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Lyme Disease and Depression – A Personal Story

by | Jul 13, 2022 | Axiom Medical, Depression, Personal Story, Tempo Live, Workplace Mental Health

Studies show that the incidence of Lyme disease in the USA has nearly doubled since 1991. While the disease is associated with many physical symptoms, there is a correlation between Lyme disease and depression. In fact, Lyme can have a significant psychological affect as much as physical ones on infected individuals. Axiom Medical’s Communication Director, Autumn Brennan, had a rough experience with Lyme. In this blog, we share her heart-felt story as well as tips and tricks to manage Lyme’s physical and mental challenges.

Autumn Brenan

Lyme Disease and Depression – Autumn’s Story

It was a gorgeous fall day in Southwest Wisconsin, warm and sunny with a gentle breeze. I packed up my daughters and headed to a local organic apple orchard, where we had harvested apples every year for over a decade.  

I remember sitting down in the tall orchard grass, admiring the agility and teamwork of my children, and deliberately savoring the moment. After a few minutes of rest and reflection, I popped back up because the grass was becoming itchy, and it was time to haul our apples up to the orchard market to pay.  

The orchard manager Kate, who would typically be found in the field chatting and pointing out the best varietals, was sitting at the cash register with a walker by her side. Her normal jovial demeanor had simmered into a grimace of discomfort and fatigue. Kate had Lyme disease.  

She could barely walk due to joint pain, and her migraines were so constant that she could not run the orchard anymore. In tears, she explained that she had just applied for disability, and was trying to collaborate with doctors to find the right medications to treat all of her symptoms.  

Lyme disease was prevalent in our neck of the woods, it seemed almost inevitable for outdoor enthusiasts and homesteaders to fall prey. Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases are complicated illnesses. From Bell’s Palsy and target rashes (erythema migrans), to crippling arthritis and chronic brain fog, I thought I had heard it all. I was amazed that a tiny deer tick hosting a spirochete bacteria could create such havoc.  

Over the course of the next 3 weeks, I felt like I was “speed aging”, waking up each morning achier and more lethargic than the last. After a sleepless night with a mind melting headache and joint pain, I called a close friend and Lyme Literate Doctor to confirm my suspicion.  

Prior to Lyme, I was a super nova of activity as a solo mom to a small tribe of girls. I had a demanding corporate job, was on the dean’s list in business school, coached soccer, shuttled girls to gymnastics 6 days a week, and still managed to work out almost every day. I home cooked our meals with the finest organic ingredients, and rarely consumed alcohol or coffee.  

At the time, I didn’t have much of a social life, co-parent support, or family close by. I was far outnumbered by children and was swiftly becoming overwhelmed with my responsibilities, while attempting to manage the chronic pain and fatigue of Lyme.  

I was relieved to receive a 30-day doxycycline antibiotic treatment, thinking that we caught the Lyme early enough, and the aggressive dose would be the magic bullet. Instead, I experienced a variety of side effects both acute and subtle that led me down a rabbit hole of chronic pain and depression. 

I experienced the Jarisch-Herxheimer (JH) response, which is the temporary worsening of the symptoms of Lyme disease occurring when the Lyme spirochete is being killed off by antibiotics. The JH reactions triggered severe joint pain, fever spells that had me sweating through my business attire, and Herx seizures which I managed to hide at work. Or so I thought.  

I hid a lot of things during that time: the death-march level lethargy I tried to “fix” with coffee and energy drinks, the blinding pain I attempted to “manage” with a couple glasses of wine and ibuprofen, and sky-high anxiety levels as I watched my grade point average plummet and my body weight climb.  

After a long day at work with a pounding headache, I was deeply wrapped up in my thoughts and not aware of my wintery surroundings. I wiped out on the ice. I fell hard and tried to catch myself, yet was bleeding from my hands, knees, and hip. I was not only angry at the set of circumstances, but I was at my breaking point emotionally, physically, and (almost) spiritually. I limped into the house, headed straight to my bedroom, and sobbed.  

It was the first time I openly cried at home. My 14-year-old daughter Maya entered the room and sat by my side in silence. She held my hand and gently asked if I was going to die. I looked into her eyes and realized that she had been carrying that question heavily in her heart for months.  

“Aww hell no! I’m your Mama and I will find my way back, Sweetheart.”  

I knew what I had to do to heal myself, and up until that moment I had no idea how my chronic pain and accompanying depression were affecting my children. I was hiding, hurting, and dragging myself through life as they were watching in fear that they would lose me. At work, I was struggling hard to hide my symptoms while my co-workers worried in silence.  

It was hard to let go of the “I should have known” part of falling down the rabbit hole of chronic pain and depression, but every act of self-healing reinforced devotion to my children and purpose.  

My Healing Journey:

Disclaimer: The following information is not intended as a prescription for healing. Do not attempt to replicate. Please consult with a healthcare practitioner to assist in your healing. 

I took time off between Christmas and the New Year, stopped consuming caffeine and alcohol and just napped with my children when I could not make it through the day. I swapped out the ibuprofen for homeopathy, and started an elimination diet to avoid gluten, sugar, all processed food, and dairy products.  

I started consuming nothing but fresh pressed vegetable juices to reduce blood acidity and inflammatory markers. The kids loved sipping the wild varieties of juice and modeling their green foam moustaches. The best part is that they were a part of the healing process and could see their Mama finally coming “home”.   

When I went back to work, my co-workers were refreshed from the break and super curious about the “swamp water” I drank throughout the day. I shared with them my plan for healing Lyme and promised that I would eventually get back to our group fitness classes and office shenanigans.  

After a week or two, a beloved co-worker pulled me aside and asked if we could chat. She shared with me that it was so nice to see “the lights back on the Christmas Tree” and that my signature elfin glow was back in action!  

She shared that many coworkers had expressed concern over the past few months but didn’t know how to approach me because they’d never seen me so quiet and withdrawn. They witnessed my seizures and fevers and were scared to say anything when they saw me limp to the elevator instead of running flights of stairs. They knew I was wrestling with something big but didn’t know how to approach me.  

We worked in a cut-throat corporate environment, where calling out a weakness or concern would have raised eyebrows and negative interventions. Our workplace was not a psychologically safe environment to have a health crisis of any kind, especially with the stigma around experiencing a mental health challenge. 

Receiving the feedback from my child that she was seriously concerned about my health and mortality ignited my passion to heal, and hearing a co-worker share her experience with changes in my behavior also was a huge step in re-evaluating my holistic health, happiness, and work culture.  

I learned that we need to intentionally create safe spaces at home and the workplace to have these conversations, so people can receive the right tools and resources, at the right time.  

If you’re struggling with chronic pain, depression, and/or substance use, you are not alone. It’s important to get the help you need before you’re in a health crisis.  

Lyme Treatment Plans:

Please know that treatment may involve multiple strategies and approaches such as:  

  • Lifestyle change: diet, exercise, behavior modification 
  • Self-Care: setting healthy boundaries, sleep hygiene, meditation, massage therapy, yoga, breathwork 
  • Therapy: multiple modalities exist – find the best practitioner for your needs 
  • Functional Medicine: nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, comprehensive lab tests 
  • Social Support: friends, family, coworkers, place of worship 
  • Medications 

There is no magical one-size-fits-all cure for chronic pain, mental health challenges, or substance use. But there is pure magic in our human connection. If you see someone struggling: 

  • approach them kindly with your care, concerns, and a listening ear 
  • if they are open to support, offer professional resources for assistance 
  • schedule regular time to check in on their progress and catch up on hugs  

Interested to read another personal story? Click below!

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