Big Dogs, Lyme Disease & Yoga: A Lesson in Perserverence. ~ Meryl Cohen

Via Meryl Cohenon Sep 26, 2013

yogadogs

We all need something to hold onto in life—something that brings us peace and calm, hope in times of adversity, and balance in times of joy.

When I was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme Disease, my life changed forever.

I felt I was being catapulted off of a cliff, free falling into a pit of darkness and despair. When I hit rock bottom below, I fell onto a yoga mat. Yoga has become more than just a soft place to land; it has my wings, allowing me to fly up out of my pain and loneliness.

I was always extremely active. I showed my horses competitively, loved to run, play soccer, go for hikes with my dogs, and was very involved in school. I studied Animal Science at Cal Poly State University and concentrated on reproductive physiology and embryology. I bred horses and cattle, and managed the swine center on campus. My days were busy and full of passion. I had a strong foundation in life, and I truly loved every waking moment, both good and bad. I had a fantastic relationship with a man I loved, wonderful friends, and a promising future and career ahead of me. I had solid ground beneath my feet.

Everything changed in January of 2010 when that floor collapsed from underneath me, and sent me spiraling.

I woke up one morning with a horrible stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea and a fever. I was so violently ill, I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with stomach flu, given fluids, and sent home. What I assumed would resolve itself in a matter of days only worsened. I developed severe joint pain throughout my body. My mind, which was normally sharp and clear, began to cloud over in a way I can only describe as brain fogginess. I began to lose my memory, and I felt I was losing my mind. I couldn’t recall events from days at a time. I got lost driving in a town I had lived in for nearly five years. My depth perception disappeared and I was covered in bruises from walking into walls and door frames. Mornings, which had always been the best and brightest period of my day, became laborious as my fatigue became debilitating. My body burned, ached, stabbed with intense pain. My joints turned red, hot, and swollen.

Doctor after doctor reviewed my case with confusion. Nobody knew what was happening to my body, but it was clear something was very, very wrong.

I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease once when I was ten years old, and after seeing many doctors without any diagnosis, I decided to look into chronic Lyme Disease as the cause of my current suffering and rapid decline. What I discovered was a world of controversy surrounding tick born infections, especially in chronic form. The medical community was divided on whether or not persistent Lyme Disease exists, yet all of my symptoms made sense. They fit the puzzle.

A light bulb went off in my head: I just knew in my gut I had found my diagnosis.

While this was all happening, I was also graduating from college and moving to Alabama to be with my boyfriend of four years for the summer, prior to starting my Masters/PhD program in Mississippi. By the time I arrived in the south, I was so absolutely miserable. I cried on the phone to my friends and family, “there is something really wrong, I am so sick, just so painfully and utterly sick.”

I had found a doctor in San Francisco who is what is known as a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD), but there was a five month waiting list, and by the time my appointment date would come around, I would be in Mississippi starting graduate school. I felt I had no choice but to stick it out to the best of ability, and attempt to start my graduate program in August of that summer, eight months after this all began.

I made it two weeks in Mississippi before making one of the hardest decisions of my life: to leave my dream program.

I was too sick at that point to do anything: to hold a water glass, to walk, to eat. I was riddled with intense pain. I spent those two weeks sobbing and grieving, because I knew the life I thought I had was dead.

I moved back in with my boyfriend and together we moved to Savannah, Georgia where he was stationed as a helicopter pilot for the Army. I then flew to California to see the LLMD I had been waiting anxiously to see. It was clear to him, I not only had Lyme Disease, but also Babesia, Bartonella, and Ehrlichia (all tick born infections). We began a long term course of intensive oral antibiotics, but I continued to decline.

As my health worsened, so did my partnership. The stress of chronic illness proved too much for our relationship, and it crumbled into nothing but the shell of two people who no longer loved one another.

