Leelanau County, MI
Current Health: “I’ve still got a ways to go before I reach full health, but every month is more enjoyable than the last and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.”
Phil Gerigscott published a graphic novel about his experience, When Life Hands You Lemons, Check for Lymes, which can be found at his Etsy shop. Below, he shares his story.
“In the summer of 2012 I was bit by a tick while camping on North Manitou Island, off the coast of Lake Michigan. The tick bite developed a rash and I was informed enough to go to the doctor shortly after. The doctor prescribed me one pill of doxycycline as a precautionary measure and sent me on my way.
“A month or so later is when I first developed my knee pain. At first, I suspected Lyme disease but then shrugged it off since I never had the telltale fever and had followed the doctor’s orders. Weeks passed and the knee pain subsided … until six months later. From that point on, the knee pain and fatigue continued to come and go until the summer of 2013, when it simply stayed and then got much worse. I went to the doctor again, but unfortunately this time Lyme was out of my thoughts completely. The doctor diagnosed the pain as runner’s knee and I went to physical therapy for six weeks with no improvement.
“By February 2014, the pain had spread to my hips, elbows, wrists, and heels. At this time I could no longer run, bike, or play guitar. In fact, just sitting on the couch for twenty minutes was excruciatingly uncomfortable and my legs required constant maintenance. In hindsight, I can’t believe I went so long without returning to the doctor, but I think it was a mix of a lack of faith in doctors and a fear that the diagnosis would be more depressing than I could handle.
“Despite living a very painful existence, I tried to carry on with life as best I could: I graduated college, got married, and embarked on a four-month honeymoon to New Zealand where we worked on organic farms through the WWOOF organization. It’s funny now to imagine me chopping wood, docking sheep, and turning compost when I couldn’t even poke an iPad without feeling pain.
“Eventually, after doing some research, my wife asked if I thought it might be Lyme disease. After educating myself about the disease, the lightbulb turned on, and I sought medical attention. The doctor in New Zealand gave me a month’s worth of doxycycline, which certainly improved the situation but in no way brought me to full health (or even half health).
“After returning to the states, I had my blood tested and it showed negative for Lyme. I waited, confused and impatient, for the symptoms to recede with no avail. In the spring of 2015, I met my first fellow Lymie and she warned me that blood tests for Lyme are often unreliable and urged me to see a Lyme literate physician.
“I am now on my eight month of multiple antibiotics, supplements and a strict diet void of gluten, sugar, red meat, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy. I’ve still got a ways to go before I reach full health, but every month is more enjoyable than the last and I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.
“I had always considered myself more of a musician than a visual artist, but since losing my ability to play guitar, I desperately needed a way to express myself. One afternoon before connecting the dots to Lyme, I started drawing comics about various experiences like getting acupuncture, buying expensive tinctures despite great skepticism, and generally trying to navigate young adulthood while living in undiagnosed debilitating pain. Eventually, these comics grew to be a full-length graphic novel titled When Life Hands You Lemons, Check For Lymes. Creating these comics began as a coping mechanism, a way for me to find humor in the hopelessness and process the complicated emotions I was feeling. Now, I hope the book will help better inform the public about Lyme disease and that others affected by Lyme might find it comfortingly relatable. This past November I found that my wrists were well enough to play the synthesizer, so I wrote a Lyme-influenced album as well titled B. burgdorferi.
“By this point I’ve accepted my Lyme disease, but I am not yet grateful for it. However, this tribulation has taught me to be resilient and has pushed my creativity to new limits. My art has helped me through the toughest time in my life, and I hope others might find joy in it as well.”