Mental Health, or well-being, is the absence of dis-ease or dis-order. The World Health Organization defines it as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” It is perhaps one of the most important aspects of successful treatment for Lyme disease. The state of one’s mental well-being directly effects treatment success. If you are doomed before you start, how can you expect to heal? Yet it is not quite that simple for many Lyme patients.
The very fact that the Lyme spirochete gets into our brains and can cause all sorts of problems adds an additional layer to it all. Then you add the pain, fatigue, disability, and other external influences that are often not supportive…..it is no wonder that suicide has become such a big problem with Lyme patients. Different people are affected to differing degrees, but we are all affected in some manner emotionally and psychologically by this disease. We often feel anxious, depressed, scared, alone, worthless, abandoned……we are often told we are lazy or hypochondriacs and it is “all in our head.”
So how are we expected to heal when our doctors, our insurance companies, our employers, our families, and our friends are seemingly NOT on our side? How are we supposed to keep a “positive” attitude and focus on healing when everything we are faced with tells us it is hopeless? Even our own Lyme community and support groups are plagued with negativity, doom and gloom, and in-fighting. Sometimes, I feel like throwing my arms up and declaring, “We’re all nuts!”
But, I know better than that. I know that regardless of what any person or textbook says….regardless of if anyone else on this planet believes me or understands…..I know that we each have the ability to get through it…..to win this fight………and even come out of it happy and more fulfilled. How you ask? Well, it is up to each individual to learn how to communicate with themselves….and part of that includes learning how to listen.
I don’t just mean the ego blabbing away in your head saying, “I told you so.” I don’t mean all of the replayed tapes of people telling you everything that is wrong with you. I mean that little voice that has been there for as long as you can remember…..the one that you usually ignore….the one that does not consult with reason……that inner voice that has never abandoned you. This is you! This is where your best information comes from, if you are willing to hear it and listen.
Now, I don’t mean to simplify this by any means. There are some chemical imbalances that require medicinal adjustments. There are some instances where therapy is necessary. But, for the most part, regardless of any additional treatment you may need or receive….it is ultimately up to you to claim your own mental health. And a lot of that begins with perspective and self-talk.
It also helps to surround yourself with allies and a support network. It is crucial to have someone there to cheer you on when you have those moments of losing sight and hope. If your family and friends aren’t there for you, find people who WILL support you.
Please take the time to read through the Success and Support pages. They contain a lot of tools that may help.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit the Suicide Prevention page for direct links.
Other Aspects of Mental Health & Well-Being:
The Human Condition
What I would like to focus on here is the most common emotions and psychological conditions that Lyme patients face and help provide some insight and tools on how to approach these issues. Let me begin by saying, you are not alone. In fact, even “healthy” people can have “psychological” issues. It’s called the human condition. So, stop judging yourself for whatever it is you are feeling.
Accept that it is okay to feel what you feel. Allow it to be there, but don’t hold on to it. Let it go as quickly as it arises. Let it run its course, but do not obsess on it. See it for what it is, an emotion…a valid message that you are trying to communicate to yourself.
It is important to determine if what you are facing is an emotional response to the circumstance, or a real psychological problem that needs professional intervention. There are many emotions that come along naturally with dealing with chronic illness. This does not necessarily mean anything is wrong, so long as you can cope with them somehow.
If you feel as though you cannot face this on your own, please seek professional help. I would encourage anyone who feels they need help to try counseling prior to taking medications as these can further symptoms and the initial causes. In some cases, particularly with pain and sleep management, it can cause addiction and make it difficult to discern what is the medication, what is Lyme, and what is you. Sleep issues tend to be due to pain and stress and often will resolve if both of those aspects are addressed. Unless it is determined to be medically necessary to take medication for psychological conditions, I would avoid it.
The Importance of Human Touch
Particularly with chronic illness, the importance of human touch is immeasurable. It is the physical manifestation of love in its purest and simplest form. As helpful as support groups are, phone conversations, emails, etc…..nothing is more healing than being touched by another human being.
A hug, snuggling with a loved one, even holding someone’s hand can make SUCH a huge difference. Having someone to sit with you at doctor’s appointments, hold your hand while having a procedure done, being there when you feel vulnerable and scared…….it helps with healing and perspective so very much!
Sadly, this disease often does the opposite; it causes people to abandon their loved ones out of fear and misunderstanding. It causes us to live an emotional roller coaster that is often too much for others to handle, and instead of trying to understand, they walk away. Many of us withdraw because it is so overwhelming, frightening, and we don’t want to feel like a burden.
I have noticed a pattern in those that have been successful with this disease and those that continue to worsen. This isn’t 100% across the board, but there is a significant difference in those that have had a strong physical support network, and those that are alone. It obviously depends on the person, their own resolve and capabilities to cope along with their physical condition. But, it is no surprise that those that receive a lot of love and support seem to weather this disease and come out okay from it. And those that are alone and abandoned tend to struggle and endure so much more pain and suffering.
