Lyme Update

Lyme Update - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I was diagnosed with Lyme disease back in July. Had I known that there were symptoms for Lyme beyond joint pain, I might have caught it sooner. Dr. Su, my primary care doctor and guest blogger here at Under the Monkey Bars, estimates that I’ve been infected with this terrible chronic disease for about 3 years.

I never found a tick. I didn’t see a bullseye. Without gluten or dairy in my diet, I only had joint pain a few times over those years but always thought it was from exercise.

What I did have were symptoms that cycled through my body sometimes monthly or even every couple of weeks. They would last for two or three days and then disappear. When they came back, I’d usually forget that I had them before. Typical Mom with a full plate, right? Don started calling these symptoms the “ailment of the day.” It was a funny joke for a while…until we realized it was a disease.

Currently, my symptoms include pain at the base of my neck, congestion, ear pain, nausea, headaches, soreness in my feet, burning sensations in my back, hip pain, dizziness, night sweats, facial twitching, blurry vision, mixing up words, difficulty thinking or foggy brain, severe fatigue, lower abdominal pain, and dental pain. Not once did I mention these symptoms to Dr. Su over the past few years.

Instead, I went to my podiatrist for the foot pain. My chiropractor helped ease my back pain. The eye doctor couldn’t figure out what was going on with my eyes. Maybe I needed glasses? But with 20/20 vision? I told my gynocologist about the lower abdominal pain and night sweats. My blood work was normal but I had appendix surgery to alleviate the lower abdominal pain. My appendix was perfectly normal and I still have the abdominal pain. It was Lyme disease the whole time.

In the four months since my diagnosis, I’ve helped several friends through the testing and diagnosis process. It’s amazing how many people are walking around infected with Lyme. Many people get false negative test results because reliable diagnostic tests are not widely available. The FDA approved Lyme test from the early 1990’s only measures 3 markers of the disease and frequently yields negative results for people who are suffering from Lyme disease. Not all providers are able to order the iGeneX test, which takes 3 weeks for results but is worth the wait. iGeneX tests for 15 markers of the disease, making this private test much more accurate. 

I’m on a 6-month regimen of Ceftin, Azithromycin, and herbal supplements (parsley oil and glutathione) to treat the Lyme disease. Most people don’t realize that when you start the antibiotics, you feel worse before you feel better — for about 4 months. I have more frequent symptoms now than I did before I got diagnosed. It’s called herxing or a herx reaction, which occurs when dead bacteria release toxins into the blood and tissues faster than the body can handle it. Regular Lyme symptoms are amplified while your body tries to get rid of the new toxins.

I’ve figured out a few tricks to help my body work through the symptoms. I’m resting more than ever. I take gentle yoga classes twice a week to help with the joint pain. I see my chiropractor religiously every other week to manage the neck and back pain. I keep a weekly appointment for nerve stimulation treatments from a Myokinesthetics specialist. I take multi-strain probiotics every day at lunch time between antibiotic pills. I drink a cup each of black and green tea daily, as well as tons of water with lemon to help my liver flush out the toxins. Eating clean definitely makes my body heal faster. I follow a gluten and dairy free diet that’s heavy on leafy greens. I still have Lyme symptoms but I feel a lot better when I can take the time to help my body release the toxins.

Everyone’s body is different. Lyme disease is like a chameleon, constantly changing so that you can’t catch it. Sometimes people call Lyme disease an invisible illness. Most people who have the disease look fine, because the majority of the symptoms are internal. I’ve learned that I can turn it off and on sometimes, much like an actress. If I ignore my symptoms and have a fun night out, I’m recovering at home for two days after. When you have Lyme disease, you wake up most days feeling like you have a horrible cold plus a hangover and sore from a work out that you didn’t have energy to do.

The road ahead is still long for me, but I know that if I take care of myself, by body will heal. Lyme disease can happen to anyone. Chances are at least one of your friends is infected with Lyme and doesn’t even know it. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms so that you can help others get a faster diagnosis — and be able to diagnose yourself.

Know someone with Lyme? Don’t ask them how they are feeling. Try asking, “How are your symptoms today?” Be flexible when they cancel plans, because some days we just can’t pretend we’re okay. Some days I’m not okay at all. But life goes on, and I’m super thankful for the incredible friends and family who have helped me through this difficult time.

Be informed and be healthy, and always remember to check for ticks!

I Have Lyme Disease

I Have Lyme Disease - Under the Monkey Bars

This is it. My most revealing post so far. I feel naked already. I have Lyme disease. There, I said it.

