Eighteen years ago, I started developing digestive issues, and I was eventually diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I took a prescription medication to relax my colon, but it did nothing. Within the next few years, I developed many more seemingly unrelated symptoms- constant sinus infections, fatigue, headaches, eczema, tingling in my hands and feet. I went to several doctors and I was diagnosed with “stress,” because all of my blood work was normal.
While dealing with these chronic issues, I was also getting sick constantly with colds, sporadic flu-like symptoms, stomach bugs. I made excuses for the way I was feeling- I’m very active, I work a lot,
I work with kids who have lots of germs, I have a low immune system.
Seven years ago a naturopath diagnosed me with Candida- yeast overgrowth- and I thought that was the answer to all of my health issues. She put me on an herbal protocol and strict diet (no sugar, low carb) and I made sure to follow everything she told me. I felt a little better, but I knew there was something deeper going on.
A couple of years after that, I went hiking on the west coast, and came back with flu-like symptoms that weren’t going away. Over the course of the next few months, I was experiencing extreme fatigue- to the point where I could barely get out of bed- constant migraines, intense muscle pain throughout my body, jaw pain, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, sweats and chills, dizziness, anxiety, depression, mood swings, insomnia, severe digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, and other symptoms. I felt as if
I were dying and as if I were going crazy.
I went to doctor after doctor trying to figure out what was wrong. I could barely make it to work. I could barely function at all on a daily basis. And the number of symptoms I was experiencing kept becoming larger. I was diagnosed with “stress”- again- and fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and “unknown viral or bacterial infection.” I was told by doctors: It’s just stress and the symptoms will pass. Take off several months from work and rest and see if you feel better. We can’t figure out what infection you have, but you can take strong prescription meds to try to help the symptoms.
I refused to accept these answers. I knew there was a root cause, and I was determined to find it. But all of these appointments left me feeling even more crazy, invalidated, exhausted, and angry.
I decided to go to an acupuncturist to see if it would help with the symptoms, and she asked me if I had been tested for Lyme Disease, because I had a lot of the same symptoms as her patients with Lyme. She recommended a center to go to for a diagnosis and treatment.
Through in-depth testing other doctors hadn’t performed, it turned out I had Lyme Disease, co-infections, active viral and bacterial infections, mold poisoning, and parasites. I was relieved to finally have diagnoses, but I was also terrified because I had heard stories that treatment could be intense.
The stories were right. For the next few years, I treated these issues and quickly learned that healing isn’t linear. It isn’t “Take this pill for a week and you should feel better.” It’s “You are going to have good days and bad days. Some days, you will be curled up in a ball on the floor, wondering if you are going to make it through the day. Other days you will notice small improvements, and will be proud of how far you’ve come. Sometimes the “bad days” will last for months. You will experience a roller coaster of emotions, and every aspect of your life will be impacted.”
It wasn’t easy. These years of treatment affected my relationships, my job, my finances, all while I was doing anything I could to just make it through the day.
During some of my worst days, I started sharing my story and what I was learning on an Instagram account and personal blog, and this helped me connect to some amazing people- some of whom have become close friends. This community made me feel heard, seen, and understood- something that was very difficult as I healed from invisible health issues. It was a reminder that I was never alone, which provided another layer of healing.
Today I am a lot better, and as I look back on my health journey, I am amazed to see how much I’ve learned. Having a chronic illness made me stronger, wiser, more resilient. I learned the importance of the mind-body connection, and how intertwined these aspects truly are. I learned that healing isn’t just physical- it’s also emotional, mental, and spiritual. I learned the importance of self-care, which for me includes both physical and emotional care- daily meditation and journaling, baths, always checking in with myself and listening to what my body needs, trusting myself and feeling more connected to my body, staying present, setting boundaries, and making myself a priority. I started keeping a gratitude journal, which has taught me to appreciate even the smallest of things that I had taken for granted in the past. Having an invisible illness in which I looked completely healthy on the outside but felt as if I were dying on the inside taught me to become even more compassionate and less judgmental, because we truly don’t know what other people are going through. I learned the importance of changing my mindset, to focus on the things I could control, and to look for ways to become more empowered when it felt as if chronic illness took everything away.
Author: Lauren Friedwald