Health and fitness is of paramount importance to me.
A very active child and teenager, I never sat still! I was a cheerleader and on the pom squad. I had been on the softball team, volleyball team and cross country team. When I was a senior in high school, I committed to fitness as a true hobby and I LOVED it. Is there anything better than a rush of endorphins?! Running, elliptical trainer, weightlifting . . . I did it all, and it became part of my daily routine. Nothing could ever stop me. Exercise was my therapy and daily release. My diet and lifestyle – super clean. I believe over 25 years of foundational fitness saved my from ruin . . .
Several years ago things started to go sideways. I noticed awful gastrointestinal issues (more than normal, I’ve always struggled with stomach problems), headaches, horrible fatigue, deep aches, malaise, horrible brain fog, forgetfulness. I ignored and PUSHED through. I didn’t feel good at all (it felt similar to being extremely hungover), but did that stop me from doing the spin bike for an hour or running 8 miles and lifting weights?! NOPE. I’m the kind of person who keeps their foot on the gas and keeps going. I ignored all the yellow lights going off.
Eventually, I couldn’t disregard what was happening, and my gastrointestinal issues became increasingly horrendous, making it impossible to function at any normal capacity (and yep, I kept exercising during all of this which did my body in.)
Starting in early 2019- early 2020, I had extreme bloating (think 7 months pregnant) after eating pretty much anything, foul, awful and embarrassing gas, stomach pains, nausea, crippling fatigue, etc. Sometimes I could barely stand upright. After months and months of this and at my wit’s end, my brilliant doctor husband deduced that I had something called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and he set up the appointments to have me tested and diagnosed. I did in fact have an overgrowth of bad bacteria in my gut, and I had been living with it at this point for well over a year. I can’t tell you how awful the symptoms were. I discovered that I was extremely low in iron (not anemic but still VERY low in iron), B12 and folate. I wasn’t absorbing nutrients and I’m sure with all the stress of exercise I was further depleting myself. After a round of antibiotics, I felt better, and then immediately my symptoms returned. My husband indicated that the only thing that would truly eradicate the bacteria was NOT eating but rather drinking a medial grade drink called the Elemental Diet, doing this would starve and kill all the bacteria. I committed to this seemingly impossible task and went 14 days without eating and only consuming the Elemental Diet, mentally very tough but – it worked! The die off of the bacteria was NO JOKE, however, and I was miserable. Diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, horrible aches. It was like having the flu. I took two weeks off work and focused on getting better.
After eradicating the SIBO, I thought I was cured and all my health problems would go away! I threw myself into my booming design business, but then things started to go off the rails in new directions. I found that I had all these new food intolerances. My gastrointestinal system was unpredictable and unstable, and I suffered a great deal. Other symptoms included: horrible malaise, excessive brain fog, vocal chord strain (always felt like it took effort to talk), dizziness, random aches, inability to think, feeling disconnected from myself, depression, you name it, I felt it. The only thing I can tell someone who hasn’t experienced Lyme is that it feels like being very hungover every single day. I couldn’t tolerate any dairy, corn, gluten or alcohol. I was a hot mess.
One thing you should know is that our neighborhood is a HOTBED of ticks. We live in the prairie. I was pulling or removing 20-40 ticks out of my home every season (I have two cats and had a dog at the time). Those are just the ones I saw! I had one removed from my neck. One removed from my ear drum (talk about painful). I had at one point considered Lyme and was tested for it at the hospital twice but always negative. (I later found out hospital testing for Lyme ONLY catches a recently contracted infection and the tests are very inadequate for chronic Lyme. Also a “bullseye rash” only happens in some people. I don’t even know how long ago I was actually infected).
I went to SO many different doctors and specialists to try to figure it out, and everyone was like “YOU’RE fine.” BUT, I knew I wasn’t. As a lifelong athlete, I knew my body extremely well. I knew something was horribly wrong and my ability to rally and function was rapidly disintegrating. COVID had hit, and my business was busier than ever. I was burning the candle at both ends, trying to manage symptoms and working 50-60 hours a week, sometimes more.
At this point I didn’t even consider that I had Lyme UNTIL I talked to my neighbors who were suffering awful from the disease. My neighbor also had a cascade of awful gastro symptoms, and I had this lightbulb moment. I bet I HAD LYME!
I found a doctor and through IGENEX lab found out I had Lyme, this was in August of 2021. The doctor that diagnosed me wasn’t great to be honest and she claimed if my guts got better then my Lyme symptoms would go away so she put me on a very powerful herbal protocol. This made things worse. By August of 2022, I developed microscopic colitis and could barely function. I had to stop exercising all together. I napped for an hour or more most days. Over the next six months, I lost over 10 pounds, suffered from awful malaise, brain fog, etc. I could barely leave the house.
Design had to take a back seat. I would start jobs or do the initial consult and then had to back out. I left so many people high and dry, I never charged them of course, but I made promises I couldn’t keep. It made me so ashamed because I pride myself on my integrity and follow through. Lyme took SO much from me, personally and professionally.
My husband searched and searched for a doctor who was not only Lyme literate but also used both foundational medical and naturopathic treatments. We found Dr. Phillips on the east coast, and I love him. He himself nearly died from Lyme, so he understands the struggle, pain and frustration of this disease. I started treatment in February, and it’s not smooth sailing. In June I experienced almost 9 days of NORMALCY! I haven’t had that in years. It was glorious, but just as Dr. Phillips warned, Lyme is one step forward, two steps back, and I’ve had an enormous setback the last few weeks. I thought I was ready to dive back into full time design, but Lyme has other plans.
I’m continuing treatment. Praying. Trying to remain positive. I couldn’t survive one day of this without my husband, he’s been so amazing and incredible through this. I also have amazing parents, wonderful and loving friends, and the kindest most understanding clients.
This isn’t easy. I love being in constant motion, and this disease has brought me to a halt. I’ve always identified as a go-getter, a productive and highly efficient person who happens to be a crazy athlete, and in the last few years so much of this has been stripped away.
I miss my crazy busy design days, but I just can’t do it anymore. I’m trying to shift my perspective and celebrate the small victories. This is why I love doing free designs. Instagram has become an outlet for me, and quite honestly, it’s helped me feel like I’m still doing SOMETHING.
We are all going through something. The older I get the more I appreciate those who are suffering in silence. There can be so much sadness behind smiles. I am continuing to fight to get better. I will continue to stay active through social media and work as much as my body allows. I’m a believer, and I know that one of the lessons God has been trying to teach me since I was little is patience. I can feel him whispering: slow down, take it in. As an Enneagram 1, going slow isn’t easy.
I know that there is a beauty in all of this suffering. It has brought me closer to my husband, to my family, to my friends, to my Creator. I’ve learned to be more vulnerable, to know that it’s okay to ask for help, to say, “No,” even if I want to say “Yes,” because I know that I HAVE to slow down and heal.
I’ll keep you updated. I know all of you are going through something, and I see you out there doing the best you can.
Sending all my love – Tammy