I Did It Anyway: Maddy's Story On Finding Her Adventure + Redefining What It Means to be Determined in Her Pursuit of Happiness + Fight Against Lyme Disease
This is, Maddy
Diving back into moments past can often be a painful and unpleasant process, one that causes your throat to close up and eyes to swell with tears, especially if dipping a toe into the past means re-living some of the hardest days yet, yet this is exactly what Maddy does for us.
Why? Well it's simple. She doesn't give up, doesn't back down when faced with hardship, and even more so, she want's to use every ounce of what she's learned throughout her fight with Lyme Disease as a toolbox of hope and determination for us to pull from when the weight of it all comes crashing down.
Maddy has found a way to carve out new and even more hopeful adventures from the painful, the unforgiving, and the hard-to-face-again, encouraging us to use those tools she's provided and do something of the same.
Let's dive in, shall we?
Technically, I’m supposed to be in Wyoming right now camping with friends for the fourth of July weekend (note, this was written a few months back). Instead, I’m in my bed, fighting once again to calm my throbbing headaches, anxious thoughts and fevers. Luckily, I’m a lot stronger this time around and know that these feelings will pass in time.
While the above may be my current state, I want to go back to before I had lyme.
I attended summer camp from the ages of 11-16 in upper Wisconsin where I coined the nickname “Pocketful of Sunshine” after the Natasha Bedingfield song. I was this big goofball who was full of energy, talking a mile a minute and always had a joke to dish out.
I grew up with a love of the outdoors, playing in the ravine next to my house that ran down to Lake Michigan with my twin brother. I frolicked in my local neighborhood parks, rode bikes from dusk to dawn without a care in the world. I ran track and cross country and fell in love with graphic design, film photography and philosophy in high school. I also found a deep passion for music - something I’d realize later on is one of the few things Lyme cannot take away from me as well as something that brings me peace, joy and hope.
Up until the age of 19, before I got lyme, I was very, very, happy both with myself and my life.
During the Process
In August of 2014, I had the opportunity for one last chance to work with my camp and lead a backpacking trip in the Porcupine Mountains - located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was ecstatic as I had gotten in an accident in May that left me with a broken face (literally) and a permanent titanium plate - needless to say, I was ready to immerse myself back into nature and find some peace. The trip went without a hitch. Two weeks later, I attended Lollapalooza, a music festival in Chicago, with my friends.
On the train ride home I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that I had the flu. I got off the train and collapsed into my mom’s arms and went home to sleep it off. The following days were a blur. I woke up the next morning and recall my Mom frantically driving me to various doctors because I couldn’t move my neck, any amount of light hurt my eyes and every bump the car hit I cried out in pain. Eventually, I wound up in the ER to get a spinal tap because my doctor believed I had Meningitis. Fast forward a few days and in the hospital and I got the infamous bullseye rash from Lyme. I had never heard of Lyme Disease (even though the Midwest is one of the epicenters in the United States) and was given a month's worth of antibiotics and was sent on my way. I thought everything was going to be fine after that.
I went back to University in the Fall where my sophomore year was full of ups and downs. I wasn’t myself but I couldn’t explain why. I felt manic, had hot flashes and a slew of other symptoms but continued to tell myself that it was just a fluke thing and I would be fine in no time. Come winter, I went to my school’s health center and they put me on antidepressants and told me that, come spring, I’ll be “my bubbly self again” and that winter was hard for a lot of people. To reiterate - this wasn’t me. I was always happy, full of giggles and ready for the world - nothing was adding up. I scraped by and made it through winter and completed my sophomore year. I went home for the summer but that feeling - that something was off, and that I wasn’t myself, still lingered.
This is the part where my hands become weak and my voice begins to shake.
This is where my Lyme journey truly began - where pieces began making sense. As I write this, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that my vision is blurry, as pools of warm, salty tears begin to rise.
This is my story:
In 2015 my University was rated number one in the country for study abroad programs. In August of 2015 I was off to Lund, Sweden to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel and have a fresh start after a difficult sophomore year.
Out of nowhere, I began having panic attacks every day and was fainting in the middle of the night as well as convulsing on my bathroom floor. I was thousands of miles away from my friends and family and felt helpless but told myself that I could push through this - that I couldn’t mess up this opportunity no matter what state my health was in.
I lasted three weeks.
