This is a personal story written by one of our graduates, Madison Dahlke.
Hiking through the rain forest in Hawaii, it never occurred to me that a seemingly insignificant bite would lead to the derailing of my life as I knew it. As my friends and I noticed the bite growing gradually over the next few hours, we began taking pictures to document the bizarre bull’s-eye rash forming on my thigh. When I returned home to California, my mom recognized the bite as a possible sign of Lyme disease and quickly took me to a doctor. This was the summer of 2012, a time when Lyme disease was not recognized, especially in Southern California. I was assured by my physician that Lyme does not exist in Hawaii and swiftly turned away. I didn’t give it a second thought.
Fast-forward one year: I was sitting in a parking lot and lost feeling in my left arm. It was difficult to move, and my body went into a cold sweat. I visited a new doctor a few days later and was told it was a pinched nerve. I went to a chiropractor and brushed off the bizarre pain. Little did I know this would be the beginning of a plethora of inexplicable symptoms that would ravage my body for the next four years.
The year 2016 proved to be the most trying time in my life. My mind and body were in rapid decline, and friends and family were unable to fully grasp my pain. Not one doctor could find anything wrong, and to the outside world, I was a hypochondriac, seeing way too many doctors and complaining about things that were supposedly imaginary. Constantly asking those around me to feel my head – “Do I have a fever?” – I began isolating myself from the people I loved as the fear and realization grew that something was seriously wrong. It wasn’t until December 2016 that I took a dramatic turn for the worse and finally got the recognition I needed from those closest to me, which led to my diagnosis.
I had been feeling “off” for some time, and my tests were finally beginning to show something was indeed wrong – but no one could pinpoint exactly what it was. I began being treated for mercury poisoning. During a holiday visit to my boyfriend’s family home in Seattle, everything began to crumble. I had an overwhelming feeling, as if the inside of my body was vibrating fiercely, causing severe nausea, disorientation, tremors, insomnia, spiked fever, and the inability to eat. I intuitively felt the symptoms were something more but ignorantly brushed it off as the flu.
It was as if that trip sent my body into utter chaos. People began commenting that someone who had always been so strong and outgoing had fallen silent and introverted. I began feeling disconnected – logically knowing, for example, that I was in a grocery store but unable to mentally grasp that I was in fact there. My words began to slur, I was always in bed, I wasn’t productive at work, and I was unable to sleep. I was rapidly dropping weight, felt like I constantly had the flu, and was debilitated by anxiety, migraines, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeats, and numbness in my extremities. And although I would never do anything to hurt myself, I was able to relate to why someone would, and that terrified me to my soul.
Alone in my apartment one night on the bathroom floor after hours of being unable to provide relief to my racing heart or shaking hands, I called my mom crying and said that something had to be done to find out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t continue living this way. I was terrified and declared that my mind and body were deteriorating.
The next day, I developed the worst headache of my life and drove to my parents’ house forty minutes away. It was then they saw firsthand what was going on as they cradled me, trying to suppress the severe shaking and convulsions my body was experiencing.
The following day, I visited the doctor yet again, who attempted to tell me that it was simply panic attacks. But he must have seen the desperation in our eyes as he began to listen, began to notice the twitching and tremors in my limbs, and discovered I had been walking around with a low-grade 101-degree fever for years. Finally, someone began to listen.
Shortly thereafter, I was sent for a brain scan, which showed possible signs of multiple sclerosis. As terrifying as that was, I was bizarrely relieved. For some reason, though, that diagnosis just didn’t sit right with me; it didn’t explain the constant fever or roller coaster of other symptoms.
As I sat crying with my best friend, she was able to put the pieces together that no doctor had. She reminded me of the bite I had gotten five years prior and, because her cousin was being treated for Lyme, was able to recognize similar symptoms and demand I get tested.
Four weeks later, my tests came back – late-stage neurological Lyme disease. What many do not know is that part of what makes Lyme so difficult to treat is that some carriers also have a variety of other infections that can be transmitted. My Lyme diagnosis was unfortunately accompanied by babesia, mycoplasma, rickettsia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, candida, and bartonella, along with multiple parasites. My body was riddled with infections, and I learned quickly that there was no clear cure for chronic Lyme disease. Fear of the journey ahead was coupled with feelings of relief and validation. Lyme is known as the “invisible illness,” and I could see it in the eyes of loved ones – how terrible they felt for not realizing what I had been going through and the severity of my pain.
This life-changing diagnosis led me on a journey of recovery unlike anything I had imagined. From countless pills, daily shots, IVs, ozone therapy, and weekly blood draws to natural practices such as infrared saunas, an anti-inflammatory diet, yoga, and meditation – the list goes on. It has been eight months since the initial diagnosis, and although I’m still healing, I have really begun to appreciate what this journey is teaching me – that we all have to be our own health advocate.
While others dismissed my overwhelming pain and discomfort, I relentlessly searched the internet for healing techniques that I could implement myself. I began listening to my body. I cut out alcohol and caffeine and flooded my body with herbal tea to calm my hyperstimulated nervous system. It was my body’s experience that led me to discover my passion for health and wellness, and amid the frenzy of chaos and desperation, I found solace in enrolling in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I don’t believe in coincidences. The week my IIN program began was the week I was diagnosed. Upon this diagnosis, I learned how important diet would be in my recovery and ability to ward off further symptoms.
Maybe my purpose is to experience this challenge firsthand and discover the techniques that help rid my body of the symptoms and disease so I can ultimately share that knowledge with others.