If You Feel Like a Lemon, It Might be Lyme

Ever been described as a “Superwoman”?  Of course you have … you’re a FARMGIRL!! But what if you wake up one day and feel like anything BUT? Join the Mountain Farmgirl in “If You Feel Like a Lemon, It Might be Lyme” …

If you go-go-go all the time (like I tend to do), then it will be a big shock one day if you ever wake up and feel like you can’t move … that getting up out of the chair is a supreme effort and walking across the room is a gravitational challenge. A scary thing like this is definitely a wake-up call to the fact that we are not immortal! If I were to make a generalization (which is always a dangerous thing to do), I would say that as a group, we Farmgirls tend to be DIY-Renaissance women. We’re productive, we multi-task, we can roof the barn, make an awesome cherry pie, knit up a storm and earn credits toward a degree. We’ve probably been called a Superwoman so often that we’ve not only come to think we’re indispensable and invincible, but we’ve trained ourselves to live up to the false image of being so. It can be exhausting!

Fortunately, I have been blessed from birth with lots of energy, a supreme constitution, and rarely, if ever, get sick. This has helped prolong the illusion of indestructibility for me. Of course as a child, I had some of the usual childhood diseases such as measles, and a world-class case of chicken pox, but other than that and a few stray 24-hour stomach viruses, I am as healthy as a horse.  Even today, I can go for 5 years or more without even so much as a cold, although five years ago I’ll admit I was knocked down to size with a killer case of the flu and thought I was going to die.  But despite a few bumps in the metabolic road, I am thankful to have the wickedly strong immune system that I inherited from my mother.

The only time I was ever truly health-humbled by something ‘out of the ordinary’, was when I was pregnant with my daughter, now 21. Zia, true to her matrilineal line, is also of  hardy stock and a strong constitution.  At the time, I had plenty of good reasons to be tired … I had two boys aged 6 and 3 whom I was homeschooling, and I was personally building a post and beam house. I spent much of the spring and early summer that year physically building a 36 foot stone chimney without help; and I was also pregnant. But one day I started feeling “not well” … not just tired (although I had plenty of excuse for it), but like something was very definitely not right. The final wake-up alarm that I could no longer ignore came when I was walking up our long dirt driveway after getting the mail. Part way back up the hill I felt like I literally couldn’t take another step. My energy level had ebbed so low that I felt extremely fatigued and unable to move. Seeing this, my little son Noah held out his chubby hand for me and said, “Take my hand, let me be your strength!” It was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me, but truth be told, I really needed his help as he pulled and tugged me back up the hill. I felt like I was working against gravity with every step. My symptoms were no energy, being cold all the time, dry skin, lack of concentration and my beautiful thick pregnant  hair was falling out! The result of the blood test I took the next day was diagnosed as low thyroid, or hypothyroidism, for which I continue to take medication to keep things in check.

Isn’t it interesting that our bodies know when something isn’t right, as opposed to when they just need some rest? That particular feeling of foreboding sent me on a rare visit to our family physician again recently. This time not only did I have zero energy, but I felt like my legs didn’t work correctly.  Walking was an effort, and lifting my legs and arms a huge chore. I was in such a brain fog, I couldn’t think properly or concentrate on anything. Thinking that my thyroid might be out of balance again and my medicine perhaps needed tweaking, I was surprised to learn when test results came back, that wasn’t the problem.  In a way I wish it had been … it would have been a relatively easy fix.


The human brain has the capacity for an amazing amount of rational thought --- that is, until fear enters the equation. Then the imagination knows no bounds and can run amuck with all sorts of wild speculations that have you believing all sorts of desperate scenarios, each one ending up with you dead and buried long before your time!  Has this ever happened to you?  A little knowledge (the emphasis here is on little), mixed with a Google search, some self-diagnosis and a runaway imagination is a sure-fire recipe for disaster! So many serious diseases have such a similar list of symptoms to the ones I was experiencing, that I soon convinced myself  I had any number of terminal illnesses! I can’t tell you how unlike me this is … normally I am anything BUT a hypochondriac, but fear is a very dangerous thing. Before I knew it I was imagining five years down the road that my husband would be remarried, and this ‘other’ woman was being the grandmother to MY as yet un-conceived grandchildren!  I’m telling you it was beyond ridiculous!!!

One day almost two weeks ago, my best friend called to check up on me. “How are you doing, my little friend?” she asked me in the loving voice of hers that I love to hear. She called also wanting to give me some advice, reminding me that I was no longer the college girl I used to be, but approaching 60 years old, and needing to take somewhat different care of my body than I used to in those ‘invincible’ days.  Frankly, until whatever I have hit, I haven’t feel a whole lot different than I did in my 20’s, but whatever this was put a definite crimp in my style and I was ready to consider anything. Joani continued on, to say that when she turned 60, she had received a wake-up call as well. She found that she had been feeling very tired until one day that she could barely get out of bed; She was lethargic and achy all the time, felt uncoordinated and foggy … and had been diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease. As she continued to describe the symptoms, it hit us both simultaneously that these were my exact symptoms as well. ‘OMG!!!’ we both exclaimed at once.  “Could it be Lyme Disease??”

