Plagued With an Invisible Illness

I guess I lead a double life.

At first glance, I’m your typical urban young professional. I’ve got a corporate job in the financial industry and I wear heels and eyeliner every day. I attend meetings and write reports and I’m pretty darn efficient in Excel. I eat salads and go to yoga whenever I get a chance. Sometimes I go out for dinner after work. I fit the bill exactly.

But it’s all a show. The truth is that I’m constantly putting on a show. My computer bag rattles with pills in plastic cases. My back aches from holding myself upright for 9 hours a day. I have my doctor’s online portal open behind my Outlook emails. I’ll be sick in the bathroom and then sit down at my desk and put my headset back on. I get home from work and wake up 4 hours later still in my business casual clothes. I am barely holding it together for 40 hours a week.

I am plagued with an invisible illness. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in June 2013 and have been coming to terms with it ever since. Diagnosis in and of itself was a journey that took many years and countless medical tests to discover, not to mention a few serendipitous interactions and moments of realization. Treatment has been physically and mentally arduous. I take over 40 pills every single day, sometimes upwards of 70 depending on the week. I’ve cut out gluten, lactose, caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar, and sugar substitutes. My kitchen is filled with more pills and powders and liquid medications than and old-time apothecary. But even now, I can’t help but imagine the spirochetes swarming my veins and crawling up my spine. A war of epic microscopic proportions is being waged in every organ under my skin and I have no choice but to stand up and give another PowerPoint presentation.

I’m still a high-functioning member of society (because I’m one of the lucky ones) but I carry the burden of a secret lifestyle on my shoulders. I’ve spent years and years fixing my face to hide nausea, adjusting my shoulders to hide fatigue, teaching myself to focus on putting one foot in front of the other to walk through the day. Some people know that I have Lyme disease, but they have no idea what that means. They think it’s like malaria or rabies because I got it from a “bug bite.” They think I can just take a Centrum Silver instead of all of my supplements because “it has everything I should need.” They think I’m lazy or apathetic on the days when I feel like I’m trudging through mud because I at least had the energy to put on a dress and mascara that morning.

I’m not asking for help. In fact, feeling physically and mentally broken has driven me to prove my own strength to myself to the point of rejecting help. But I’m pleading for awareness: of how easily Lyme disease is contracted, of how difficult it can be to diagnose an invisible illness, and of the everyday battles of existence; of not merely surviving but living through it. Of the weight of keeping all of these secrets and lying about being okay and self-pressure to keep up in a world that won’t slow down for you.

Written by: Laura Myers

Laura Myers was diagnosed with Lyme disease in June 2013 but lived with related symptoms prior to that for an estimated ten years. She enjoys American literature, caring for her cactus, and teaching her old dog new tricks.