I found myself feeling utterly alone and there came a point when I wanted to end my life. I loaded our handgun, walked into the bathroom, and decided to end it all. As I was sobbing, the weight of my decision weighing heavily on my shoulders, my dogs came into the bathroom and lay down at my feet.

doglove--meryl

I realized I wasn’t alone, and I needed to fight this.

My life was falling out of my hands, and I needed something to remind me of who I was. I was not the illness. I was still the strong willed, ambitious, driven, intelligent person, that I’d always been, but I couldn’t see or feel my own strength.

After my near suicide attempt, I realized I needed a resource. Something that reminded me of the person I’d always been, with or without Lyme disease. I began by doing chair yoga and stretching, learning to control my breathing and sync it with movement.

Something magical happened.

I could do all of these poses, and my mind went quiet. All I could hear was the sound of my breath. The pain never left, but it just became another thing, literally an object, and its power was gone in the moments I spent holding poses.

As treatment intensified with IV antibiotics, I began to slowly improve, and as I did so, I was able to do more yoga. It took two years of IV antibiotics to get there, but I got out of my wheelchair. I got out of bed. I got into the yoga studio.  My journey of self exploration on the yoga mat was remarkable. When holding the most intense postures, I controlled my reaction to pain, and it was empowering. Every chaturanga made me stronger. Every chest opener shined thanks for my abilities.  Every handstand gave me a different perspective. When in child’s pose, I showed love to my body, and remembered that above all, there is nothing more important in recovery than loving and respecting oneself.

yoga--merylYoga gave me back a piece of myself I felt I had lost. 

It gave me back my spirit and hope, and with that came power, both physical and mental. I still had bad days mixed in with the good, and some days my body hurt, but for just that hour and a half on my mat, I felt a sense of stillness.

I am still treating intensely with IV antibiotics, as it seems every time we try to wean off of them, I relapse.

Even though I am battling to once again find the floor beneath my feet, the lessons I learned and continue to learn on my mat are guiding me through the hell that these diseases try to entice me into.

The stress of chronic illness continues to test me in every area of my life.

Relationships are a challenge, friendships have been lost, and I struggle every day trying to feel stability, to feel loved, to feel wanted, and to find direction in my life. This disease has pushed me to my limits and beyond, in ways I never knew I could survive, but I know I am stronger for each and every moment I do not succumb to sadness. I am stronger for every step I take forward, and am stronger even in the moments I slide backward.

At the end of it all, I know I have yoga as a tool.

It is not the magic bow tying my life back together, but it gives me hope that my life will once again come together, maybe not in a neat little package, but as a puzzle that I’m slowly piecing together.

In times of despair and loneliness, as well as in times of joy and peace, I can stretch, breathe, sit back into child’s pose, and for a moment, things feel settled and safe. Yoga is my lifeline, and will continue to be. When adversity hits me over the head, I simply pull out my mat, and take a breath.

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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Sara Crolick

About Meryl Cohen

Meryl Cohen is a 26 year old woman with a daily practice and is currently in a 40 day challenge. Yoga has truly saved her life, giving her hope and strength when nothing else could.

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9 Responses to “Big Dogs, Lyme Disease & Yoga: A Lesson in Perserverence. ~ Meryl Cohen”

  1. JEN says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Wishing you well! Curious, I have sometimes suspected Lyme, what tests did the specialist do? Any that were definitive?

  2. Nicole says:

    your story sounds all too familiar. i've always been sick, and we figured out what it was when i ended up in a wheelchair with severe memory impairment and exhasution, and dozens of other symptoms. that was when i was 15. 5 years of IV antibiotics later, i'm in the yoga studio once a week now, even though its a huge effort for me to drag myself out of my wheelchair and down my yoga teachers stairs to her studio. i too started with chair yoga, and have been doing that for the past 2 years. more recently i've moved to gentle floor yoga. thanks for sharing your inspiring story <3

  3. Lisi Weinstein says:

    Hi Meryl, I am truly sorry for all of you suffering. It is so inspiring to hear that you have found yoga as a positive tool to heel your pain. I am an instructor. I incorporate yoga poses with a cardio base. I am truly inspired by your story and wish you well as you continue to progress take care, Lisi