Farmgirls are good candidates for this growing and, (if left unchecked), very debilitating ailment, as we tend to spend a lot of time outdoors and amongst animals. Somehow in my online quest, it had never occurred to me that this might be a possibility. However, as the one and only gardener at our inn, I spend at least 3-4 hours daily from spring through late summer, out amongst the plants, flowers and ornamental grasses wearing shorts and sandals, very vulnerable to the tiny ticks which carry this disease. I had a blood test that very afternoon and am still awaiting the results. Whether that is what has been ailing me is anybody’s guess at this moment, but after  a 1-week organic carrot and apple juice fast, along with a daily detox of an activated charcoal and bentonite clay mixture, I have to say I feel a whole lot better while I await the results. Lyme can be very serious, and cannot be self-treated, so if you have these same symptoms, you need to be seen by a health professional immediately.  Whether or not I actually have Lyme, I thought it would be an important topic for Farmgirls to reacquaint ourselves with, as we outdoors-women are all candidates for possibly contracting it unless we take some precautions.

Lyme Disease, so named because a number of cases were diagnosed in Lyme, CT in the 1970’s, is an infectious disease caused by the bite of an deer tick. Healthy deer ticks can bite us and not make us sick, but there are 3 or more species of bacteria in the genus Borrelia which they sometimes carry which can. Both deer and rodents can carry these bacteria. As a person who would love to hike the Appalachian Trail someday, I found it interesting in my research a while back, to discover that Lyme is one of the highest casualties to hikers on the trail.  Lyme is also the most common of the several tick-borne diseases found in North America. The symptoms are very similar to those I have been describing in myself: feeling intensely tired and lethargic, muscle aches, joint pain, stiff neck and flu-like symptoms including fever, but these are not specific to Lyme disease and may be symptoms of other unrelated problems, so if you feel like this you should definitely get it checked out. About 70% of the cases of actual Lyme have a rash around the site of the bite with that characteristic bulls-eye ring around it, but then, many do not. Left untreated, Lyme can be serious with complications to the heart and central nervous system, but if detected early enough through a simple blood test, it can be treated and cured with a course of antibiotics.

The people most likely to get Lyme live and spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas, which is why I thought it especially important to talk about this in our Farmgirl community. These are places where many of us live and where ticks thrive. Once an infected tick is on your skin, it takes about 36-48 hours for it to attach itself to you through its bite.  This is how the bacteria enter the bloodstream. When my kids were little we practically lived outdoors, and I went to my doctor concerned that they might get it. But my doctor didn’t want me to get fearful about it for the following reasons: First, you have to get a tick on you, and it has to be a deer tick as opposed to the more common dog tick … and not all deer ticks carry the bacteria. Then it has to actually attach itself and get the bacteria into your bloodstream.  IF all this happens, most healthy immune systems can actually fight it off, he told me. So chances are small that you will actually come down with it.  Nevertheless, both my daughter and one of my nephews actually did when they were young, and it is nothing to treat lightly.

There is, as yet, no vaccine to prevent Lyme, although there are some repellents, many containing DEET, which are very potent and do the trick, but they have side effects. They should not be used on infants and young children.  There are safer repellents, and some common sense practices also go a long way toward detection of ticks. The recommended precautions to use include wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors, made of tightly woven cloth. Tuck the bottoms of your pants into your boots or socks to prevent easy access to your skin. Best to wear are clothes that are light in color so that the darker colored ticks can be seen, although they are so very tiny before they latch on and get engorged with your blood that they are very easy to miss. (And yes, I know … on those 100 degree days, who wants to dress like that when you are working outside? I know I didn’t, even though I was aware of the recommendation … although I may soon wish I had).

So, my friends, while I await the results of my blood test (the result of which is taking forever and a day to come back), I thought it very important that we just remind ourselves that Lyme-infected ticks are out there, and that we are all at risk. It is hunting season where I live this time of year.  If you or someone you know is hunting and get a deer, you will definitely be vulnerable to deer ticks as you butcher the animal. Check yourself and your kids when you come inside after being outdoors, and get someone to check you as well. As our old friend Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Until next time, be well and stay healthy!

(PS Don't forget ... I can't access my comments ... please email me directly at LodgeLady@ilovethelodge.com).  Hope to hear from you!

Sending oodles of Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings your way,
Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl



By: Annie
On: 10/28/2013 14:35:08

I am sending you prayers and well-wishes! My mother is recovering from Lyme's Disease and three other tick disease right now. Lyme's is a terrible illness -- thank you for helping to educate your readers. I hope that you are to take care of yourself so that you can get back to taking on the world soon.

All my very best to you,

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

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“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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