Riding Out the Storm of Lyme: The Healing Lifestyle that Carried Jeff Tkach to Recovery
By Jeff Tkach
Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been a proactively healthy and fit person. I’ve been known to ride my bike more than 100 miles in a given day, have been committed to eating a mostly organic diet for the last 15-plus years, and I take great solace in sleepand in managing my stress through yoga and meditation. But all of this was challenged in 2016, when I hit a point in my career that exposed me to prolonged and intense periods of stress.
That October, after pushing relentlessly beyond my limits (jumping on and off airplanes, flying back and forth across the country for business meetings), I was struck with flu-like symptoms that kept me sidelined for more than two weeks. I went to and from my family doctor several times, who ran a battery of tests and bloodwork, only to find no positive results for anything I was tested for. He even administered a Western Blot Lyme test that was negative.
Over the next few months, I would get well enough to go back to work for a few weeks only to crash again, each time a little bit harder. I kept returning to that same doctor, determined to get answers, and he kept referring me to one specialist after another, none of whom provided answers.
At one point, my doctor put me on a 30-day course of Ciprofloxacin, a very potent, broad-spectrum antibiotic, that left me feeling decimated. He convinced me that this was the best course of action for one of my symptoms. But the antibiotic gave me no relief, and my energy levels plummeted by the end of the 30 days.
“ I realized that if I were going to get better, I was going to have to become my own health advocate.”
By the time Christmas rolled around, I was completely bedridden and forced to go on medical leave in early January. The same family doctor whom I had been seeing for the past three months finally diagnosed me with “depression and anxiety.” He put me on an antidepressant and told me that there was nothing more that he could do for me.
Completely depleted and unable to work, I felt hopeless beyond despair. I suffered from chronic gastrointestinal distress, fevers, night sweats, hallucinations, intense body aches, and panic attacks. I felt like I was losing my mind, and I was terrified because no one could give me a reason for my health collapse.
At that point, I realized that if I were going to get better, I was going to have to become my own health advocate. And thus, the journey to wholeness began. I was referred to a Functional Medicine doctor, whom I got into see during the last week of February, 2017.
To this day, I do not know where I would be without Dr. Kracht. Not only did he provide me with a sense of assurance, but he became my advocate. He immediately treated me for fluoroquinolone toxicity, a condition that is often caused by antibiotics from the Fluoroquinolone family (Cipro). He treated me using IV therapy, detoxification protocols, and supplements like glutathione.
I started to feel a little better over the next few weeks, and miraculously got back to work by mid-March. A few months into this treatment regimen, I started having headaches and neck aches again, so my doctor decided to run a more elaborate Lyme test (iSpot). Sure enough, I tested positive for Lyme (my numbers were off the charts) even though I never found a tick or bulls-eye rash.
I started a combination of antibiotics and herbs, but after a week or so I was unable to tolerate the antibiotics, due to gastrointestinal distress. Now that I knew Lyme was the culprit behind my health collapse, I began my own research that set me on the path that I am still on today.
“Healing became multi-layered and encompassed so much more than healing from the physical symptoms: It was spiritual and emotional, too.”
I continued to add modalities to my protocol, such as infrared sauna treatments and IV therapy (Meyers cocktails), as well as supplements and herbs to aid detoxification and ease inflammation. Yoga and meditation became daily disciplines. At first, I could only do 5 or 10 minutes at a time, but I stuck with both practices, which helped to ease the panic and anxiety symptoms and deepen my sleep. I also began weekly acupuncture which helped to reset my parasympathetic nervous system; those weekly visits to Dr. Jenn became foundational to my healing. I was making progress, albeit slowly.
I began to read every book available on the topics of Lyme and chronic illness, and my healing became a “trial and error” process. Or, to put it another way, it was like peeling back the layers of an onion. Healing became multi-layered and encompassed so much more than healing from the physical symptoms: It was spiritual and emotional, too.
From the very beginning of my health collapse, I was fortunate enough to have a caring and compassionate therapist in my life. Our weekly visits during my darkest times helped to shed light on emotional trauma that I had been harboring for years, if not decades. This trauma was holding me back from healing. The more that I unpacked it and “befriended” my grief and suffering, the more I began to slowly and incrementally heal. It was then that I finally came to grips with the fact that if I were going to fully recover, it was going to take time, patience, and focused effort.