Please don’t say you’re sorry, because no one is more sorry than I am. I’m writing this post because Lyme disease is so controversial that most of us don’t even know the symptoms or how different the treatment plans can be. I didn’t, and I wish I had known.

I pulled a tick off my back a few years ago after working in the yard. I didn’t get a bullseye. I didn’t get flu symptoms. Maybe it it was that tick or another one that I never found — most people don’t see the tick that infects them. I’ve thought long and hard about when I got it, but it really doesn’t matter. Either way, I have Lyme disease.

I would still be walking around not knowing I have this bacteria growing inside me if it hadn’t been for a few chats with a friend, who recently got diagnosed with Lyme herself. She started telling me some of the symptoms, most seemingly ordinary. Headaches, ear pain, back pain, jaw pain, congestion, difficulty concentrating, foot pain, and so many other symptoms. She had stopped telling people how she was feeling because she felt like she was complaining all the time, and that they would think she’s crazy.

And then she mentioned that her husband said she had a new symptom every day. I said, “You mean like the ailment of the day?” And she said, “YES!” I sat down and took a deep breath. Because for the past few years when Don gets home from work, he asks me, “What’s the ailment of the day?” The girls laugh, but every day there seems to be something that’s bothering me. And it somehow became the norm.

One day I’d have an ear ache, and then it would go away. I’d feel like I was getting a cold, and I’d miraculously fight it. I’d think, “I’m so healthy that I beat that cold!” I started going to the chiropractor more often for pains in my neck and back, and more recently my hip.

Sometimes my legs would hurt when I finished climbing the stairs to our bedroom on the 3rd floor of our old Victorian. I’d blame it on the barre class I went to that day or the day before. I knew that joint pain was a Lyme symptom but didn’t realize I was having joint pain at the time.

Some days I’d feel so tired that I could cry. But everybody’s tired, right? I started using those words as a mantra in my head, “Everybody’s tired.” And I’d keep going, crossing items off my To-Do list and taking care of my family.

It always seemed that the symptoms were worst around that time of the month. So I blamed my P, as I call it. For almost three weeks out of the month, I could blame hormones. A few times I had night sweats, which I only mentioned to my gynecologist, not my primary doctor. My blood work came back normal so my gynecologist said not to worry about the night sweats.

I’m so focused on the kids and running the house that I rarely keep track of myself. Not once did I think it was odd that I keep getting weird aches and pains…because they always went away in a day or two. They never lasted long enough for me to even tell my primary care doctor. In fact, at my annual physical in May, I told Dr. Su that I felt great. It never occurred to me that something was wrong, very wrong.

That’s the thing with Lyme disease. It’s so good at disguising itself. Which is why it’s so hard to diagnose. Many people get false negative results because reliable diagnostic tests are not widely available. The FDA approved Lyme test from the early 1990’s only measures 3 markers of the disease and frequently yields negative results for people who are suffering from Lyme disease. Dr. Su ordered me the iGeneX test, which takes 2-3 weeks for results but is worth the wait. iGeneX tests for 15 markers of the disease, making the test much more accurate. It also tests for co-infections, which is another controversial area of Lyme. And yes, I’ve got one of those too: Bartonella.

When Dr. Su examined me the day we went over my results (7/8/15), he said he would have diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia if we didn’t know it was Lyme disease. I’m on two antibiotics, which I’m thrilled to say that I’m not reacting to!! I have 4 drug allergies so I was super stressed about taking anything; it’s been years since I took antibiotics. My treatment plan is taking these two antibiotics for at least six months, while continually evaluating symptoms as they arise.

After going over all of my symptoms and thinking back to how long it’s been, we’re estimating I’ve had Lyme disease for three years. My symptoms have worsened over time, but that’s not the case for everyone. Dr. Su says I have a better outlook of healing because of my healthy lifestyle. Our goal is three months of symptom remission. He may try cycling the meds and possibly some supplements like glutathione once I’ve been on the antibiotics for a while.

Right now, I’m getting ready for the herxheimer reactions, known as herx or herxing. These reactions are the result of massive die-off of pathogens by the antibiotics. The dead or dying microbes release toxins into the body, and symptoms result until the body is able to process and eliminate these toxins, or detox. Sometimes herx symptoms are worse than usual Lyme symptoms and often feel like the flu. Fun times ahead!

I wake up each morning not knowing how I’m going to feel. Every day, every hour is different. I’m really thankful to have planned a low key summer with the monkeys. I’m trying to trust in my body. Trust it can and will heal itself. Taking life one day at a time.

