Locks are like Lyme: A Simile

sim·i·le /ˈsiməlē/ “A figure of speech which involves a direct comparison between two unlike things, usually with the words like or as.”

I have many ideas in a given day. Most thoughts escape from my brain into the open air, never to be seen or discussed. However, this recent idea about comparing Locks and Lyme was a little unique even to my own outside-the-box mind. I mean, my blog was created by combining both words into one title. I have (dread)locks, and I have Lyme Disease. The bacterial infection of Lyme and its co-infections is locked inside my body. But in breaking down both of these words’ individual meanings, this new thought was indeed different from what I had considered previously.

Hear me out.  _MG_0618

Locks and Lyme both…

  • Are messy
  • Require work
  • Require commitment
  • Have good and bad days
  • Are misunderstood
  • Are misjudged by physical appearance

Locks are very messy. Not in a dirty way, but in a wild, untidy kind of way. I have knotted sections of hair where my once-curly hair existed. These sections have a mind of their own. They bend and twist as they wish, and can be difficult to control. Locks are also messy in the sense of being complex. A hair style that takes 25+ hours to install, and countless hours of continued maintenance has to be complex, right? Rather than individual strands of hair, I have carefully created pieces of art protruding from my scalp.
Lyme is very messy. Yes, in an untidy kind of way (people with Lyme don’t have energy to maintain a tidy home). Moreover, it’s messy in a complex sort of way. A disease that begins with a single insect bite, yet has the potential to last an entire lifetime has to be complex, right? The bacteria is made up of spirochetes called Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). These reproduce over time, and can spread throughout the entirety of the body, affecting the nervous system, joints, skin, organs and heart. It’s an auto-immune disease, meaning an untreated person’s immune system attacks the healthy cells in their body. These are just quick facts, skimming the surface of the complexity of Lyme. And then there’s the whole political mess… To be saved for another post!

Locks require work. As I previously mentioned, my hair style took over 25 hours to install. This happened with the help of a couple of friends and a very faithful husband, over the course of two weekends. Before starting them, I was aware of the time investment required, but I was surprised at how physically intense the work was. The main friend who helped create them (he had his dreadlocks for 8 years at the time), had skin peeling from his fingers from the tension between the comb and his hands. This is because the technique we used, backcombing, involves very small, quick movements. (Talk about carpal tunnel syndrome.) Meanwhile, my scalp wasn’t at all used to such tugging and pulling. It was sore and red. I’m pretty sure I almost cried several times.
Lyme requires work. When a person is undiagnosed with Lyme for an extended period of time, as I was, there’s a lot of make-up work to do. Imagine not knowing about a certain task at your job for years on end. Let’s say your supervisor wasn’t checking in on you, and just expected that you were doing it all along. Ten years later, they ask you to provide results for this task. You have a lot of make-up work to do. (Or you get fired.) For me, this work has meant hours upon hours of: studying; researching; learning; questioning; calling, arguing and fighting with insurance; calling pharmacies; calling doctors; purchasing medications and supplements from all over the place; spending purposeful time caring for my body’s needs. Lyme is a work-out involving multiple senses; it’s physical, emotional, mental and psychological work. I feel like crying most days of the week.

Locks require commitment. People who aren’t able to commit to dreadlocks often can’t keep them for more than a few months. This can be for various reasons. Maybe they got sick of their scalp itching as it adjusted to the new style, or maybe their hair didn’t knot up properly because they neglected to maintain it. I am happy to say that I’ve had my dreads for over two years now. I made it over the hardest months, because I started them with determination and perseverance.
Lyme requires commitment. This can be broadened to general health: People who aren’t able to commit to their health don’t get well. Before I was diagnosed with Lyme, I knew I was sick, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I went from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, but no one was able to provide me with practical help. I was told it was “just stress,” and was made to feel as if I was crazy. As my symptoms worsened, I had to learn to commit to my health with intensity and intentionality. It took time, but I eventually learned I had to trust myself over the doctors I was seeing. I knew I was sick. I knew it was serious. I had to take my sickness, as vague as it was at the time, as a serious issue. With my husband’s help, I eventually found a health professional who listened to me, and ultimately diagnosed me with Lyme Disease. Had my husband and I not persevered, we would still be at a loss, and the sickness would be continuing to get worse (the longer Lyme goes untreated, the harder it is to treat).

