by Katie Golem, MSW, LSW
As a therapist, we hear people’s secrets, struggles and challenges. While we have been trained with clinical tools and research, one of the best resources we use comes from our own personal struggles. Everyone has challenges. Everyone. For me, my challenge has been my health.
In 2010, I was misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Because RA is an autoimmune disorder, I was put on many immune suppressing drugs. I was opposed to it. It felt counter intuitive to me, but I trusted my doctor. The drugs didn’t help. In fact, my first Enbrel injection actually led me to the emergency room.
After that trip to the ER, my symptoms spiraled out of control. I knew something was wrong with me and it wasn’t arthritis. I was very sick and actually had to go on disability. I was so depressed and despondent I barely recognized myself. I went from doctor to doctor fighting to get a proper diagnosis. By far, it was the most challenging time of my life.
After 4 years of searching, I finally got the correct diagnosis. I didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis–I had Lyme disease. That means I had taken medications for years for a condition that I never had. The doctor who correctly diagnosed me indicated that the Lyme bacteria can be dormant in your body for a long time, but can become an active infection when your immune system is suppressed, as mine had been as a result of all the drugs I was taking.
Five years later, I am in remission. I still experience ongoing symptoms because Lyme is not curable and it is stealthy disease. However, I’m 90% better then I was; I believe I am one of the fortunate ones.
My experience and struggles have put so much into perspective for me. I am truly appreciative and grateful to have the chance to do something that I love, and to make my work meaningful. I realize that every day is really a gift. I don’t want being sick to define me; there is so much more to me.
My health challenges have led me to become a much stronger person and therapist. I can relate to people and their struggles—whether it’s health related issues or other things like relationships, depression, anxiety—struggling is a human condition and no matter what “it” is for people, we all have something.
Through this struggle, I learned to listen to myself and self-advocate. Despite being told nothing was wrong with me, I knew something was…so I kept pushing. I learned I am stronger than I thought and I didn’t give up. I also saw that even as bad as things felt at times, I got through it and I know other people can too!
While I don’t like to talk about my challenges very much, I am sharing part of my experience with you because I know how vital support is when you are going through something traumatic. You need to feel heard and validated; I believe it’s a part of the process to heal. I had some support throughout my experience, but no one who really understood the nuances of Lyme and chronic illness. If you feel it would be helpful for you to work with a Lyme literate therapist, do not hesitate to reach out.
While Lyme disease is specific to my own journey, I know there are many others who struggle with a number of other chronic illnesses, auto immune, health, body issues or infertility. I understand your pain and the frustration that comes along with these things. It would be a privilege to hear your story and support you while you face your own personal obstacles.
If you would like to schedule a session, or learn about my services, you can contact our office at (847) 919-9096 or firstname.lastname@example.org . We are in-network with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.