envision time differently. Both see time as a river.

However, in the West we imagine that events flow towards us from the horizon, approaching the present moment where we stand. In front of us, we see future events as they approach. When the event/time has past, it disappears behind, fading into memory.

Easterners imagine time's river approaching from behind. The future comes up from behind, like a surprise. It isn't visible until it's upon us. As events pass by, they flow away to the horizon, fading gradually from memory, appearing smaller and farther away as they go.

Lyme disease was like that for me. It attacked out of the blue, and engulfed my present moments for many years. But gratefully, as the time of being so sick has faded into the horizon, I see it from an increasingly distant perspective. And life continues to come up from behind and surprise me.


Starting a practice
I recently did something that I wanted to do when I was a teenager, at which time circumstances intervened, so I never got around to it. So it seemed a bit surprising, a little out-of-the-blue when recently I started taking Taekwondo lessons at a local studio. The present moment snuck up from behind once again. But this is no brutal blow like Lyme delivered. It's a nice surprise.

Starting a martial arts practice in my 50s – peri-menopause and post-Lyme. Ha, ha, right? Yes, I have stepped out of my comfort zone. And in spite of however it looks, I'm going for it. Even if I look silly, or have to push myself really hard. Even if I am really bad at it. Which I am. But I will stick with it, because it's fun, challenging, and has benefits for the brain (and god knows, I can use all the help I can get).

In fact, physical exercise is reported to be better for improving cognitive functions than even mental exercise. My brand of cross-training has always included an exercise component, but martial arts is well suited to my needs, because it's a body-mind-spirit practice. You have to find what works for you. When I was fighting Lyme at the acute stage, I couldn't even handle much walking, let alone do martial arts. For help regaining my balance, slower, meditative exercises such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong were well-suited.


Importance of community
The Taekwondo community my partner and I joined is a family-friendly place. Very supportive. Folks are each at their own stage of development. There are lots of women and children, and people of every age, from three-year-olds to at least one 70-something. Some have been at it for years, some are newbies. Everyone has something to teach or offer.

I practiced with a 5 year-old yesterday whose listening skills were, embarrassingly, better than mine. As instructed, he nonchalantly executed five perfect kicks in a row. Meantime, I lost track of count and lost my balance. Ten minutes later, I was mirroring an economics professor, a black belt. He helped me aim my roundhouse kick more precisely. Following that, I sparred with a woman ten inches taller and four years more experienced than me.


Astonishing turnaround
Another beginner, a 43 year-old pediatric endocrinologist (I know, it's a mouthful), told me she had decided to start training because of a patient of hers. He is a member of the community too. She saw him go through astonishing changes over the course of his seven years of practice. He is 18 now, and was diagnosed with diabetes at age six. He had been overweight and at times severely depressed. Last Saturday we watched him skillfully earn his first-degree adult black belt. Afterward, he read aloud a personal essay he'd written about his healing journey through martial arts. He's headed off to college, a dream that when he was child, he assumed would never come true.

But the future is full of surprises. Some surprises we will abhor. Others we appreciate. Perhaps in the end it equals out, I don't know.

Can you recall any good surprises in your life since Lyme? If you're not there yet, it's okay. Sometimes it helps to hear stories of courage and victory. Other times, not so much. It depends on where you are on your path. My wish for every person suffering from Lyme or any chronic illness is always this: Persevere. Find the right healing path, diet, medicine, and Lyme doctors for you. Find a community of people who will cheer you on, offer you a hand up when you lose your balance, and celebrate your victories when you succeed. The river of time is on your side.

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Actively healing from Lyme

“The more you see, the more you care. The more you care, the more you participate.”
-- Diane Hamilton

As a supporter of a multi-faceted approach to healing chronic Lyme, I try to read widely and
consider many different types of advice from a wide range of teachers and experts. The quote
above is from one of my meditation teachers. She is referring to the benefit of developing
the ability to see more perspectives. To see is to acknowledge and recognize the value in a
perspective that may be different from one we normally take.

