Lyme, Lyme, Go Away, Please Don’t Come Another Day

On June 12th, I joined the Center for Spirituality in Nature’s Spirituality in Nature Groups training, a training to help individuals start local groups that bring their communities out into nature to connect mindfully and spiritually with their local environment and the living Earth. There were some valuable lessons and insights shared with the group of 50+ participants, but mainly I was paying attention to my fever breaking and drenching the many layers of clothing I was wearing as I sat in front of my computer Zooming.

No I wasn’t fighting COVID, but a different epidemic: that of Lyme disease.

Most likely I contracted it in the forests of Avon, Connecticut, when, during the previous week, I went to my 25(+2) high school reunion and spent about 10 minutes on a wooded path—clearly enough time to have a tick recognize me as a good meal on its buffet conveyor belt, but not enough time for me to be conscious of the fact that I spent time in the woods and should do a tick check when I got home. And as my friend, the tick, latched on to my outer upper leg, I never even saw her.1

Gochisousama is an expression of gratitude “toward those who had to run, gather, harvest, and prepare the food being presented to them.” It’s nice these ticks are so polite to their prey. Or are they just being self-congratulatory? (Illustration by Jon Schroth.)

All I saw, four days later, was a bit of a red circle. The day after that, it was redder. And on day six, it started to form a pretty clear bullseye—especially once I came home from karate in the evening achy and completely wiped out. That was Thursday. By Friday morning, a week after I was infected, I was grappling with a bad fever and my whole body ached—even the nerves in my skin. Fortunately, the bullseye was quite prominent by then (though different from pictures I had seen) and the doctor diagnosed me immediately and sent me off with a prescription of antibiotics—my first since 2010 (when my guts were made into sausage by the waters of Turkmenistan).

Over 476,000 people a year get Lyme disease in the US.2 But it turns out the disease is even more prevalent in Western and Central Europe. A new meta-analysis found that as many as 14.5 percent of humans have gotten Lyme disease—even more (21%) in Central Europe. The disease has spread far and wide now, and will only spread further, as deer habitat has spread, as human settlements encroach ever deeper into wild lands,3 as climate change has led to warmer and wetter weather, expanding ticks’ ranges and active times. There have been articles in the Connecticut paper about ticks being active year-round now: as state scientist Goudarz Molaei noted in 2021, “Every season is tick season.”

The Emotional Ups and Downs

Six different manifestations of Lyme (including disseminated infection, middle right). So be careful when you discover a strange rash, especially if accompanied by aches, fever, or other telltale signs of Lyme. (Images from the CDC website)

In the first moments I suspected I had Lyme disease, I cycled through many emotions. There was a small part of me that had believed I was maybe immune, invincible, or at least a wise enough woodsman that I would avoid this scourge. So there was disappointment and frustration. And more frustration that one lapse of attention could cause such great pain. And of course fear that this could be a long-term malady that could debilitate me for years. (Most of us have heard about Chronic Lyme and I knew a guy once who was crippled by this for seven or eight years, so I definitely fear it.)

Now that the antibiotics seem to be working (I’m on Day 6 of 10 as I write this), there is the ongoing fear that the course of antibiotics prescribed won’t be long enough and the Lyme will come back (or that the antibiotics will mess up my gut biome).4 Or that I will get bit again and the prominent rash won’t accompany the bite and it’ll be harder to diagnose (or some other variation of recurrence).

But one emotion that I haven’t dealt much with is anger. Maybe a bit at myself for forgetting to check for ticks. But not at the tick (that’s as silly as being angry at a COVID virus), and especially not at nature or Gaia. Nor has the instinct been to become skittish or want to avoid nature. That might have happened, but I thank this three year journey along the Gaian Way for circumventing that.

As Beth Norcross, founder and director of the Center for Spirituality in Nature, explained in the SING training, Spirituality in Nature Groups allow participants to experience the many aspects of nature: it’s an emptying and quieting place; it’s a place of delight; it’s a place where we’re more open to compassion, where we can learn to work in community, and where “we can see other.” In nature, we can see adaptation and resilience, even resistance, modeled for us; we can confront grief and loss (we shouldn’t forget that nature, as Beth noted, can be violent and destructive, which inevitably comes with the natural order of life); and we can “experience and live into renewal, transformation, and hope.” I have seen over and over, from the safety of my home the growing violence of nature (thanks particularly to our trespasses). But now, in an instant, I have experienced it.

No Grudge

At one point in the training, Norcross invited us to write a Haiku. This is what came to me:

The little monster in the woods, but no more monstrous, or less wondrous, than a lion, wolf, or wasp. Know your ticks. More at CDC.gov.

I thought I’d avoid
Lyme. But bullseye! And fever.
Though I hold no grudge.

