Haunted by Lyme?

As I read a friend’s Facebook post this morning, I discovered that we had more in common than an alma mater, a college major, and a love for writing; I discovered that we both had Lyme disease.

It was a bit of a shock to both of us, although I suppose it shouldn’t be, given the prevalence of both ticks and tick-borne diseases (TBD’s) in Pennsylvania.

As we shared our stories and our symptoms, she wrote that she was incorporating her experience with Lyme into a fictional work. In turn, I shared that my husband had suggested on numerous occasions that I write about my own Lyme journey. Part of me knows that I should, as it would be both cathartic for me and a chance to increase awareness, yet another part of me balks at the idea of bringing Lyme into the one area of my life that to this point hasn’t been negatively affected by this disease.

For a long time, through many dark days and months, writing was an escape from my illness. The fictional worlds I created were my only way to get away from the physical and mental pain, the crippling fatigue and weakness, the side effects of the antibiotics. No, I argued. I don’t want Lyme invading my safe haven. Maybe someday, but not now. Not for a long time.

Well, this morning, in responding to my friend’s post, I commented that I would write about my experiences someday, but right now, I’m into writing ghost stories.

It was then that my brain jumped the fence and took off running down a rabbit trail. I began recalling some of my truly odd symptoms, ones that made a lot of doctors look askance at me and earned me referrals to more than one psychiatrist. I began asking myself if anyone else had ever experienced these oddball symptoms and thought they were being haunted.

Come, join me down this rabbit trail and see what I’m talking about.

Visual symptoms.  I had a lot of issues with my eyes, mostly floaters and general inability to focus properly, but also things like color distortion—I would see colors sometimes as more vibrant than they really were, and sometimes as duller and dimmer than they really were. There was even one instance in which I seemed to lose all color vision, and the whole world turned into a black and white movie.

Those experiences are unnerving enough in themselves, but I also experienced what some refer to as “after images,” where I would be looking at something—a person, an animal, or even the text in a book—and then look away, only to see the image of what I had been looking at imprinted on whatever I looked at next. That experience is unsettling enough when you know what it is; if you’re unfamiliar with “after images,” it would be very easy to interpret that image as a ghost.

Olfactory Hallucinations. Phantom smells, odors that only you can smell. Most often for me, these came in the form of cigarette smoke. No one in our house smokes, but both my parents were heavy smokers while they were alive, so I am very familiar with the odor of cigarette smoke clinging to my hair or my clothes. Of course, I brushed this one off at first, explaining it away as just catching a whiff of smoke from something I had brought home from my parents’ house. More than once, my husband would catch me walking around the living room, thrusting my nose into afghans, the furniture, anything, like someone from a Febreze commercial. When he asked what I was doing, I would tell him I smelled cigarette smoke. He would half-heartedly join me in trying to find the source, but ultimately, I was the only one who smelled anything. The reason this seemed significant to me was that he was the one who was strongly averse to the smell of smoke. I had grown up with it, so even though I found it unpleasant, it didn’t make me gag the way it did my husband. The fact that he could not detect a smell that seemed to follow me everywhere unnerved me.

I even posted a question on Yahoo! Answers trying to figure out what was going on. I really got no definitive answers, instead collecting dire warnings of brain tumors and epileptic incidents, declarations that my soul was obviously bound for eternal damnation (since I was obviously smelling hellfire), and suggestions that my parents were visiting from beyond the grave.

Auditory Hallucinations. Who among us has not had the experience of “hearing things,” real or imagined? Granted, this was not one of my main sensory symptoms, although I did have instances of thinking I heard whispering next to my bed late at night when everyone was sleeping (although when you have two preschoolers who didn’t always stay in their beds, that’s not always unnerving as much as annoying), and once or twice I distinctly heard a radio playing somewhere in the house when I was here alone.

In doing a bit of research this morning, I found one person who had a rather extreme experience with this particular symptom and actually wrote a story about it. In his experience, he received numerous calls—wrong number calls—from a little girl. When he finally blew a gasket and went off in a rage, his housemate came in to investigate. When the writer explained what had happened, the housemate insisted that the phone hadn’t rung even once. I can only imagine how this poor Lymie felt at that moment.

So, those are some of the symptoms that, in my opinion, might lead someone to believe they are experiencing something paranormal, and I’m sure there are likely others.

I am going to end this post here, but I am by no means finished with this rabbit trail. I still want to explore the question of whether or not having Lyme might make a person more likely to have actual paranormal experiences.

If you or someone you know has Lyme, babesia, or any of the other TBD’s, please feel free to share your experiences with strange, out-of-the-ordinary symptoms, especially the ones that really made you wonder if you were really sick, if it was all in your head, or even if you were being haunted.

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