My Battle with Lyme Disease and Depression

Written by Ryan Sauer

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This is the first time jotting down my whole story. So, I will try to do my best and keep my disheveled notes legible and organized.

My name is Ryan. I’m currently taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection known as Lyme Disease. I am going to aim this topic towards my mental struggles and achievements over the past 3 years fighting this disease in hopes of helping someone else.

3 years ago I was peaking, as some would say: just graduated high school top of my class, loving girlfriend by my side, full ride scholarship to a top engineering school, and perfectly happy. College began and I challenged myself to be a better me: I started cooking new healthy meals for myself every day, doubled down on acing all my homework assignments, and joined my college Rocket League team to pursue my passion.

Looking back, I pushed a bit too hard. As someone who always enjoyed challenging myself I mistakenly saw no need to rest. As quick as college started, I burnt out, a swift breath to a candle.

My Fight with Depression

I developed depressive thoughts, refused to leave bed, and began hating my days. I reached out to my parents and was met by confusion. My parents didn’t understand depression. The more I pushed to drop out and get the space I knew I needed, the more they tried to stop me.

A few days before Christmas I called and said I wouldn’t be coming as I needed some time to heal. When they showed up at my doorstep, I left. I wasn’t ready to face myself, nonetheless explain depression to my parents.

Depression really kicked my ass. Those days remain the longest and most mentally agonizing days of my life. I went from crying once a year in high school to once a day in college. I also stopped playing Rocket League. For some reason, I resented the game. Even touching my controller felt disgusting. Everything that had ever brought me joy, tormented my thoughts and plagued my nightmares.

But somehow, I escaped. My depression was short lived. August 7th, 2017 was my first day of school. November 1st, I started antidepressants. November 11th, was the day I dropped out. Early December, I even got my first ever job. By February, I had started my road to recovery. Over the entirety of 2018, I healed and became a better me than ever before. I had seen what mental hell was and started to find ways to face the demons. I saw therapists who led me towards positive thinking and practices to keep my head above water.

A Glimpse of Hope

Just shy of 13 months after leaving school, I decided I was ready to go back. I put in my 2 week notice at my job and prepared to face readmission to college in the coming spring semester.

Everything up to this point may or may not have been the brainchild of my current ailment. But I have no proof to the matter. I may have just been a misguided teen who thought he could battle the world a few years too early. If I were to give advice to someone experiencing similar things I would say:

  1. You know what you need most. As much as people try to tell you the best course for you to take. Some days you just need a break. Some days, it just ain’t meant to be.
  2. Get a therapist. Their entire job description is side-tracking you. Which is good. Depressive loops are very much a thing. You need to break it somehow. You need to find an out. (Side Note: It’s gonna take a while to find a good therapist, stay strong in the time being.)
  3. Find a friend who you can just shoot the shit with. My girlfriend never left me when I got depressed. Sometimes, even if you’re just laying in bed watching YouTube. It’s nice to have someone there with you. 

Depression can be very case specific. Different people respond differently. And even among those three points, there are lots of grey areas: identifying toxic relationships, clouded judgment, and environmental variables will impact the correct choice of action. Just know that nobody is perfect and it is gonna take time to get better.

A New Problem on the Horizon

Now that I have written about my mental state, let’s talk about Lyme Disease. Lyme is a bacterial infection carried by ticks. It mainly resides in the north-eastern United States and, in most cases, is a max 6-month ailment. In rare cases, the body fails to fight the infection and it lies dormant within you. It can be dormant for years before a subject starts showing symptoms.

The time I noticed something wrong was when I quit my job. Two weeks prior, I decided to take a 30 minute free practice muay thai session. I had always loved the idea of a physical combat sport and figured a short class would be fun. I even left that day with a signup form half filled out.

Though, as the week drew on I noticed that my sore muscles weren’t getting better but getting worse. Come Friday of that week and I could barely stand. I showed up to work and took multiple breaks in the walk-in freezer to rest my aching legs. By the end of my shift I cried in front of my boss. My legs felt physically bruised, yet, showed no physical sign. My boss terminated my 2 week notice early and told me to see a doctor.

I did get better. After two weeks passed I was back to my “usual” self and carried on with my life. School started in a few months and as a warm up, me and a friend taught ourselves the C# coding language and coded a game together. I was mentally as hungry as a young brain could be.

