The change in seasons is usually an exciting time for most, but the jump from season to season can be especially trying for Lyme patients.
In the past couple weeks, many people have told me that the recent change of the clocks to Daylight Savings Time is really getting to them. They feel tired and sluggish. While the Equinox should mark a positive shift towards spring and sunlight, the transition can actually be difficult for healthy and sick people alike.
I used to hear the term “spring fever” and assume it meant I was supposed to feel restless and excited for the upcoming season, like the people I saw running and playing outside. But I just couldn’t summon their energy. For me, spring fever manifested itself as malaise and, sometimes, an actual fever. All I wanted to do was sleep. I was not alone.
I’ve learned that while some people are able to jubilantly jump into a new season, it’s more upsetting for others, especially Lyme patients. For those of us suffering sleep disturbances, changing the clocks just one hour can seriously impact our circadian rhythms. I always experience an uptick in my sleep-related symptoms when I shift to Daylight Savings or back to Standard Time. I have more difficulty with insomnia, I have more nightmares, and I have trouble falling asleep for—and then getting up from—my afternoon nap. It can take me a week or more to get used to the new schedule.
But even without a time shift, simply the jump from season to season can be especially trying for Lyme patients. In my case, it may be my system is so compromised and is working overtime to fight infection, that it overreacts to the slightest changes. If I need to adjust a medication, I have to do so incredibly slowly, tricking my body into thinking that no dosage change is happening at all. If I get too hot or too cold, my body has a much stronger reaction than the non-Lyme sufferer would; I can overheat without warning, needing cool compresses all over my body, or I can get suddenly hypothermic.
Since climate change has altered the Earth’s ability to raise or lower temperatures based on the season, we’ve experienced heat waves in February followed by freezes and blizzards in March. That’s enough to send anyone’s system into shock, but for Lyme patients, these erratic weather patterns can cause the hyper-reactions I describe above. Many Lyme patients find that symptoms such as joint pain, fevers, and headaches—already difficult to control—become almost impossible to predict during seasonal fluctuations.
And it’s not just during the shift from winter to spring. Lyme patients struggle with every seasonal shift. I personally get more babesia symptoms such as air hunger and headaches in summer, while other Lyme patients might have worse joint pain in fall or winter.
Even though our bodies might react strongly to seasonal fluctuations, one advantage we Lyme patients have is resilience. If you really think about it, we experience internal season changes every single day. We can feel spring-like—energetic, full of possibility—for a morning, and then slip into a winter-like hibernation in the afternoon, often without warning. Lyme symptoms can vary daily if not hourly, and we have to learn to adapt to that unpredictability. If we can handle these shifts multiple times a day, we certainly can handle them a few times a year.
There are small steps we can take to help ourselves through seasonal fluctuations. I find it helps to be especially fastidious about my sleep hygiene during these times, making sure I stick to the same schedule, even if the clock changes by an hour. I allow myself a little extra time for rest during these periods. I wear more layers than most people do when it’s very cold outside, and cancel outdoor activities when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. I carry a water bottle with me where ever I go. I also sometimes have to change my medication or supplement doses seasonally, knowing that certain symptoms flare or subside depending on the weather.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to handle these shifts; they can be extremely frustrating. One hour we can be happy and hopeful, the next exhausted and depressed, later that day anxious and angry. We can experience summer and winter and fall and spring several times in a day, in no particular order, and that can make a patient feel really off-kilter.
If you’re in a tough season of Lyme, remember what we say in New England: wait five minutes, and the weather will change. Longer, brighter days really are ahead.
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. Her work has appeared in local and national publications including Harvard Health Publishing and The Boston Globe. As a GLA columnist for over six years, her work on GLA.org has received mention in publications such as The New Yorker, weatherchannel.com, CQ Researcher, and ProHealth.com. Jennifer is a patient advocate who has dealt with chronic illness, including Lyme and other tick-borne infections. Her memoir about her medical journey is forthcoming. Contact her via email below.