Author Rebecca Parsons, finding the bright side. Photo: Jonathan Kemnitz

Bodies in Motion: An Athlete's Journey Through Lyme Disease—Part 5

by Rebecca Parsons

"I am thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn't have stumbled across my strength." –Alex Elle

Lyme disease is by far the hardest battle I've had to face in my twenty-five years. Going from being a dedicated paddler and endurance athlete to spending countless days in bed has been no easy feat and I've felt every emotion across the board: anger, bitterness, depression, envy, and resentment. You name it, I've probably felt it. I've spent hours thinking of the injustice of my situation and questioned over and over: why me? But in the midst of all of these emotions I've also discovered strength, overcome fears and experienced overwhelming love and support from family and friends.

I don't know that I'm at the point where I'd necessarily say I'm grateful for my struggles, but I do acknowledge that there's been lessons learned and I've relished in the moments of light in what has felt like the darkest of years. Those are the moments I hold onto.

I've learned more about Lyme disease and a whole slew of medical terms and conditions than I'd care to know, but I've also learned a ton about health and nutrition. Aside from my pesky sweet tooth, I've always considered myself a healthy eater. But recently eating healthy has taken on a whole new meaning. Like most people, the Lyme bacteria thrive on naughty foods, so I've had to eat a strict diet of no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, and no processed foods. While the diet has been challenging at times, it's also opened my eyes to new recipes that are not only delicious, but are also good for you. I shop organic, eat raw foods, know which restaurants serve quality food, and even analyze the sugar content of various fruits, indulging only in a select few. Someday I do plan to expand my palette to include more foods, but I also plan on taking my recipes and newfound knowledge with me in order to live a happy, healthier life.

Aside from the knowledge I've gained, the most amazing thing that has come from this has been witnessing the kindness and compassion of other people. While some simply don't get it, others have gone out of their way to help me. My family has been unbelievable: driving me to appointments, cooking/researching healthy meals, covering expenses, encouraging me to get outside, and never, ever leaving my side. My mom's friends have been bringing us meals occasionally, going out of their way to concoct something in line with my strict dietary needs and driving it out of their way to my home. Friends I haven't heard from in years have called, texted, and messaged me, offering their support and letting me know they're available, should I ever need help or simply need someone to vent to. It's nothing big, but it means the world.

I've never considered myself a particularly generous person: I'm kind and offer support, but never go out of my way to help. From my experience, I've learned that a little can go a long way. From this point forward, I plan on being the friend that calls, checks in, plays chauffeur, and does anything and everything to help. Despite having a wide circle of family and friends, I can't tell you how alone I've felt alone throughout this experience. My heart aches for people suffering through illness or injury that don't have the support I do. But just know, you are never truly alone.

Someday I hope to look back on all of this—ideally from a place of health atop my paddleboard well offshore—as a thing of the past, simply a bad season in my life. The suffering, the hopelessness, and the frustration will be left behind and in its place will remain the strength and lessons learned. When you see me on the water, sweaty and tired, you'll know it's me, because I'll be the one wearing the biggest smile. Never again will I take my health and fitness for granted. For every sunset, every wave caught, every wipeout, and every paddle stroke taken, I'll be forever grateful.–RP

Catch all the installments of Rebecca Parson’s five-part Bodies in Motion series here.

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