Ciara Bruning was finally diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in August of 2016. By then, it had been undiagnosed for about 3 years. She was dealing with all sorts of health issues that began junior year in high school and continued to get worse during her freshman year here at Lesley University. She experienced persistent colds, joint and muscle pain, heart palpitations, anxiety, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, stomach issues, nausea, and loss of balance, among other symptoms.
Frustrated by the different doctors and specialists who were telling her they could find nothing wrong, she took a nutritionist’s advice and got tested for Lyme disease. The test came back positive. In a way, Ciara was lucky. Because of inaccurate testing, many people don’t get the treatment or the care they need and continue to go undiagnosed with worsening symptoms.
Her healing process was all over the place, as Lyme disease is a daily struggle and changes constantly. “I would have periods where I felt much better and had hope that I was overcoming the disease, followed by periods of intense symptoms, and felt as though I’d never get better. This has felt pretty cyclical for me, but an important part of my journey that has led me to a doctor and a treatment plan that I feel very confident in.”
Ciara was diagnosed with chronic Lyme right before the start of her junior year. She started treatment soon after that. Treatment proved difficult, though. She was always focused on school and was also a captain of the Lesley volleyball team, but found balancing treatment with these activities to be too difficult. “After a painful and draining couple of weeks trying to act like my normal self, I realized I couldn’t handle all of these things at the same time and needed to take time off to focus on my health. I dropped some classes and continued with only two that semester. I also stopped playing volleyball, which was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.”
During the fall semester of her senior year, she interned at the Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness at Spaulding Rehab. Ciara knew she wanted to work with people with chronic Lyme disease because she knew firsthand how debilitating this disease can be and how it can feel like it’s taking over your life.
As an artist and Art Therapy major, Ciara also knew that using art as a form of self-expression could be beneficial for people with chronic Lyme disease.
Reflecting on her experiences, she observes that “one of the toughest parts about having chronic Lyme is that you tend to isolate yourself due to fear of judgment from others and feeling like your peers don’t understand you or relate to you. It can be embarrassing to feel like you can’t physically or mentally keep up with them, whether that’s due to joint pain, memory loss, loss of balance, confusion, etc. For me, this created a lot of social anxiety, which resulted in further isolation.”
Ciara ended up having to adjust her academic schedule—taking a lighter course load each semester but continuing during the summer—so she could still graduate on time in Spring 2018. Her new schedule was more manageable and less overwhelming. Ciara has always been a shy person, but now she had to keep in close contact with all of her professors and let them know what she was going through so she could receive the help she needed. She found that every single professor was very understanding and incredibly accommodating.
Disability Services at Lesley was also a great resource for help. They always made sure she was able to succeed despite her disease and were ready to do whatever was needed to help her graduate on time. Her academic advisors helped to plan out classes that felt comfortable. Ciara also saw a counselor at Lesley who understood what she was going through and was always there when she needed to vent or talk things through. She graduated on time, but as she observed, “it definitely required an army."
Now that she’s graduated Ciara is focusing on what's next. She’s just started seeing a new doctor and right after finals began a new treatment plan. She expects to spend the summer focusing on healing and building a portfolio while she has the uninterrupted time to create more art. She’s hoping to start a new job in the fall and explore options for graduate school.
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