If caught early and treated properly, Lyme disease can be a relatively simple bacterial infection to treat. However, if the infection goes untreated for a period of time, it can become a debilitating illness. Also, not everyone necessarily responds to treatment completely.
These factors can contribute to longer-term symptoms that require considerable medical and psychological management. Below are some tips for coping with complicated presentations of Lyme disease.
1. Notice your thoughts, but don’t let them rule the day. We tend just to believe everything that runs through our minds, but we need to pay more attention to what we tell ourselves and notice what we are really thinking. You don’t have to agree or disagree; just say, “I notice I’m having the thought I will never feel well again.” This simple change creates room to respond to the thought rather than just getting stuck with an automatic reaction.
2. If a thought isn’t useful, disengage. Rather than arguing about whether or not a particular thought is true or false, just ask yourself if engaging in that thought at this time is useful in moving you forward in a valued direction. Again, if you think, “I’ll never get well,” arguing whether or not this is true isn’t really helpful. Let that thought go and engage with more functional thinking about more meaningful things in the present moment.
3. The more you try to control what you feel, the more you will feel it. We often get ourselves into more trouble by trying not to feel things than if we just allowed ourselves to feel them and move through the emotions, even the painful ones. That struggle usually just keeps the emotion with you longer.
4. Identify what’s most meaningful to you and engage with it. Lyme can turn your life upside-down, but it will also clarify what’s really important to you. Recognize what these things are for you (family, work, friends, leisure, spirituality), and take note of them. These are your values and your anchors for making decisions about what you do at any given moment.
5. Any engagement is better than no engagement. At any given point, you are either moving towards what matters most (your values) or away from it. You may not be able to engage as much as you’d like, but every little bit is helpful. This does not mean you always have to be doing something. Rest is values-driven too!
6. Your loved ones are suffering too. Lyme doesn’t affect just the person with the infection. It can turn the lives of your entire family upside-down. Do the best you can to approach this like a team. If that isn’t possible, recognize the abilities of those around you, and work with them.
7. Educate yourself, and never stop trying to get well. The Lyme controversy is well documented. Educate yourself and your loved ones as much as possible and get the treatment that is right for you. Keep fighting to get well while you are coping with being ill.
These tips are consistent with the psychological treatment modality called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I encourage you to learn more about ACT to help you navigate any of life’s difficulties.