December 1: The Invisible Illness

The Science

Lyme-MSIDS (Multiple Systemic Infectious Disease Syndrome) is known as an “invisible illness.” It means that you can’t tell from the outside that the person is suffering; in a domino affect, it also means that you aren’t aware of just how many people are struggling with the illness, that not many people know it exists, public knowledge is sparse, and research funding tends to ignore it. It is invisible from lab tests that are not specific or sensitive enough to the hundreds of species of tick-borne diseases. We say “You don’t get it til you get it.” No one has any idea what’s going on beneath the surface until they experience it themselves.

This is in contrast to visible illnesses, such as broken bones, when you can observe a cast, degenerative diseases where you see the wheelchair, cancers which tend to manifest as weight fluctuations and bald heads, and any number of conditions with colored ribbons and massive donation campaigns. Visible illnesses have better awareness and more people willing to help and support the suffering.

The invisibility of Lyme-MSIDS makes it hard for others to accept and believe. Presence at social functions is seen as wellness, rather than the truth that just showing up took all the energy you had and will have for a week. No one can see your insomnia, your stomachaches, your constipation, your parasites, your yeast infections, your panic attacks, your headaches, your pain, your paranoia, your PTSD. Lyme can lead to weight loss and habitually smiling through pain. You are dying and all people can tell you is how great you look. “You don’t look sick” is the catchphrase. In turn, you begin to doubt it yourself – can I really be this sick if I have no proof outside my mind?

Lyme can also remain invisible in our own bodies. Very few people speak of being “cured” of chronic Lyme-MSIDS. We call it remission, because it often relapses as soon as we let our healthy guards down. It is so hard to cure because first of all, people are often looking only at “Lyme Disease” in it’s strictest sense, Borrelia burgdorferi, and ignoring the dozens of co-infections that comprise MSIDS (Bartonella, Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, etc.) Second, all these infections have persistor forms, whereby, through protective biofilms or low concentration, they evade detection by the immune system. Simply put, they lay low for a while, out of reach of antibiotics and antibodies. Then when you’re feeling amazing, and start to get lax with your diet, go back to work, or fill your schedule again, the persistors take advantage of the stress and inflammatory response to come back out and attack your immune system while it’s weak. Lyme patients usually remain vigilant and health-conscious for life, because they know the danger of relapse is always lurking beneath the surface.

Acceptance is part of any grief process. In order to move on with life equipped to face our continual challenges, we say “I am,” rather than “I was.” I am an alcoholic – I will always need to be vigilant against alcohol. I am a Lyme Warrior – I will always need to fight against Lyme. What I am is tragic, but I will keep fighting to overcome it.

The Faith

I am a sinner. I will always sin.

It struck me one morning how little we develop this point in teaching Christianity, or how little we understand it. Baptists have concocted a simplified device for how to become a Christian: it’s as easy as ABC. Admit, Believe, Confess. The first step is to Admit that you are a sinner. (Always a rebel for semantics, I object– there is no such thing as sin unless you first Believe that there is a God of complete sovereignty making the rules of what is sin and what isn’t. But I digress.)

What does this mean to admit you are a sinner? We usually point to Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We really simplify it for the children: Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever not listened to your mommy? Have you ever fought with your siblings? And we simplify it for adults, too: have you ever cursed out the driver that cut you off? Have you ever hated your snotty coworker? Have you ever taken office supplies for personal use? I always thought of admitting you’re a sinner to be like pulling out a list of the 10 commandments and ‘fessing up. “Yeah… I’ve done some of those.”

But sin is not a laundry list of commandments that you have broken at one point or another, or even mistakes you make every now and then. It’s ALL THE TIME. “I do some of those.. and more.” All are sinning and fall short of the glory of God. It’s default mode. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” It’s not just the commandments we break that make us gross, disgusting sinners, it’s our very human existence. Compared to what God is in perfection and utmost holiness, nothing we can do or be is good enough. Ever. You’re sinning right now, being distracted by your electronic devices, ignoring the homeless man down the street, eating food that is detrimental to your image-bearing body. I’m sinning right now, cursing the winter ache in my bones, wishing ill upon my neighbor’s yappy dog, pointing out specks while I have a plank in my eye. I’m lazy. You work too much. I’m too judgmental. You’re too open-minded. You hate me. I envy you. We’re filled with anxiety after Jesus himself commanded us not to worry. We’re disgusting. We can’t help it.

The Connection

We are infected with the invisible illness of MPSS – Multiple Persistent Sin Syndrome. No matter how great and righteous we look on the outside, there is a pile of filthy rags infecting us on the inside. Many “visible” sins have a name we all know and ascribe due fear and judgment: Addiction, Murder, Prostitution, Stealing. We see those casts, crutches, and consequences. Some of those have cures and never come back. But the Invisible Sin – the persistor. the undetectable – is our fallen humanity; it has no cure and will always relapse.

Because of the invisible and pervasive nature of this illness, we doubt we, or anyone, even has it. Presence in church is seen as a sign of wellness, rather than the truth that we barely made it; it’s a hospital for the sick, not a club for the healthy. We think we can heal it if we get rid of just the “Big Ones” like Lying and Cheating. We’ve maybe heard of Gluttony, Lust, or Jealousy, but the diagnostic criteria are vague and the tests are non-specific. We don’t even think to look for the co-infections of Bitterness, Wrath, Anger, and Impatience. If no one can tell, is it really a sin? Are we really infected? “You don’t look sick...”

There is only one diagnostic test that is 100% specific and 100% sensitive. The Bible – God’s law - will diagnose all forms MPSS with 100% accuracy. The results: all of humanity is infected, and the death rate is 100%. We will always be Sin Warriors, and need to stay conscious of how our decisions and actions have the potential to explode when the immune system – the will and Holy Spirit - is weak. What we are is tragic, but we must keep fighting to overcome it.

The Cure

Though Lyme-MSIDS is chronic, don’t we always seek more than remission? Don’t we all keep hoping that someday we will find THE CURE, that will allow us to rest, to let our guard down and enjoy life without suffering consequences? Don’t we share like mad and shout it from the rooftops when a new study is published about persistor drugs with promising results?

“Gospel” means “Good News,” and indeed there is incredibly good news for MPSS sufferers: Humanity’s Invisible Illness has a cure. It allows us to rest, to let our guard down on the perfect lifestyle we struggle daily (and fail) to maintain. It is coming to us this Christmas.

Read Romans 1:18 - 2:5

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