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Contracting Lyme disease has changed my whole outlook on travel

A woman battling Lyme disease walking down a road in Hawaii.

Guest post from Tania Derwant, an Australian traveller who refuses to let Lyme disease stand in the way of her wanderlust.

Travel is life changing, but in 2013 I found that travel REALLY changed my life after I contracted Lyme disease after a trip to Bali. It took a very tough two years to be diagnosed. It’s definitely changed who I am, but I decided a while ago that my identity would never be my sickness.

I’d always loved travel

I’d been travelling my whole life. My very first trip was at the tender age of 6 when my grandparents took my whole family on the ultimate childhood dream holiday to Disneyland.  I never stopped and added the USA, New Zealand, Fiji, England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, and much of the beautiful Aussie land as possible to my list. Oh, and Indonesia…

I love travel! It lets me be totally in the moment and not be worrying about if I sent that email through to my colleagues, or whether there are bills to be paid or groceries to buy. On all of my trips I’ve found that I’ve learned things. Learned things about myself, about other cultures, about my friendships/relationships, or about the history of places I’m visiting. That’s why coming back from a holiday and being so ill was so hard for me – travel was part of who I am!

What is Lyme Disease?

If you’re not familiar with Lyme disease, it’s a bacterial infection caused by tick bites. If you catch it in time you can cure it quite easily, but if you don’t it can spread through your bloodstream and cause infections in your brain, heart and joints. Sadly for me, I didn’t get diagnosed for two whole years due to the disease not being ‘recognised’ in Australia.

I have a lot of not-fun symptoms caused by Lyme that include; migraines, facial paralysis, sensitivity to light and noise, dizziness/vertigo, muscle and joint pain, poor memory, peripheral nerve pain/numbness, unsteady gait, heat intolerance, nausea and my personal favourite, unrelenting fatigue. It’s tough.

How Did I Get Lyme Disease?

Before you start freaking out thinking everyone who travels is at risk, Lyme disease (or the ticks that carry it really) are more common in the temperate forested areas of Asia, Europe and North America. I believe I contracted Lyme disease whilst on holiday in Bali, though I never remember a specific tick bite. I did visit temples surrounded by monkeys and a safari animal park though, and there were plenty of chances for something to happen there. I felt unwell, but dismissed it as simply being a typical ‘travel bug’. However once I got home, I just never got better. In fact I got progressively worse.

My identity has been changed

Honestly, I feel like a shadow of the person I once was. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with living with this illness, and I’m still working on it every day. Previously I had a very go-getter attitude, always keeping myself busy with work, study and socialising. I’ve been a doer my whole life, wanting to achieve more and prove to myself that I can get anything done if I try. I was that person that you knew you could depend on.  These days I’m still that person internally, but in a physical sense I sometimes struggle to do everything I wish that I could. One of the largest impacts it’s had on my life is my career. I’ve been forced to cut down my work hours from full time (combined with frequent overtime) to 4 days a week (with much less overtime).

These days I have to plan in rest time ahead and organise my life around what I know I’m capable of doing, and avoiding things that set my health back, despite how much I may want to do it.


I won’t stop travelling though

There’s a silver lining to this story and that’s that I will not, and have not, stopped travelling! I was scared and too sick to even try for a long time, but my partner and I did a 6-week trip to Europe in 2016 and an extra week for kicks in Port Douglas (in Queensland Australia) where my (now) fiancé proposed. YAY!

Travelling is certainly a challenge for me if it’s a more physically draining trip. I may have to skip doing certain activities or events if I’m having a really off day, which can be quite a downer. One example is in Austria, the rest of the group went skydiving and canyoning and I unfortunately spent the day in bed with a pounding migraine. The other way travelling has changed for me is that I’m much more cautious of the countries I travel to, as hygiene and health care have become more necessary for me and I’d hate to get sick again or be caught in a place without treatment if anything goes wrong with my Lyme.

The future

My soon to be husband and I never stop talking of travelling and the places we wish to go.  My health has its up and downs but I’ve learnt to adapt to it and so have our travelling adventures. Luckily I have a very understanding man who knows I might really want to hike up that mountain, but today just isn’t my day for it. Our next big trip is planned for 2019; a 5-week journey four-wheel-driving to Cape York, the tip of Australia. Then hopefully 2020 will see us heading to Mexico to taste some mighty fine tequila. One thing Lyme hasn’t changed is my passion for margaritas, I’ll just take it without the extra lime

Has an illness changed your life? Share your story in the comments below, or submit to our community contributor program.

A person holding a glass of wine in front of a lake.