  4. Meryl Cohen says:

    Jen: There is a lab called IGeneX, and that is where you would want to have your Lyme and Co-Infection Panel done… (http://www.igenex.com/Website/)
    Standard tests done at Labcorp, Quest, etc. have an alarmingly high false negative rate (upwards of 75%).
    Done at IGeneX, the labs are generally definitive, although most LLMDs will use the lab results with a clinical diagnosis and patient history to make a diagnosis. Go to http://www.ilads.org/ for more detailed information….I hope some of this is helpful, and feel free to find me on FaceBook!

    Nicole: I'm so happy you're feeling well enough to go to yoga, even just once per week. You are brave and courageous and amazing. Continue to fight!

    Lisi: Thank you for your sweet comment and well wishes. Xo

  5. Namaste says:

    Have your tried a home mild HBOT chamber? I have a friend who totally recovered after being 5 years housebound/7 years very ill. She is symptom free after 2 years of daily hbot treatments in her chamber. It was a slow process and took 40 sessions before she noticed any change. She continues to do the treatments and plans to for a while, though she has gone as long as 5 weeks with no regression.

  6. Mark Jaeger says:

    Thank you for your deep and personal share of your journey. Check out Claudia Altucher at http://earthyogi.blogspot.com/ she also practices yoga with lyme as well. I hope you find great strength in community and never feel utterly alone again :)

  7. Meryl C says:

    Hey, it's Meryl here!!!

    Thank you for the feedback on the piece, means a lot to me!

    I have been on IV abx now for 2.5 years, did 1.5 years of orals before that. I was 2 doctors in California before jumping to the east coast to see Dr. Jemsek in DC. I still live in CA and fly out there every 4-6 weeks.

    When I am on my IVs (he pulses, so 3 weeks on 1 off, or 2/1) I am able to do my advanced heated vinyasa classes. On my off weeks, I'm still totally down for the count. It's such a dramatic difference, the severity of it shocks me every time even though I know what is coming.

    Even though I still have really rough moments, in October I had 3 grand mal seizures and spent a lot of time in the ICU, overall I am so much better. I still have a long way to go to get my immune system in gear so I can wean off the IVs, down to oral abx, and then on a maintenance program before I'm free and clear, but I keep on keepin on.

    My favorite quote that gets me through all of this…Shakespeare: "And though she be but little, she is fierce"

    Be fierce my friends, and be well.

    xoxo, Meryl.

  8. Holly says:

    A friend sent this to me today knowing that it would help in my personal Lyme ‘adventure’. This article is inspiring, I have also found strength within myself by practicing yoga daily through treatment.

    I am seeing a doctor in Illinois who has had great success in helping his patients to become 85% symptom free in a very short course of treatment (5-6 wks). I am hopeful. It is quite expensive so when the time is right and I am able to afford the protocol he has designed for me, I’ll comment again and let you know how it goes. :)

    Thank you for sharing your words. I have had a similar story of misdiagnoses and searching for efficient and effective treatment. Yoga has been my grace. ‘Sat kriya’ has given me more understanding of what I am and what i can be than anything in life thus far.

    Many healing thoughts and prayers to you.

    ~holly

  9. Sylvie says:

    Dear Meryl,

    I was really grateful to find your story. It resonated deeply with me. I too, have been struggling with Lyme and have found solace in yoga. It seems that no matter how disappointed I am in my body or whatever pain I am experiencing, practicing helps me to stay present to what is real in every moment. And often, it helps me to see some beauty in each of those moments.

    I'm currently doing a yoga teacher training and, though I'm not quite sure how, my intention is to help more people with chronic illness to find moments of ease and embodiment in the midst of their pain.

    I know this was written a while ago, so I hope that things are going well for you. Thank you again for putting your words out there. Hearing others stories helps counteract all those feelings of isolation and is, I think, an invitation for more people to get their voices out there.

    Warmly,
    Sylvie

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