Research shows that physical contact is not only important for children, but for everyone throughout their lives. It increases the rate of healing, improves immune and pulmonary function, and decreases stress hormones and blood sugar levels. Abandonment and feeling alone and unloved, on the other hand, creates stress, emotional and psychological instability, anxiety, and significantly reduces the chance of treatment success.
All of this has a profound effect on our mental, emotional, and physical health. If nothing else, this disease teaches us who really loves us, and who was contributing to the toxins in our lives. Surround yourself with those that support you. Create your own support network.
The first thing to realize is that you are not your emotions. Emotions are little messengers communicating to you…..trying to give you information to help you heal. Recognizing what emotions you feel helps to determine what is going on with you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We are all aware of “positive” and “negative” emotions, and we tend to pass judgment on the “negative” ones, as if they don’t belong there. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Once you remove the judgment from them, you can recognize them as the precious little tools that they are.
It is important to really FEEL your emotions and give them permission to be there. This is our outlet. Our way of coping with life and its many circumstances. More than a release, it is an outward expression of our inward experience. This is how our mind, body, and spirit connect. This is the magic of our experience!
Then the question becomes…..What can you do to work through these emotions (not judge them), allow them to be there….really feel them….and then let them go (not latch on to them for dear life)? Do you allow these emotions to define you? Or can you allow them to come and go, and use them as a tool to heal?
There are two basic emotions that are the root foundation of all other emotions: Love and Fear. Everyone has an opinion on what constitutes the “basic emotions.” But, I have found, if you really look at it, everything is based on these two opposites. Every emotion has an opposite emotion that stems from its opposite root emotion. It is the varying degrees of these two emotions that lead to secondary descriptions and classifications. Once you realize this, it makes it easier to interpret your emotions, and what they mean for you. It also makes it easier to heal, because all it really takes is unconditional love of self and others.
Consequently, these two basic emotions also cause opposing hormonal reactions which affects our physical health:
Fear-based emotions release cortisol, which decreases immune function, breaks down tissue and bone, increases blood pressure, increases pain, decreases libido, and causes stress, depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation.
Love-based emotions release Oxytocin which increases immune function and healing, decreases blood pressure, decreases pain, increases libido, and causes feelings of calmness, connectedness and acceptance.
It’s true! Love really does heal!
At any given time that you pinpoint an emotion you are feeling, you can trace it back to either Love or Fear. If it is fear….you can speed up the usual lengthy process (this is where our patterns tend to lie) and get to the meat of it….what are you afraid of? This will eventually lead you back to love. If it is love….be grateful for the experience and cherish it.
Sometimes love leads to loss, which takes us back to fear. And by allowing ourselves to feel grief, it heals that loss back to love. The same goes for anger. Anger stems from a reaction to loss of control, sadness, rejection, helplessness, the list is endless…..but it all comes back to fear. Fear of not being in control. And once you learn to let go of that need for things to be different than what they are, it is replaced with acceptance and in essence….love.
It is all an intricately beautiful process and continuous cycle. Our entire existence is based on the duality of opposites. You have to have one, to understand the other. You could not recognize up without down, left without right, black without white, life without death. There would be nothing to compare it to. The same goes for emotions. You need fear to recognize love. Anger to recognize acceptance. Happiness to recognize sadness, and so on. So let’s break it down so you can see this for yourself. This chart should help:
In some cases, you may need a complete Psychological evaluation. Based on that, your psychiatrist and/or psychologist will determine if you need medication and/or further treatment. Do your research on your doctor, however. Some are a little too happy to prescribe medication without exhausting all other methods and approaches first. I would not take medication if it is not necessary. In the long run, this can cause issues with coping mechanisms and even with the depth that you feel and experience emotions. Understand the risks before taking medication.Please be sure to read the Note on Medications for Pain and Sleep Management, Anxiety, and Depression at the end of the Therapeutic Support page for dangers and precautions.
It is a very personal choice and need. Just be sure to do your research, and find a doctor that you completely trust. In some cases, such as with mania, schizophrenia, or psychosis, life-long maintenance medication and possible hospital care is needed. Either way, if Lyme disease is in the mix, it is important to find a doctor that understands the mechanisms of this disease on the psychological health of the patient.It is difficult, yet crucial, to determine what is caused by the disease, what is the result of coping with a chronic illness, if any permanent damage has occurred, and if any psychological imbalance or ailment was pre-existing.Following is a brief list of the most common psychological conditions that Lyme patients face. For more information, see Resources & Links to the right.
Anxiety/Panic AttacksBi-Polar Disorder
Severe Depression (the most common)
Mood Swings/Personality changes
Psychosis/Hallucinations (auditory, olfactory, visual)
Special thanks to Dr. Anna Duncan for your insight and inspiration. Keep shining and doing what you do so well.
If you’re feeling blue…Try painting yourself a different color!
~Hannah Cheatum (age 8)