If you would have met me in my 20s you would have described me as “the picture of health.” I was extremely fit and disciplined with my diet. I was teaching yoga, working as a massage therapist and yoga instructor, and collaborating with some of the top New York City physicians to teach their patients about optimal nutrition and dietary supplementation. When it came to being healthy, I thought I had the formula figured out.
Then in my 30s I was tossed a curveball and diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After surgery and radiation, I eventually made a full recovery. I learned first-hand that no matter how well we take care of ourselves, sometimes we’re just unlucky. I even wrote a book about my experience and the healing power of gratitude called, “Smile At Your Challenges.”
Just when I thought I had conquered it all, another frightening event took my health in a more complicated direction.
A Surge of Strange Symptoms
In my late 30s I began feeling so terribly sick that I was certain that my cancer had returned. I had a surge of strange symptoms including blurry vision, light sensitivity, nausea and exhaustion.
After going to nearly a dozen doctors the best diagnosis any of them could come up with was that my symptoms were psychosomatic. Being told these strange symptoms were the result of stress or anxiety felt both insulting and discouraging. While many people might have accepted this diagnosis, I kept pushing and asking for more testing to find a better explanation for what was happening to me. It took months before I received an actual diagnosis and discovered I was suffering from Lyme disease.
Battling Lyme When It’s Too Late
I was both frightened and relieved to finally have a diagnosis that explained the strange myriad of symptoms I was experiencing. I was able to trace the start of my symptoms to a particular weekend at the beach, where I recall walking through brush to get to the sand. I suspect that was when I was bitten by a nymph tick too tiny to see. In my case there was no bullseye rash to warn me about what was to come and by the time of my Lyme diagnosis, I was already a year out from my tick bite. It was too late for a round of antibiotics, so I turned to alternative therapies to fight back.
I threw myself into what many would consider an extreme health regimen, some of which can be found in this article.
Within a year and a half, I was almost fully recovered. I regained my energy and felt “normal” — unless I strayed from my health routine, didn’t get a full night’s sleep, or indulged in too much sugar or alcohol.
Reactivation Through COVID-19
Then the unthinkable happened to all of us. Although COVID-19 affected us all, it affected each of us in different ways. We are now learning that COVID-19 stays with some of us for months or years and it may reactivate old viruses and conditions that have been dormant or in remission. We see this occurring with other illnesses like the Epstein-Barr virus, herpes, asthma, and Lyme disease. From my perspective, this is the scariest aspect of the virus that causes COVID-19 and it’s what many people are now referring to as long COVID.
I had a fairly mild case of COVID-19. I was healthy and my Lyme disease was under control. I assumed once I got through it that I’d be back to normal again. However, I soon started experiencing physical symptoms unlike those of COVID-19 and more like those of Lyme disease. I endured blurry vision, brain fog, light sensitivity, fatigue, rapid heart rate and sensitivity to heat. I went to see a few doctors who passed it off as transient and told me it would get better with a little time. However, my experience with Lyme disease taught me not to dismiss the symptoms. Once again, I took control of my health by going to my original Lyme-literate doctor. We found that I was suffering from long COVID-19 and it had reactivated my Lyme disease. We worked together until we found the right combination of alternative healing therapies that alleviated the severity of my symptoms.
Managing Lyme & Long COVID-19
Managing both Lyme disease and long COVID-19 has not made the path to wellness easy. It has reinforced the importance of living mindfully. The brain affects healing just as much as nutrition and our mindset can make a huge impact. I’ve always been extremely disciplined with diet and exercise, and I find that consistent daily routines, practiced over time, help these strategies produce measurable results:
- Compression Therapy can have many benefits for those with chronic illness. I start my days by wearing compression therapy boots to improve circulation. Compression therapy can also alleviate pain, help prevent blood clots and improve orthostatic intolerance. You can easily find compression therapy boots online. While there are a range of prices, even the less expensive boots work very well.
- Mushroom Supplementation is very popular right now and known to help optimize your immune system through immunomodulation, which optimizes the immune system to help the body fight infections and other diseases. I use a specific mushroom supplement called AHCC because it is the most researched mushroom supplement with more than 30 human clinical studies and has been studied on both Lyme disease and COVID. A recent study published in Pathogens shows AHCC supplementation enhances resistance against mild and severe COVID-19 infection mainly by promoting innate and adaptive T-cell immune responses. There is also a human clinical trial underway at the World Health Organization (WHO) studying the possible impact of AHCC on long COVID-19 infection.
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet is a good idea for anyone who is suffering with a chronic illness that carries significant inflammation. Common inflammatory triggers such as fried foods, sugar, wheat, gluten and dairy can make symptoms even worse and slow down healing. It’s recommended to eat a diet low in processed foods and rich in organic colorful fruits and vegetables, wild fish, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, as well as small amounts of grass-fed meat and poultry. Homemade broths, fresh green juices and certain spices may also ease inflammation.
- Acupuncture can help with numerous conditions. Aside from providing an overall feeling of relaxation and wellness, it can help ease pain, alleviate migraines, relieve digestive discomfort, help depression and anxiety and promote better sleep.
- Yoga is a wonderful practice for not only strength and flexibility, but for the nervous system. The breath work involved in yoga practice is an effective way to calm the nervous system and the mind.
- Meditation and Prayer are both helpful in removing yourself from everyday chaos and distractions, while you focus on healing. Meditation helps to quiet the mind and keeps you from focusing on negative or stressful thoughts by drawing attention to your breath instead. Some meditations can incorporate visualization as a way to imagine health, strength and healing. Prayer, faith and positive belief systems can all help to rewire the brain to create a sense of trust around the healing process. Even if you don’t believe in a higher power, having gratitude and believing that the universe is working to bring you health, success and joy will change your mental state into a more positive, hopeful one. A positive mindset is a must to heal and accomplish our health goals.
When traditional western medicine didn’t have all the answers or treatments to address my challenges, I followed my own professional experience and found an integrative physician who helped me to develop alternative healing strategies.
Through all of my health obstacles, the greatest challenge has been to control my mindset. I know the importance of channeling my thoughts towards positivity and healing. My hope is that you will find inspiration in my story, while staying vigilant of warning signs, symptoms, and red flags that your body sends you when something is off, so you can act as your own health coach, working every strategy with a combination of medical and holistic health experts until you find the answers and strategy that works best for you.