Welcome back. As I said in the last edition  to this column back in 2015, I’m hoping to use this column to tell the stories of others living their lives with disabilities, disorders or other challenges and how they deal with those challenges on a daily basis.

So, without further ado, meet Olivia Chiacchia.

Olivia graduated from Keene State College in May 2015 with a degree in psychology and a minor in studio art. She said she had hoped to work doing art therapy or psychological analytics for the FBI and even had a job offer from a local hospital as an activities therapist after she graduated. However, she had to turn it down. The reason why stems back almost a decade, back to a run in the woods.”

Chiacchia said that is when she believes she contracted Chronic Lyme Disease.

Kendall Pope/ Managing Executive Editor

Kendall Pope/ Managing Executive Editor

Since she was 14, Chiacchia said she has had endless bouts with arthritis, chronic back pain, migraines, nausea, depression, mood swings and general frustration because of her condition. While she has seen many doctors over the years, many have been unable to diagnose her properly, some even told her what she was feeling was all in her head.

“Having Lyme [disease] is like getting hit by a bus and being left in the street and there’s no doctors around to help you,” Chiacchia said.

Chiacchia said that one of the main reasons why it took so long for her and many others  to be diagnose the disease is that testing for Lyme isn’t very effective.  According to the Lyme Research Alliance, tests for lyme may come up as a false negative for a number of reasons, and therefore the symptoms of Lyme are treated in an incorrect manner.

Even with failing walking abilities, migraines that lasted for days, doctors didn’t seem able or willing to help. she attended KSC with big dreams.  She was able to manage her symptoms and graduate. However, her condition worsened after she got her diploma.

Due to her symptoms, Chiacchia often suffered herniated disks and other back pain. Treatment for such an injury calls for the use of steroid injections.

The steroids caused her immune system to weaken and the rest of her symptoms flared up badly and left her unable to do much of anything, some days not even able to get off the couch.

Chiacchia said she had to make some tough life choices.

She gave up career opportunities and much of her independence, relying on family for everyday tasks. Chiacchia was forced to spend day after day on the couch unable to do any of the things she wanted to do with her life, like work, make jewelry, paint and spend time with her friends.

If her condition has showed her anything, she said it’s that people can easily take the little things for granted, much like she did before the Lyme disease began to take hold like walking, running, driving and working.

“When people are complaining about driving really far or like having long workdays, I would sometimes be like, ‘wow, I would love that,’ That’s such a privilege to have that, and the privilege to be able to walk and exercise and all of those things,” Chiacchia said.

She continued, “I think that the experience has given me so much gratitude for the health that I do have and in that way I’m very thankful to have this new depth and understanding.”

An artist’s hands are always busy though, and so Chiacchia decided to start a business making and selling skin care products.

However, her arthritis is so bad that sometimes she is unable to lift the tools she needs to make her products, but her family and friends help her do what she needs to do to make it work.

She hopes to have the company up and running by February of this year.

These days, Chiacchia said she is feeling much more optimistic about the future.

She has found a Lyme doctor (which are actually quite rare) and is set to begin a new treatment of antibiotics which should help keep the disease at bay.

”People live happy lives Lyme…it gives me a lot of hope for the future,” Chiacchia said.

Chiacchia is just one of so many who are trying to live their lives with me disease.  According to the Center for Disease Prevention, there were over 33,000 cases of either confirmed probable Lyme Disease diagnoses in America during 2014 alone.  In fact, a very high majority of those cases were reported in the Northeast Region of America.

If readers remember, my last column revolved around fear of the future and what is to come.

Talking to Olivia Chiacchia showed me that even if there is no cure, even when things get really bad, there doesn’t seem to be much of a future and when your circumstances force you to change course it pays off to keep going, eventually things will happen to get you where you need to be.

It was also a good reminder to check for ticks.    

Jacob Berrett can be contacted at jberrett@kscequinox.com

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