I think this is valuable advice, particularly in light of
Lyme treatment where so much contention
divides doctors, limiting their points of view instead of expanding them. Does it have to come
down to “either/or” choices between Western medicine and natural or alternative therapies?
Or can we embrace a healthy “both/and” perspective to include whatever works best for each
individual?

What works for one of us may not work for another. Further, what works at one stage may
not be best for another stage. In my own case, it’s taken some careful experimenting to find
out what works. For example, I began treatment on what used to be known as an “antibiotic
cocktail,” which included several different strong antibiotics administered orally for at least six
months. But when I couldn’t afford to continue, I started the
r Cowden's updated Lyme protocol">Cowden protocol. I stayed on that
for about three years. I switched to Teasel root extract after that. And now, I take a handful of
supplements every morning and remain stable and healthy.

But the key to my current state of good health, I’m convinced, is that multi-faceted approach. I
am devoted to strengthening my body as well as stretching it, so I do strength training exercises
as well as yoga. I cured a frozen shoulder using these exercises a few years ago, when most of
my
Lyme symptoms were well on their way out. I knew another woman at the time who suffered
from the same painful condition in her shoulder. She was able to afford treatments administered
by a chiropractor, who used electricity to break up the adhesions. She regained use of her arm
about a year into treatment. My arms continue to get stronger and feel fine, all through simple
push-ups and yoga. We both got the treatment we needed. Hers was passive. Mine was active.

When we do whatever we can to help ourselves heal, we become stronger and more aware.
Our healing is not only in the hands of the doctors, although I thank god for good doctors
every day. It’s in our own hands as well. It isn’t an either/or situation. It’s a both/and. Trust your
instinct. Read tons. Use every approach you can think of, diet, exercise, meditation, study,
medicines -- prescription and/or complementary or alternative.

In the New Year, let’s continue to use all our awareness to develop a more comprehensive path
of healing from Lyme at any stage. Let’s see more perspectives, allow ourselves to care more
deeply, and participate more vigorously in our own healing.
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An integral approach to healing from Lyme

Lyme affects all the systems in the body, including the brain and therefore the mental state. It seems important to recognize that Lyme, as a complex disease that can be very hard to heal from, must be treated from as many angles as possible.

I’m not writing about this approach simply because I read about it somewhere and thought it sounded good. I’m a walking, talking example of someone who beat Lyme because I practice an integral approach myself. It begins with recognizing that in any given event, there are four perspectives that represent the fundamental dimensions of an illness, as stated in the post above:
  • Physical state
  • Mental state
  • Cultural views
  • Social systems

We’ve already touched on the first two angles, and explored how you can see one but not the other. The doctors can treat your physical body with medicines while often missing entirely your state of mental-emotional health. Sometimes mental problems can clear up when only the body receives treatment. Other times it takes another approach.

Cultural views, the third angle, include other peoples’ thoughts and opinions about your experience. Think about the impact that your family members and friends’ ideas about your illness have influenced or affected you. Whose advice do you seek out in times of trouble? Your psychologist, your BFF, your mom, and the opinions of other important tribe members all play a role in your approach to healing Lyme. And in many cases, this has proved itself not a simple disease to heal. What happens to the people who have experienced recurring symptoms?

Say, for example, that your manager at work came across an article that restates the IDSA’s guidelines for Lyme treatment, and he knows you have completed the requisite three weeks of doxycycline when you suddenly begin to complain of arthritis or fatigue -- again. If he believes hands-down that the IDSA must know the optimal treatment for Lyme, he may not believe that you are still not well. He may even suspect that your symptoms are “all in your head.”

I remember when a writer friend whom I trust and admire queried me about my pain. I had confided at lunch that I was having trouble writing because I couldn’t remember from one sentence to the next what I had just said. You look fine, he insisted. I was hurt. It felt like betrayal. He didn’t believe me, and I hated being put in the position of having to defend my illness. The opinions of others still hold sway even if they’re wrong.  On the other hand, when others believe in us and hold a space for our healing, it can feel as liberating as fresh air. It opens the way for our progress.