My journey eventually led me to more and more reading and studying, and I came upon Dr. Bill Rawls’ book, Unlocking Lyme. After reading his book, I was fortunate to have a one-hour session with him over the phone, and he opened my eyes to the complexities and intricacies of Lyme. Dr. Rawls explained the analogy of “the pot boiling over” and helped me to understand how the body operates as an ecosystem, and that my job was to bring the ecosystem back into balance.
I began to use his herbal protocol, and embraced the restorative diet that Dr. Rawls outlines in the book. At this point, I was still experiencing intense gastrointestinal distress (likely from the Cipro and other antibiotic use). I had lost more than 20 pounds and was not able to properly digest food.
What Dr. Rawls helped me to see and understand is that overcoming Lyme, or any chronic illness, had to become a lifestyle. The idea of “healing as a lifestyle” made total sense to me, and so I began to treat each decision each day as an incremental step towards full health.
From that point on, I made my healing journey a lifestyle, and I accepted the fact that there was no quick fix. My healing became a daily rhythm: morning meditation, journaling, prayer, yoga, healthy movement, sauna therapy, proper sleep, mid-day walks, and deep breathing. I focused on making nourishing meals that healed my gut and restored my energy. I used infrared sauna therapy, acupuncture, massage, polarity therapy, and qigong.
“The idea of “healing as a lifestyle” made total sense to me, and so I began to treat each decision each day as an incremental step towards full health.”
Every decision and every modality slowly peeled back, layer upon layer, the illness. It was three steps forward, one step backward. Trial and error, not without its frustrations. But I continued to live the lifestyle, and little by little I got my life back. In fact, I received the gift of a much deeper, more present, and more meaningful life.
To this day, two and a half years into the journey, I continue to see improvements from Dr. Rawls’ herbal protocol and from living the lifestyle he recommends, including eating whole, organic foods (most plants, healthy fats, and chicken and fish). Over the last few months, I have been amazed by the dramatic improvements in my physical endurance and strength. I am back to cycling up to 30 miles a few times per week, running 4 to 6 miles, swimming, and have recently taken up surfing (my new passion!).
I want to personally thank Dr. Rawls and everyone on his team for providing us with such great resources to help us on this healing journey. Thank you also to Dr. Kracht, Dr. Jenn, and Dr. Hoffman for all of your support. And most of all, thank you to my amazing wife and partner, Jackie, for your love, patience, and support through the most difficult journey of my life. You are my rock and my light.
During my darkest days, I took great solace in poetry. It was a healer and companion that gave me a ray of hope and meaning during the most difficult times. I would like to share one poem in particular with all of you, my fellow healers. I hear your grief cry. You are not alone, we are in this together, and we will reclaim our vitality and wholeness.
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
Rainer Maria Rilke
(Translated by Robert Bly)
Welcome to the #MeAgain Story Series. Our aim is to share stories from people who have recovered, or are recovering, from chronic disease in order to give you hope that healing is within your reach. This series will highlight their struggles and triumphs to inspire you to take action and reclaim your life. Enjoy!
I love stories with people getting better. Please remember that what works for one may not for another. Also, there’s a tendency with some patients to give “natural” things all the credit when they did extensive antibiotics which killed pathogens before.
There is nothing “holy” or better about natural products. They are strong medicine too and some people can’t tolerate them either.
The reason I write this is that throughout my journey I’ve had well meaning people essentially blame me for being ill as well as discredit and label pharmaceutical treatment of any kind “The bad guy.” While Big Pharma has done some pretty rotten things, I don’t believe the medicines they’ve made are to be blamed for their unethical behavior. I didn’t enjoy taking antibiotics as they made me feel worse at the time (herxheimer reaction) but the results are undeniable. I have my life back.
Whatever makes you improve, USE IT, but don’t diss others who use something different. The end goal is to get better.
BTW: The Ciprofloxin that didn’t help him, helped me dramatically. Throughout treatment you will have to weigh the risk with the benefit. Also, Bartonella is known to cause GI issues. The intolerance to antibiotics due to GI upset could very well be the killing of Bartonella or other pathogens – in essence a herx reaction. This too needs to be weighed and balanced. All adverse reactions should be discussed with your practitioner but there were many times I wanted to quit treatment due to discomfort of one type or another. Treatment is hard and long. Sometimes we just need to tough it out, and other times we truly need to switch things around and even discontinue some things. Also, the things we discontinue at one point might work at another point.