My name is Tori Ashdown and it’s 4 AM, September 19th 2016. A normal kid my age, would be more concerned over the fact she can’t sleep because she has class today. For me, it’s different. I am on the sideline of my life, watching everyone run this huge life marathon that means so much to me. I sit and watch them pass every single day, and the sideline is a dark and lonely place. I should be a junior at Wentworth institute of technology in Boston, Massachusetts studying interior design, my dream. Actually there are a lot of things I “should be” but cannot be because of this illness. For now I lay awake, and accept myself as I am. Not what I could be, but the human I am lucky enough to be now and the life that I do have. The future, it will remain waiting for me.
December 6th 2010
My life was flipped upside down over night. On December 6th, it will have been six years. Six years from when I woke up in the worst pain of my life, and couldn’t lift my head off my pillow, when I was a normal healthy freshman in high school the day before. It’ll be six years of a war battling inside me, six years of chronic pain, six years of living with a broken heart, six years of living with a constant migraine that no medication in the world can make go away, but most of all it will be six years of living with Lyme disease. I am a Lyme warrior, and I am not ashamed. The color blue lately has been trying to make me feel ashamed. I am sick of looking at blue ice packs every time I reach for them in the freezer, and I am sick of going to bed every night with my blue ski hat, packed with my blue ice packs, with my blue cooler sitting next to my bed filled with more blue ice packs so I can change them throughout the night each time the pain wakes me.
Living with Chronic pain is not the life to live, but I manage. When my muscles are twisting in my legs, the awful spasms that feel like someone lit my legs on fire, sometimes allowing me to not walk. My head will hurt so bad that I will vomit, and not leave a dark room for days. My bladder constantly hurts, and I find myself in the bathtub in the middle of the night more often than my bed. I wake up soaked from night sweats, and laugh at myself when I tremor and cannot use my young hands to take a picture. I eat soup and popsicles more than any other food, because my throat constantly hurts and my glands and lymph nodes are always huge. The anxiety has to be one of the worst symptoms, imagine the most immense fear you have ever felt in your life, then multiple that by ten. You become paranoid. Straight A’s, yeah they used to be a thing for me. Now my memory and concentration is awful, and I am on an education plan when I am in school to help me succeed. The list goes on forever.
I shouldn’t be ashamed, the big wig doctors and world renowned hospitals should be for allowing this to become such a huge hidden epidemic with no cure and all of this controversy over “Chronic Lyme Disease” being real. Yes it is real. Insurance companies should be ashamed for denying our treatments, and authorities that could have a say should be ashamed for letting this go on, instead of speaking up for us. This is only an issue when someone important gets sick with Lyme, someone in the government or a celebrity etc. Our pain is real, our scars are real, our aching hearts are human, we are real people too; living with a chronic illness every day, with no cure, and nowhere to go. It would be a dream if somebody called and said “come on in. I know how to help her, I can make it go away”, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, when I am at my worst: blood pressure nearly bottomed out, a raging fever, an erratic heart rate, the worst pain you could ever imagine honestly just fighting for my life being hooked up to be stabilized; that is when the nightmare sets in.
The Heart Breaking Truth
Once I am stable, I wait. Hours on end for infectious disease to come see me, to come help me, to come make me feel safe. Hours go by, and then the whole day. When they finally walk in I hold my breath waiting to see what they have to say, hoping that maybe, just once they will believe me. They will believe my pain is real, they will be highly educated in Lyme disease, maybe they will know what to do next. When they finally speak, I hear the words every Lyme disease patient fears. “Your pain is not real. You are Phys Osama tic and need to seek psychiatric help”.
I begin to cry, they don’t care, my parents begin to try and explain. “okay, so if it is not Lyme disease, what is it. Why can’t you help her?” They don’t listen. I have a label, unfortunately it is bad one to have in the medical field. Ten years from now this label will not be frowned upon, it will be taken very seriously. I cannot even imagine the outbreaks that will eventually come out.
It would be a dream to have a doctor at a world-renowned hospital believe me, and have a cure. Instead I seek medical help anywhere but the world-renowned hospitals, and find the small hospitals in the middle of nowhere. This is where my Lyme disease specialist tries to help me, but my case is so complicated, and he has so many sick patients; it is hard for him to know what to do. I have been a patient of this doctor for almost five years. He has seen patients come in just as sick as me, and walk out a new person months later. Then there are the few patients like me, where our symptoms are just too complex, the Lyme disease is too far gone- spread throughout my organs, my muscles my tissues, hibernating inside my body eating me alive and shutting down one body system at a time. It is patients like me, where there is just too little research, everything is too complex, and the doctors just don’t know what to do. All they can do, is try to better educate themselves and try and make me better.
We become our own advocates. Our parents throw away their lives for us, researching, learning, educating themselves and working like slaves to pay my medical bills. They have watched their little girl struggle for six years now, what else are they supposed to do than help try to save my life? I know I would do the same thing for my own kid, but watching them fight this disease with me has taken a toll a them and there’s nothing in the world that will change that.
Then & Now
For now, health wise I still may be that 15 year old girl that pushed herself through high school, graduated on time despite missing my whole sophomore year and learning from tutors that kindly came to my house. I may still be the girl who not everyone can understand unless they have been there, felt my pain, and have been in my shoes; that I would wish upon no one. As my 21st birthday approaches and I sit on the sideline, I think about my label. “Lyme disease” yes I have Lyme disease and no I am not embarrassed to admit so. I may not have the life I asked for, but I am making the best of it and sure am a hell of lot stronger because of this battle. Remembering HOPE: Hold On, Pain Ends, I continue to fight on even though this disease has taken six years of my youth, years that should have been the prime of my life. I keep busy doing yoga when I can, teaching dance, dancing through my emotions, painting, writing, leaning on my friends and family and of course keep myself busy living as a Lyme Disease warrior, and now an advocate and enthusiast for those with Lyme disease that don’t have a voice.
I Am Not Ashamed
My name is Tori Ashdown, and I have Lyme disease but Lyme disease does not have me. I am not ashamed of my label, but this is the story of finding my destination as the healthy young women I need to be. This is me at four in the morning telling you a fragment of my six year long battle, having a voice for so many people that are sick with Lyme disease. Now that you know me, follow my story. Watch me speak up, watch me fight, watch me live in agony, watch me fight to find a cure with or without doctors. However, There is one thing I can promise you. You will not watch me give up and that is a promise I intend to keep.
Until next time,
Tori Ashdown xoxo