We’ve changed nature to such a vast degree that there will be suffering. New diseases, natural disasters, violence as we squabble over the dwindling resources in a world of growing numbers and desires. Life will once again be fragile and fleeting, which, in many parts of the world, we’ve forgotten. Mortality and morbidity rates will rise and I should not be surprised, nor angry, that I suffer at the hands of Gaia (or my fellow man). Rather I should stoically detach from, and even, accept these possibilities.

That’s easy to say in the abstract, not so easy to do when faced with it. But the meditations I’ve cultivated and practiced: on forgiveness, on digesting pain and suffering, on collapse, they have primed my mind for acceptance. I am optimistic that I will get through Lyme without long term effects now: five days of successfully responding to antibiotics will do that. But for the first few days I was barely functional and in those moments I grappled with these fears and leaned hard on these meditative learnings. Sadly, as an individual and as a society and culture, we’re going to have to face these moments over and over in the coming decades. So I invite you to—before you experience these directly and personally—to try to visualize the challenges ahead, so that in the Stoic sense, through meditation and mindfulness, you can come to terms with that suffering and let it not pain you so much when it inevitably calls at your door, sometime down the road.5

***

Postscript: I’m publishing this just before I’ve taken my final antibiotic pill. I’m experiencing no symptoms currently and hope that this will be my last word on this. But I accept that this may be a condition I grapple with in the weeks, months, and years to come. I would certainly not be alone in dealing with the lingering aftermath of an accident, Lyme, COVID, disasters, and the many other surprises that shift us from routine to convalescence in a moment. And I will continue to meditate on this before then, in hopes that I keep my mind quiet and open to whatever life, and Gaia, throw at me.

Endnotes

1) Fun Fact #1: The odds are it was a female tick as male ticks die after mating. Hence the “her.” Unlike mosquitoes, males need blood meals too. But since they die, the odds are lower they’re spreading Lyme or other tick-borne diseases.

2) Fun Fact #2: It’s called Lyme disease after the town in Connecticut it was discovered in, not too far from where I live. The disease was actually discovered in 1975 making it older than me, but pretty darn newly recognized.

3) And as we’ve reintegrated nature into our cities and towns. Obviously that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do that, just that we have to recognize that nature is not a loving mother as much as a wild partner, who we have to be watchful and respectful of. That means doing tick checks even when just visiting your local park.

4) However, this journal article suggests 10 days are typically enough.

5) It’s worth pointing out that it is 100 percent certain that you will experience some suffering during your life, even if you don’t live long enough to experience the horrors of ecological transition, except in the rare case that you simply die suddenly, with no illness preceding your return to Gaia.

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2 Responses

  1. Catherine Folio

    Lyme is no joke, I get it, Erik. But you are concentrating on danger here, and the fear of getting something, or doing things perfectly to avoid danger.
    We can’t live life that way, Gaian or not. The stress is too great and overwhelming. We must let go, if we are truly Gaian.
    Because of a compromised immune system, I got everything as a kid: measles, mumps, chicken pox, German measles. (Thank science for the vaccines against diptheria, whooping cough, and smallpox and polio!). I had some really bad falls and breaks. I have had depression and anxiety all of my life due to genetics, poor diet and brain injury (my new doctors just confirmed that). I have Epstein-Barr Syndrome which flares up now and then, plus fibromyalgia. I now have rheumatoid arthritis, mast cell activation syndrome and chronic inflammatory response syndrome. I have had tons of tick bites and possible tick diseases (we haven’t confirmed that yet because the true test for all of that is and onerous procedure.) In 2018, I got MRSA under the nail of a finger, and had a hospital stay with antibiotic IV’s to stop it from taking the finger and the whole hand.

    Did I want these things of life? No. Did I and do I suffer from them? Yes. Should I be afraid of these things and potentially worse? NO. Because it would then ruin my idea of living.

    As Thoreau said, we should live as deliberately as nature.

    We can’t live in fear of these things – it’ll drive you nuts. Deer don’t worry about Wasting Disease. They either get it or they don’t. Skunk, raccoon, otters, etc don’t worry about rabies – they either get it or they don’t. Crows don’t worry about West Nile Virus, etc.

    The problem with industrialized, antiseptic humans is that we think we can avoid everything, and we can’t.

    We must BREATHE deeply, go outside and be with Gaia. We protect ourselves best we can, but worrying is not protection. Worrying is the industrialized human curse.

    Be with Gaia,
    Cathy

  2. Erik Assadourian

    Amen, Cathy! It sounds like you developed this wisdom over a lifetime of navigating different health challenges. I’ve lived a blessed (or perhaps sheltered) life, medically speaking, with just the occasional scare. So getting from industrialized/insulated human to a living being journeying through life with no net underneath me is a hard transition, one that needs to happen and is slowly happening, partly supported by meditation and this philosophy (and a bit of life experience!)

    Thanks for your insights, Cathy. And be with Gaia as well,

    Erik

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