School started in May and I made some new friends. I got back into the swing of things relatively seamlessly. Yet, after 3 to 4 weeks of walking around campus, my legs started hurting again. I saw my PCP that week – we did normal blood work and everything came back healthy. Next she recommended a sleep study (due to me having jarringly vivid dreams). I did two sleep studies and both came back healthy. Then we thought maybe it was inflammation so I saw an allergist who put me on an anti-inflammatory diet and I had to wear a mask for 6 months due to mild environmental allergies (haha, I wore a mask before it was cool #covid2020).

Once that didn’t stop the pain, I saw Pulmonologists, Rheumatologists, Gastroenterologists (I had really bad stomach pains), Physical Therapists, more Mental Therapists. I went through the full medical system but nothing was making the pain better.

I started developing other symptoms over this time as well: constant belching, lucid dreams, etc. Actually – I’m gonna be honest – I can’t remember what 2019 was like. It feels like a foreign world to me at this point. But I do have my Google Docs from back then:

Ryan Sickness Symptoms – November 2019

Major symptoms:

  • Average 12 or more hours of sleep a night
  • Dream every night, very vividly, multiple times a night
  • Extreme deep muscle pains after movement
  • Extreme sensitivity to loud noises (anything above normal talking voice)
  • Mild depression (from the year of pain)
  • Extreme fatigue issues. Constantly fighting to keep my eyes open.

Of recent: 

  • Memory issues (forgetting what I’m talking about mid-sentence)
  • Lots and lots of issues speaking
  • Troubles focusing

Stomach issues:

  • Belching for multiple hours after eating
  • Chest pain after/during eating
  • Irregular appetite
  • Cravings (mainly for sweets, fruits, or pickles)

Pain That Wouldn’t End

To give a small window into my suffering, I will describe 2 different moments that cling to my memory. 

First, I was playing games with some friends and started spacing my sentences. As the day grew on, more and more of my words slurred and my thought process began falling apart. For over a fucking month, I would be incapable of holding a thought for more than 2 to 3 minutes. 

Second, my leg pain didn’t just get worse. It got HORRID. Every day in English class, we had 10 minutes to answer a short prompt in our notebooks. One day, my leg pain was so bad I colored the entire page black with ink. The same thing happened the next day and the next and the next.

I went on to write graphic paragraphs describing scenarios I envisioned would make my legs feel like they did. Nails being slowly driven into them. Baseball bats pulverizing them. The muscle fibers being ripped strand by strand from my body. At the end of the semester, I decided not to turn in my English notebook to my teacher for fear of being institutionalized.

I wasn’t right. Something wasn’t right. But you know, I also wasn’t depressed. I knew what depression was. I knew what helplessness was. And I wasn’t. Mentally no matter how much pain or amnesia or anything I suffered it hardly phased me. For whatever reason my brain didn’t want to be depressed. For whatever reason, I couldn’t be depressed. 2019 Sucked. In every sense of the word, it was a shitty year for me. I dropped out of school again, lost an internship, was forced to move back in with my parents, and was slowly becoming physically inept. But, I wasn’t depressed.

2020 so far is… ehhh. It has been good and bad for me. I am now the proud owner of a wheelchair to help me move when I’m in pain. But I’ve also been having some mental difficulty.

At the start of the year, I was feeling hopeless again. I was being pressured by my parents to find a job even though I knew I wasn’t ready for it. After a few sessions with a therapist I convinced my parents to give me more time to get healthy and I dove back into my medical mystery.

A Letter to Never Be Read

After finding naught with a neurologist, I had a rough week. Probably the first time since 2017 I came near depression. That’s when I wrote this to my old classmates:

“I’m here because you guys know me. Or used to know me.

I graduated high school in 2017 with you guys. Once I got to college I became severely depressed and dropped out. I then worked for the first time in my life and overcame my depression. With shiny new eyes I went back to college. In October of 2018 i started having leg pain. I saw multiple therapists to cope with the pain. Eventually it got too bad and I was forced to drop out again. Since then my parents have spent thousands of dollars for me to get MRI’s, nerve damage testing, sleep studies, allergy tests, arthritis testing and everything under the sun. Today I had my last hopeful lead end. I have surpassed the knowledge of every doctor I’ve seen.