Reality Of It
Curled into the fetal position in my childhood bed I cried for what felt like days. I can’t put into words the gut wrenching feeling that left me -I had missed my shot to travel, pocket lifetime stories and adventures as I criss crossed my way through Europe. All of my friends were scattered around the world having the time of their lives and there I was - alone and scared at home. The pity party didn’t last long because of my wonderful, strong and amazing parents. I started a hyperbaric chamber treatment for the month of September - twice a day, for an hour each followed by a strict medicine schedule, infrared sauna periods daily and anti-inflammatory meds that were shot into my neck in hopes of ceasing the sensation that felt equivalent to my brain being set on fire.
Every.Single.Day. was a battle. Minutes felt like eternities and for over two months each day my biggest accomplishment was getting out of bed. I had anywhere from five to ten panic attacks daily where I would sob and ask my parents to help me as I laid on the bathroom floor convulsing for what felt like eons. I’ll never forget looking up at my Dad, sitting on my sister's bed as I lay on the bathroom floor begging him to take away the pain - sobbing uncontrollably and asking him to “Please help me, I’ll do anything to be better” or constantly screaming for my parents to “make it stop.” I was a hollow shell of a person. I was in so much pain and because there is no cure for Lyme Disease I never saw myself getting better and, truly, all I wanted at the time was to disappear.
I don’t know what clicked but one thing that always held true was that I was determined to finish school. I came back my junior year depressed, weak physically and emotionally, but I was different. I was stronger in a way that I would only realize later on. I still had very dark days throughout that year - many nights spent alone bawling my eyes out as I lay on my cold bathroom floor hoping to ease the fevers. I was consistently extremely anxious and isolated myself from friends because I was embarrassed that I couldn’t control what was happening to me. I felt like I wasn’t “fun” anymore and thought nobody liked me. Everyday was the same. I would go to class, put on a smile, and afterwards crawl into bed and cry, have a panic attack or two, and fall asleep feeling empty as can be.
Here’s where my story changes and a little light begins to shine through.
That emptiness I felt most days continued on and off severely for two years. After my junior year I stayed in Denver and my mood began to shift because the difference was that I had a goal this time around: I was going to graduate college with my friends and do whatever it took to walk with them in June of 2017 (having missed a semester, I fell behind with credits). I knew deep down that I was ready to fight this disease and get my life back and I had never wanted anything more than to walk across that stage because I never thought before Lyme that I might not make it to graduation.
I didn’t want to go to class, or get out of bed, but I did it anyway. My sister asked me to run a half marathon with her, I had zero belief in myself that I could run 13.1 miles, but I did it anyway.
That’s what my story is today: I did it anyway.
One of my darkest days in the Fall of 2015, a day where I distinctly remember wanting to “disappear” begging my parents to commit me to a to a psych ward hoping that would somehow relieve me of my pain my Mom told me that, “after all of this Madeline Gray (my middle name), you will be stronger than you could have ever imagined.”
Today, I’m proud to say my Mom was right. I graduated and received my college degree in June of 2017. I have a great internship in Denver, a city that I love, and a much stronger support system. It took many doctors, countless medicines, panic attacks, lonely nights, therapy and a relentless amount of love, support and encouragement from my family and a few close friends to get me where I am currently.
I still have a lot of anxiety and days where I feel very low, days where I can’t move my hands and days where I’m still curled up onto the bathroom floor, begging for the pain to go away. Today is one of those days but that’s okay because I know this time around I’ll improve in time. This disease will bring you to your knees and make you beg for mercy. It will test countless friendships. It will test you physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. However, it will make you realize that you’re capable of things you couldn’t even imagine. Healing is slow at times, but it is possible. I appreciate days where I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face, days where I can go to yoga or go for a run and not feel pain. A warm cup of tea brings a smile to my face.
I didn’t want to put up the fight for Lyme for so long because of fear. Fear that I would never win, that I wasn’t good enough, or “sick” enough for people to truly believe me how sick I was and even went so far as to believe that I wasn’t loved enough to get through this.
Lyme is scary - terrifying, actually.
My words to anyone out there who have Lyme Disease or know anyone with it: There will be many hard days but you will get through it. There will be days when your biggest accomplishment will be getting out of bed ,even if you didn’t want to, but hey, you did it anyway. Wherever you are in the world know I’ll always be on your side and that this community has helped me in more ways than one. Here’s to moving forward, picking up the pieces time and time again and knowing that we all have a bright future ahead of us and of course, sending a big hug to anyone out there fighting this terrible disease.
It’s been almost three years now since I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and while it’s apart of my story, it’s no longer my only story.
Curious what Maddy is up to these days? Just head on over to her Instagram to follow along on all of her adventures!
Interested in sharing your story?