Locks have their good and bad days. How my dreadlocks look on a certain day may be dependent on the time or effort I put into dressing them. But honestly: sometimes, they just look good for no reason. Some of my best hair days consist of a 30 second up-do, while on other days, I can stand in front of the mirror for 15 minutes, and end up with a mess on my head. (It doesn’t help that my locks are at a very awkward thickness and length to work with.)
Lyme has its good and bad days. In all reality, I feel like Lyme actually has its bad days and worse days. There’s no such thing as a good day for me at this point of my illness because I never feel well. I know there are people out there who would consider me a pessimist for saying this, but I like to think of it as simply being realistic. Certainly, there are some days that I feel “okay;” I refer to these as my bad days. They might consist of a slight headache (instead of a migraine) and mild (instead of severe) joint pain. On days like this, I may have more energy than normal. On my worse days, I feel like sleeping all day if it means not having to think about the pain I’m in. Any amount of movement hurts; thinking is difficult. I’m not able to accomplish anything on my to-do list. My husband does all the cooking and dishes when he comes home from work, while I lay down.

Locks are misunderstood by people who can’t relate. My friend who helped start my dreadlocks encouraged me to keep a dreadlock journal. In this, I could keep random notes of comments I would receive from people — positive and negative. I’m glad I took up his advice, as it is pretty crazy what people come up with. In certain comments (always the positive ones), it is obvious when I’m dealing with a person who actually understands dreadlocks. These people have dreadlocks themselves, used to have them, or in some cases have a loved one with dreadlocks. They show excitement in being able to talk with me about my locks, and we laugh as we get each other’s jokes. Comments that come from people who can’t relate are often based on assumptions, and in many cases even stereotypes. And then there are people (usually older in age), who initiate dialogue with genuine curiosity. These are some of my favorite conversations, because it shows a willingness to learn something new while acknowledging their inexperience with the subject.
Lyme is misunderstood by people who can’t relate. It’s really not possible for someone to understand Lyme Disease unless they (or in some cases, a very close loved one), are dealing with it. Before I was diagnosed, I had two friends who had Lyme. I used to think of myself as an empathic person, but since my diagnosis, I’ve realized that I had no clue what these friends were going through. I knew they were sick, and I felt sorry for them. But I didn’t understand. There’s a big difference between knowing what a person is going through relationally and knowing what a person is going through experimentally. My friendship with these two individuals provided me with certain insight about the disease, but it wasn’t until I experienced it for myself that I began to truly understand what they were going through.

Locks are misjudged by their physical appearance. Oh, the stereotypes that come with having dreadlocks! From “You don’t wash your hair, do you?” to “What do you mean you don’t smoke marijuana?,” I’ve received plenty of judgment based on my physical appearance.
Lyme is misjudged by its physical appearance. On one hand, I understand the misjudgment that comes with Lyme because I was there at one point in my life. As my good friend was dealing with Lyme, I just didn’t get why she would do or act in certain ways. Now that I’m on the other side, having been diagnosed and in treatment for Chronic Lyme, I am very saddened by the fact that I am judged based on my appearance. Because I don’t have a walker, wheelchair, or otherwise obvious physical disability, it’s assumed that I am well and healthy. Even people who know that I am sick tell me, “Well you look great!,” as if this statement means I should feel great. If only people understood the invisible sickness that lies within, they would know that I am not great. What’s even harder is that certain things are expected of me based on my looks. Because I look young and fit, it’s expected that I should take the stairs instead of an elevator (for example). The pain in my right knee as it cracks with each bending motion is not apparent to others, and the shortness of breath is felt only by myself.

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