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What my Radical Recovery from Late-Stage Lyme Disease can Teach Us about Immune Boosting

With over six million recorded cases of COVID-19 in the United States, it’s logical to think about boosting the immune system, since the potential for contracting the insidious virus is high. When stress is at record levels, though, the sympathetic nervous system gets overworked—secreting surges of epinephrine—making us more susceptible to corona virus droplets lurking in the air. I was once in the high-risk category for contracting a virus like COVID-19, so I empathize with those who have it, and those that fear it.

My autoimmune system was suppressed as a result of battling late-stage neurological Lyme disease for years, and I had developed a raging autoimmune disorder. Thanks to a radical treatment that took me to the remote mountains of Siberia, the death knell that sounded for me is in the past. Now I boast about my immune system more than I talk about boosting it. I’m eager to share my story as people across the world suffer from acute and lingering symptoms from COVID-19 that remind me of where I once was.

Over the years, Lyme disease had sucked all the marrow out of me and spit me out like an enervated double of my once effervescent self. I could no longer endure the Sisyphean battle of waking up feeling depleted as I struggled through the most basic tasks before repeating the cycle the next day. I could not play my musical instruments, could not hike, could not teach. Reading, writing, analytical thinking—former sources of great joy and part of my routine as a professor—had all been stripped from me.

Despite countless visits to specialists, modern medicine just left me to accept a “new normal,” that was grossly abnormal. In constant pain and deeply fatigued, I didn’t recognize the person I had become. By the look in his eyes, I could tell my husband did not either. I had fallen into another epic Lyme flare-up in the winter of 2017. Things just started falling apart in my body, more than ever before, and I couldn’t live in it anymore. I found a clinic in Switzerland that offered assisted suicide.

But I didn’t believe in suicide; I was a carpe diem kind of a girl that trekked through the Scottish highlands from Glasgow to Ben Nevis when I was a teenager, hosted champagne brunches at Dartmouth that earned me the nickname “champagne Miche,” and played alto saxophone sonatas on the Pont des Arts in Paris for fun on Sunday afternoons. I was on my way to becoming a tenured professor, proud to arm my students with critical thinking tools and stoke their creative intellect, when—quite suddenly—the quality of my life deteriorated to the extent that the day had seized me.

I wasn’t the first to contemplate suicide in the face of Lyme.  Researchers estimate that at least 1,200 suicides a year in the U.S. can be attributed to Lyme disease. Chronic pain, decreased mobility, and depression (induced and exacerbated by the disease’s inflammatory cytokines) eventually become intolerable. From what I have read, suicide rates in the era of COVID-19 are skyrocketing, too.

But I wasn’t about to go into that good night, even though I had taken every medicine, every herb, every allopathic and alternative treatment available to me. I had become my own doctor after medicine failed me. I had read every health study, every health book, every medical journal. I had experimented on my own body as if I were a laboratory animal. I had nothing left to try. 

Desperate—immobilized and covered in psoriasis rashes—I launched my millionth Google search one summer afternoon. In bed, clutching my phone with claw-like hands, I came upon a Siberian doctor that purportedly cured patients of serious diseases through a method of extreme fasting that “incinerated diseased cells in the body” and “drained the swamp of inflammation.”  This was the most intriguing sentence I had ever read; if it were true, I had a chance to save my life.

As I write in my (heretofore unpublished) memoir, Starving to Heal in Siberia: My Radical Recovery from Late-Stage Lyme Disease, I took an arduous odyssey to Siberia, where I underwent a radical treatment that led to a complete recovery, one that doctors said would never be possible. It’s a story about hope and resilience, and one that paid off. On October 1, 2017, I stepped off from the plane in New York feeling as if I had reincarnated back into the same lifetime, but in a new body.

I want to pay it forward. I now practice this treatment at select intervals throughout the year on my own, for it’s a remarkable tool that can be used not only for a multitude of serious illnesses but also as a regimen that maintains health and increases longevity. In the era of COVID-19, when nearly every individual on the planet must be thinking about how to stay healthy, I believe this is the ultimate way. It left me feeling like I was “shining and bouncing,” something I never thought I would feel again. I’m eager to share it with you, and I’ll leave you with a little clue: it’s about autophagy.

–Michelle Slater

This is the first blog post in a series of posts to come about the author’s recovery from Lyme disease.

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A Vignette from the Lyme Timeline

This week’s post is an excerpt from my unpublished memoir Starving to Heal in Siberia: My Radical Recovery from Late-Stage Lyme Disease, chapter one: Vignettes from the Lyme Timeline. It recapitulates a theme from One Me: Lovable As is.

Michelle’s Point of View, June, 2015: Jackson Hole, WY

And poets are what we need when ill, not prose writers. In illness words seem to possess a mystic quality. –Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill”

I awoke from the stupor of sleep to see the sun rise in shades of periwinkle through the window, filtered through my fog.  I felt no trace of my characteristic delight in the sun’s beauty, though, nor did I feel my early morning optimism about the day. In fact, I wasn’t sure where I was, or who I was.

Then, I heard Dmitri’s familiar voice having a work conversation on his phone. There was an anniversary card with a photo of a boy holding a rose in his teeth standing on my bedside table. “Ah, Jackson Hole,” I sighed as I remembered.

As the sun rose higher, I felt mocked by the hope of its raspberry rays. For, there would be no horseback riding together through rugged rivers that day, nor would there be any vigorous hiking below the spires of the Tetons. Dmitri waved at me from the balcony, his Slavic grayish blue eyes smiling at me. Our long-standing code on vacations was that early mornings were for working, and we would meet up later; we had always respected one another’s work ethics. Only I had no work to do.

In largo tempo, I pulled on my jeans and sweater. I ambled down to the coffee shop on the corner, journal clutched in my aching hands. I sat down with an almond milk latté to scrawl out some words, desperate to chart my heightening sense of disorientation. With each sip and each written word, I tried to find my way out of the fog.

My brain, or is it still a brain,

and is it my brain,

is floating away in largo tempo,

as if on a lethargic current of air.

Strident calls from my psoas and lumbar

mute my thoughts.

All I hear is their crescendo through my back and limbs,

reminding me that I am in this broken body,

and it is mine.

The sun is rising in Jackson Hole

but I am in its shadow

for no raspberry rays shine in these parts.

Where have I to go this morning?

There is no manuscript to write,

There is no class to teach.

Replete with the angst of purposeless,

I make the attainment of coffee my primary goal.

Tabula rasa after two Master’s Degrees and a Ph.D.

How does one confront a blank slate, when

one’s brain has been replaced with a stranger’s brain?

When one’s brain is the other?

What can be written on a blank slate when one doesn’t have the

crittheory brain,

the music brain, the lit brain that one once had?

And this slate? It is broken.

The pieces have been saved,

but they don’t fit together.

Shards are missing.

Tabula rasa, on a broken slate,

a failed synecdoche.

Yet.

This discursive narrative

leaves me cleaving to a new handmade

axiom, “One Miche: Lovable As Is”

as if I were a used commodity. As Is.

Crittheory brain, music brain, lit brain, could not love this Miche

as is.

Too slow, memory faulty, fallible, unable to produce,

but broken-slate Miche with the other’s brain

has had it with these Sisyphean pursuits and echoes

“Lovable As Is.”

As is.