The fourth angle of the integral approach is the social systems. Think of the health care system, and whether or not you can afford access to coverage. Can you not get access because you’ve been denied, or because you had to quit your job and can’t afford COBRA? Systems are simply there whether you are aware of them or not. The emergency room, for example, is a social safety-net system. If you haven’t been privy to a doctor’s care for one reason or another you may wind up in the ER in a health crisis. That’s an example of falling unintentionally into a social system that may be your only option. An example of an intentional use of a system may be your own research into alternative care, which leads you to an integrative doctor and a trip to the pharmacy for herbal tinctures and supplements.

As you can see, the social systems available to us are largely influenced by where we live, which country, and how near or far we are to the kind of doctor or medical team we need. Many people with Lyme disease have come up against the cruel realization that not enough medical professionals are educated about diagnosing or treating Lyme. Numerous people have had to travel by air across state lines, sometimes thousands of miles, to get to a doctor that will give them appropriate treatment. Social systems are not incidental to the story. They lie at the heart of it, influencing the outcome just as cogently as do the other three angles.

Bear in mind that these four perspectives are not unique to illness but always arise naturally, and always together, in any given event you can think of. Even when you’re healthy you can still identify all of these dimensions. Each area only tells a part of the story. Each part contributes to our experience as a whole. They cannot be separated.

Once we recognize how these dimensions work together in our day-to-day life, it’s easy to see where things are functioning well and where they aren’t. Being aware of dysfunction gives us a much better chance to change it. And to get better.

Learn more about this approach on the
Beat Lyme page.
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Fight Lyme from every angle

Lyme is a multi-systemic disease, which means it can affect all the systems in the body, including the brain. Many people discover that Lyme symptoms must be treated from as many angles as possible. But how can we be certain we’re hitting them all?  

These four angles represent the fundamental perspectives that arise in any illness, in fact these four angles are always present for everyone, healthy as well as ill:
  • Physical state
  • Mental state
  • Cultural views
  • Social systems


Consider the way these fit together in your life. For now, let’s talk about the first two, because it’s easy to see how they work together, although they differ in one crucial way. You can see one, but not the other.

Conventional Lyme protocols treat the physical body -- your physical symptoms. That’s one angle. Even if your doctor uses alternative medicine, for example, prescribing herbal tinctures instead of conventional antibiotics, he is still addressing the physical symptoms. And as Lyme symptoms vary from person to person, your doctor might be primarily prescribing treatment to address your arthritis, while also treating a different patient for Lyme fatigue and rash.

Conventional medicine emphasizes treatment of the physical state with good reason. The physical body is what we see. It’s easy to see many symptoms or their effects, such as the sudden wince of someone suffering with arthritic pain. Many illnesses and conditions can and should be treated primarily from this one angle. You break a leg, you go to an orthopedic doctor.

But what about the mental state?
People with Lyme disease often have the experience of seeming normal to our friends and family members even though we know that inside, something is off. Very off.  They may declare “but you don’t look sick.” They may not be able to tell from the outside, but our inner view could be garbled and fuzzy, and it can vary from day to day or depending on the medicines we take. I used to have the odd feeling that I was somehow living underwater, just a few inches from the surface, so close but so far away from normal. It was weird to think that people thought of me as “okay,” because I knew I wasn’t quite.

Integrative physicians, in contrast to conventional doctors, are in the business of addressing the mental state in addition to the physical. How do they accomplish this? For starters, they talk to their patients and they listen. They ask how they feel. Patients may be asked to guess at what they think the problem is, and they are generally encouraged to play an active role in their own treatment.

These patients typically feel gratified for having been listened to and taken seriously. Doctors who listen are thought of as open-minded by their patients. Instead of simply being poked and prodded and treated like a slab of meat, patients feel respected and even energized by sessions with their doctor. Energetic exchanges or meaningful conversations can contribute to a patient’s mental health, leaving them feeling optimistic about the future of their state of physical health. That’s two angles.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the third and fourth perspectives and explore the ways in which they contribute to the whole picture of healing from Lyme.

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