“It could be worse.” It’s a common saying, one that people who are going through a lot often hear from their peers. I can tell you, though, from personal experience, that life over this past year-and-a-half with my chronically ill sister has made that saying a hard one to believe at times. The constant pain and strain that her Lyme has put into her life makes it hard to see past the disease; sometimes, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. One thing, though, that has pushed us to look past her pain, is the fact that there are so many others who, whether we see it or not, have it worse.
When she was first diagnosed, my sister felt secluded due to a lack of information about her disease, and a lack of familiarity. We knew plenty of adults who were dealing with Lyme, but no one her age that she could relate to. She began reaching out through social media, and discovered a number of teens around the country who are also dealing with Lyme. Some of them have become some of her closest friends. As she’s gotten to know them, my sister has come to realize that some of her fellow “Lymies” have extremely harsh symptoms, some that prevent them from being able to go to school, and some that force them to seek medical attention hours away from their homes. So, on days when her muscles are achy, or she has hand tremors, or a debilitating headache, she has started to remind herself of her friends who are having seizures from the disease. Or of her friends that have had to drop out of school because it was too much. Or of her friends that have traveled to other countries in hopes of finding some sort of miracle treatment.
While realizing that others are suffering doesn’t take away her pain, we have learned that focusing on how to brighten someone else’s day, often leaves her with a better outlook on her own. When we hear about her friends who have had to spend weeks in the hospital, we remind ourselves that we are fortunate, and that our time would be better spent cheering up a friend, than being consumed with our own circumstances.
This is not to say that we simply put my sister’s symptoms aside; even if we tried, their persistence would not allow it. On the bad days, where she can barely open her eyes, or can’t wash her own hair, or hold a pencil to do her homework, it’s hard to believe that others have it worse. Being sick for extended periods of time is devastating. It can take much of the excitement out of one’s life, and leave them feeling like nothing they do matters. The disease is the strongest, most powerful aspect of their lives, and everything else is blurred out by it. But remembering that there is always someone who is dealing with a lot more is humbling, not just for my sister, but for my family, as well. We have heard of families who have multiple children suffering from Lyme, all with symptoms more severe than my sister’s. We have met families where the parents are suffering from the disease, yet still have to go to work, pay the bills, and provide for their children.
Remembering the people like this, who persevere despite the fact that it seems every possible obstacle blocks their path, has made us realize that we can persevere, too. Thinking of her friends who are completely bedridden or hospitalized gives my sister a a little perspective ; if they can’t make a trip to visit, she sends them care packages. If they feel like they can’t make it through the day, she makes sure to reach out to them, encouraging them to remember that there will be good days, just as they do for her. If they can’t do something, she wants to find the strength to do it for them, just as we do for her.