If you think you have Lyme disease or know someone who may have the disease, seek out a specialist who sees Lyme cases frequently. Lyme is a complex disease that is difficult to diagnose. Educate yourself and learn the right questions to ask. Know the symptoms so that you can catch it before you have chronic Lyme. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with Lyme. If you live in a tick infested state like Massachusetts, do tick checks every night. You might even consider having your yard sprayed by a professional.

Be smart and be healthy, friends. And don’t forget to check for ticks (couldn’t resist linking to the song)!

Hot Off The Press!

Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club Member Spotlight - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

I still can’t believe it. The Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club (GNMFC) interviewed me for their Member Spotlight. I’m so honored and excited to share my first interview with you! It’s hot off the press…

Member Spotlight: Christine Westermann
Author of Under the Monkey Bars Blog
Interviewed by Candice O’Neil, GNFC Board member

For this issue’s member spotlight, we reached out to the author of the popular local blog Under the Monkey Bars. In addition to being a mom of her two girls, Christine Westermann has created a successful blog that now receives approximately 2500-3900 hits per month. Christine was kind enough to share a little about how she got started, her passion for blogging, and tips for other members who might be thinking about starting their own blog. We encourage you to check it out!

How did you get started blogging?
My husband suggested that I start a blog three years ago. And then friends started saying I should blog. My excuses were endless. I didn’t have time. I don’t have a real camera. I’d run out of things to say. But really, I was afraid. I was scared of putting myself out there. Finally, it was my doctor (Dr. Mark Su) who said the final, “You should start a blog.” That was last August. And here I am one year later…

What inspired you to start a blog?
My family, friends, and this club. I really love helping people. I love making connections. I love telling stories. My husband and I have come across so many challenges in our ten years of parenting that it just made sense to share “lessons learned” and things to make life easier. It just made sense.

Can you give us a history of how your blog has gone from creation to where it is today?
Last September when the girls went back to school, I started carving out time in my schedule to write and work on the blog. I wanted to see if I could fit it into my schedule. I used to work in marketing and public relations and enjoyed writing the most. My brain was a little rusty, but writing came back easily.

Then I needed a name for the blog. I wanted something different with a personal connection. I brainstormed with friends and family for what seemed like forever at the time. One morning I was walking down State Street on the phone with a friend from college. She asked me, “What do you call the girls?” I said, “Monkeys.” Two minutes later, we came up with Under the Monkey Bars. And I knew right away that it was the perfect name for my blog.

The next step was a little more technical than my skill level. After five minutes of looking at WordPress, I realized I need professional help. I didn’t want the blog to look like something I did myself on a template. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of girl. After convincing my husband that it would be worth it, I connected with Bobbi from Ready to Blog Designs over in London. It took us a few months of going back and forth on layout, branding, logo, colors, and design to finally launch the blog in late January. From conception to launch, Under the Monkey Bars came to fruition in five months.

Do you have any advice for other moms who are thinking about starting a blog?
Have your support network in place and make sure your family is on board. My husband helps a ton with editing posts and putting up with me taking pictures all the time. He has really been amazing.

Figure out your goals. Do you want to do it as a hobby or actually make money? Have a plan in place before you put the blog out there.

Make sure you have enough to say! Supposedly most blogs reach their peak after three months. Get as much planning and writing done before you go live. I wish I had a bit more content ready – at least in draft form – but I was so anxious to get it out there. It was almost like having a baby. Everyone kept asking, “Is the blog ready yet?”

Has being a member of the GNFC impacted your blog?  If so, in what ways?
Absolutely. I read the forums daily and love to reply to posts. I remember being a first time Mom with so many questions, so many concerns, so many things going on in my head. GNFC is such a resource for anyone raising children because there’s no manual for these little ones. It takes a village. And I’m so happy that we chose to live here and raise our family here in Newburyport.

How do you balance blogging with your other responsibilities?
This is my first time “working” since I had my first daughter ten years ago. It’s taken me a while to figure out when to work, how to ignore the laundry and dishes, as well as be there for my girls. I started the blog thinking I would post four times a week. I wanted to be consistent and give myself deadlines. It’s been a challenge to be easy on myself. It’s okay if I only get two posts up a week. I’m not going to get fired! It’s really hard not to put that pressure on yourself. I want the blog to succeed, but my family comes first.

What do you love most about blogging?
I’ve been a stay at home mom since my oldest was born, and I missed having that something. Not necessarily working. Desks and offices are just not my thing. But rather something to call my own. I love that the blog is all mine. My girls have both told me that they are proud of me, which makes me completely melt. I truly want to be an example for them as a Mom and as a person.