The pain gets really bad. And it brings along side effects. I have mental issues. I can’t emotionally connect with others. I think this is because my memories from before the pain are not me. I’ve been so focused on my pain, I don’t remember what it was like before it. My relationship with my family has deteriorated because I don’t remember being a kid. I look at my parents and can’t remember how much they loved me. I just see two strangers. I’ve turned into a self isolated vessel.

It’s not always bad. Sometimes I get breaks from the pain and things seem to go back  to normal. The only issue is it never lasts. I start feeling guilty for feeling better. Or I baby myself to keep the pain away. Locking myself in my room to preserve the days I can enjoy in peace. It’s not healthy but at this point what is.

Nothing has changed today. Today is the same as yesterday and will be the same as tomorrow. Yesterday i felt fine and happy. I think I’m just scared. I’m getting pressured from my parents to find work online. But I have 0 work ethic because I’m… Idk, it’s just gone. With no more leads from my doctors, I’m going to try physical therapy. Which last time made the pain worse. Way worse. And I don’t wanna go back to that. I really, really, really, don’t want to go back to the pain. I can sit inside and play my games but even those I get tired of. I don’t even want to talk to someone. Why ruin one of your days for no reason. Fuck man.

I just don’t understand. Tyson [my brother] graduated this year and turned down an offer making 70k a year so he could travel the world with his girlfriend. Meanwhile, i cant walk around Walmart without taking breaks to sit down and massage my legs. I’m irritable. Feel like shit. Hate everything. Am physically disgusted by myself constantly. And the worst part is, I’m not even fucking depressed. I’m not suicidal. Cause suicide is fucking stupid. Statistically, there is a chance this gets better. And if I kill myself – well. Statistically there is a 0 percent chance i feel anything because there isn’t an afterlife. And I’m too stupid to be depressed. I was depressed when i was going to college. I had things on my mind, places to be, things to do, deadlines to meet. But now nothing. I have nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to think.

I started writing this because i wanted help. Or I wanted to feel something maybe. Maybe writing a sappy page about my loss would bring back memories of you guys. Memories of before all the pain. But now i don’t wanna think about it. I don’t wanna ruin someone else’s life with mine. Especially when nobody can fix mine. Nobody has my answer, there isn’t an end nearby. I hold out cause it’s not all bad. I just wish things had gone different. I wish I was graduating next year, being the critical thinking engineer I know I could be. But instead I’m here. Instead I’m here.”

I never sent this to them or showed this to anybody because it was never intended to be seen. As I said at the end, I don’t want to ruin someone else’s day just cause I’m fucked to the 9th degree. That said, I wasn’t at my tipping point yet. I was close, but not there.

Final Word

I cannot stress enough – if you need help, talk to someone. When I wrote this page I was on a bad day – a bad week even. But somehow, I wasn’t done fighting. In all my story I have never considered suicide. Hell, by this point y’all might be suggesting it. But my brain doesn’t want that. Somehow, my brain gives zero entertainment to the thought. It doesn’t excite or entice me at all. I’m lucky in that manner.

To tie out my story, 4 months ago, I took initiative to see an out of insurance network Lyme Disease doctor. I showed up on 2 different panels for Lyme. This venture was a risky one as it’s already cost $2,000 in medical appointments and I’m not done fighting yet. Some people might say “wow, Lyme should have been first on your testing list dumbshit”. To which I will reply, I did get multiple Lyme disease tests in 2019, but PCP testing is ELISA testing (antibody testing). And your body only makes antibodies if it’s actually fighting the infection. So I showed negative.

Also, I live in Arizona and I haven’t left the state in over 8 years. I’ve also never had the iconic red bull’s eye rash that typically comes with it. The odds of me getting Lyme disease and getting as sick as I am now are, like, one in a million.

I’ve been on antibiotics for 2 months so far. It’s just a lot of meds. My days kind of mush together and it’s a full rollercoaster of pain and exhaustion. That’s kind of how I like it though. I’m on the meds for 3 months each. And it’ll go faster if my days get all jumbled. I don’t like saying things like “it’ll be over soon” cause I don’t care. My life focuses on the day-to-day and, as long as my days today and tomorrow allow me to live, that’s all that matters to me. The rest is just time and effort.

I apologize for the depresso story. I’m actually a rather happy person. I just don’t like sugar coating my pain. Otherwise people don’t take it seriously.

If anyone has any questions about everything feel free to email me at any time. I’m typically pretty slow at responding, but I always get round to it (sometimes I’m just slow because I’m in pain).

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