Lately, I’ve been having what I call “grief dreams.” Or, dreams that I believe my mind allows so that I can grieve the loss of the life that I used to have prior to Lyme disease. I used to get the dreams more frequently when I first got sick, but lately they have come back to haunt me. I think it’s because about a month ago, I did a dumb thing and stopped taking my thyroid hormone after four years on the stuff. My body wasn’t quite ready for that and responded by rewarding me with fatigue like I haven’t felt in a long time, thereby causing me to re-live feelings of severe illness. I think the bugs have drilled holes into my hypothalamus, to be honest, and it’s going to take awhile before the ol’ HPA gets back into working order. But never mind that.
So what does a grief dream look like? Let me tell you, because you might have had a few of these yourself, asleep or awake, and you might relate to the following.
I used to be a flight attendant for United Airlines. They were an OK airline to work for, until Management started imposing fourteen-hour workdays on its flight crews (I’m not bitter about that anymore, really!). I survived those long days for several years. But one day, my body decided that serving beverages to a few hundred passengers a day was a bit much, and Borrelia and Company took advantage of the opportunity to come out of hiding and whack me to the ground, so that I would never work for the airline again.
I still dream that I am a flight attendant, but in my dreams, I have Lyme disease, and instead of fourteen-hour work days, I work four-hour work days.
I’m not technically hired by the airline, either, but somehow, I end up in my uniform and receive a paycheck for the four-hour workdays I perform on a weekly basis. Yup, that’s four hours of work a week, but I think, “As long as the airline doesn’t find out, I can do this, even with Lyme disease.” Despite my short days, though, I still get tired. In my dreams, my chest aches and I often have to sit down in a passenger seat to rest. And I am dismayed at how I can no longer work long days as before. But I’m determined not to quit my job.
As you might imagine, I wake up from such dreams feeling distressed. I will never work a fourteen-hour day again (even if I were completely healthy, I would not do it) but that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that I could.
Even though God has been trying to teach me over the past four years that my freedom isn’t found in the functioning of my body, I realize that being forced into a sedentary lifestyle overnight, when you are used to living la vida loca, is traumatic. Like a death, I have had to mourn the loss of that fast-paced life. I have even had to mourn not seeing hundreds of people a day. I never thought that would happen!
Chronic Lyme disease isn’t just about treating some symptoms. It is about accepting and adapting to a new way of life because let’s face it, healing doesn’t happen that fast for most of us. To get to that acceptance, however, often involves going through a grieving process, by longing for what used to be and crying over what you recall as “the good ol’ days.”
Grieving is healthy and necessary; however, at some stage, if you are to heal, you must get past the grief. My recent dreams have taught me that I am not fully over my grief, and that is a problem, because I have now had four years to adapt to a quieter, more sedentary lifestyle.
I know, maybe I can blame it on my thyroid. I take no comfort in the fact that trying to get off a medication has thrust me back into the throes of airline nightmares, but I am learning a new way in which the dreams can help me to accept a different life.
How? By looking back at that life, and honestly evaluating whether it was as wonderful as I thought it was. Just because I could run around a million miles an hour and hang twenty-five coats and pour twenty-five glasses of champagne in twenty minutes? Just because I was allowed to interact with tons of people every day? Okay, yes, I do miss having the ability and opportunity to do those things.
But if I really think about it, the fact is, whenever I finished those long work days, I was often more fatigued than during many of my “Lyme days.” Getting up during erratic hours was torture. I was once based in London for six months, thinking it would be a wonderful opportunity to see Europe, but flying from Europe to the United States in the morning, and then coming back on all-nighter flights meant that I had to sleep on my days off. In my former life, I was also unable to eat fresh food due to my lifestyle, I couldn’t see friends or family on weekends, my back always hurt more than it has on my worst Lyme days, and all those problems which Lyme disease has taught me to face were shoved to the back burner, as the distraction of an airline lifestyle allowed me to keep my demons locked up in a quiet corner of my being. But because they were there, I wasn’t as happy as I could have been.
History is never as great as we think it is. Or maybe today is better than we think but we won’t know that until it is history? Maybe accepting the Lyme life and grieving our former life would be easier if we understood this. Yes, illness can be Hell on Earth and I know I have spilled more tears in the last four years than I have ever spilled in my lifetime, but then again, not all of those tears are Lyme-related, lest I deceive myself into thinking that it’s only this disease that has frustrated me. I should have wept years ago but because I didn’t, Lyme and a realization of what true healing means have broken the dam and that is good, because it means the demons are being pushed out, too, right along with Borrelia.
Acceptance of the Lyme life and grieving the loss of our former, supposedly “better” life involves being sad for what we have lost. We must allow ourselves time to mourn. But then, we must move forward, by remembering the past for what it really was, and by looking at the present for what it really is–a difficult space of suffering, but a unique opportunity for Heaven to emerge from the Hell that is Lyme and all that grieves us, as we find new reasons to be happy, and learn new lessons through our suffering. All this, so that one day, our “new” life of new found health will bring us even greater joy than what we experienced during the “good ol’ days”.
May your grief dreams be put to rest, as you find hope and opportunity in this season of suffering.