I also love the feedback I’ve received from friends and subscribers. I’ve really been blown away a few times – hearing people say that they are cooking more or that they gave up soda or sugar, cutting out processed foods. That’s really why I write. Through Under the Monkey Bars, I hope to inspire people and help them live happier, healthier lives.

Tell us about some of the successes/positive outcomes that have come from your blog.
Three months after I started the blog, HappyinNewburyport.com asked me to be their Parents Corner columnist. I’m beyond thrilled to be getting a paycheck! The best part is that I wasn’t expecting anything like this to happen when I started the blog.

I’ve been approached by a few companies to help promote their products. This is one of the really fun parts for me since I used to work in marketing and public relations. I love being on the other side!

How do you come up with topics for your posts?
I have a list of over 100 topics that I put together before I started the blog, but I’ve only looked at it twice since! My post topics usually come from day to day life or requests from my readers. I originally planned to focus on health topics, but quickly realized I would run out of things to write about. Being a lifestyle blogger allows me to write about anything – travel, fashion, beauty, health, kids. Anything goes. People relate to different topics. It’s interesting to see how many people view each post. I’m always wrong when I guess which posts will get the most hits.

What is involved with running/maintaining a blog of your size?
To be honest, it takes a lot more time than I anticipated. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so after I write something I continue to edit it until the post goes out, changing one word here or there. Not the best use of time. I’m working on that! The process of adding the post and photos to WordPress takes me much longer than I expected. And then I create a mini social media plan for each post. Over time, I’ve picked up a few tricks but it’s still a learning process.

What do you envision for the future in terms of your blog, writing career, etc.?
Short term, I’d like to grow my subscribers and readers. That will open up more opportunities to cover on the blog. I’d also love for the blog to be profitable…and so would my husband! It’s hard to find the extra time to sit down and work on growth while continuing to write and create posts. Anyone else want an extra hour in the day?

Long term, I don’t want to be famous or anything. I plan to continue writing and growing Under the Monkey Bars. I’d love for it to be a recognizable name in our community and beyond.

How does the blog impact your family life?
My girls love to be part of the blog, but I’m very careful about their privacy. On the blog, I call them Bean and Sweet Pea, nicknames we’ve used around the house for years. I never include photographs of their faces. I’m careful not to expose embarrassing information. It’s really important to me. Don and I are both very private people so sharing our lives has been a bit of an adjustment.

I try to get most of my work done during the week so that I can take the weekends off. I occasionally need to get a photo of something or go somewhere to finish a post. At this point, my family is used to it and really flexible about it. Once I got the hang of actually getting posts up and had a system in place, it really hasn’t impacted us much day to day. My husband might disagree as he proofs my posts at 9pm though! Kidding aside, I know he’s really proud of me, and that makes my heart smile.

This interview appeared on page 21 of the Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club July/August 2015 Newsletter. Thanks for reading and supporting Under the Monkey Bars!

Things You Should Know About Me…

Under the Monkey Bars

  1. Yoga is my therapy.
  2. Sometimes there’s bacon in my purse.
  3. I love half days, snow days, weekends, and summer vacations.  I’d like to keep my girls home with me indefinitely, but that’s called homeschooling and it’s not for us.
  4. I love to travel, hate to pack.
  5. In the morning, I won’t leave the house without the beds made and an empty sink.
  6. I’ve never drank a cup of coffee but I absolutely adore coffee shops.
  7. I hate crafts.  H A T E.  Don’t even get me started on glitter…
  8. I love a good sale.  Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be good.  Just a sale.  I love sales.
  9. I believe laughing is the best medicine; I don’t take medicine unless I absolutely must.
  10. I won’t eat gluten and I avoid sugar, soy, and dairy.
  11. I was a cheerleader from grade 5 through college.
  12. Speaking of college, I met my soul mate and the love of my life at Villanova University.
  13. I have a water bottle and two snacks with me at all times.
  14. I am obsessed with European culture.
  15. I wear many hats: mother, daughter, sister, wife, aunt, friend.
  16. I’ve lived in two places in Pennsylvania and four towns in Massachusetts, but never felt so at home here in Newburyport.
  17. I was green before it was cool; I hate to waste anything useable.
  18. I’m a dog lover, yet allergic to dogs.
  19. Politics aren’t my cup of tea, but I’ll take a cup of chai, french breakfast, or green tea any day.
  20. I’m a go big or go home kind of gal.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  I’m just getting started…