Lyme disease in teens can look a bit differently than it does in young children. Many teens have more emotional regulation than a younger child and can recognize anxiety and sensory overload in themselves quicker, which makes protecting them easier. Add in hormones though, and it can complicate things very quickly.
A big piece in the puzzle to finding infection in a teen is first knowing what is normal and an average expectation for an adolescent. The first thing to do is look for assets. Practicing in Loudoun county is much different for me than when I worked in rural Georgia. Here, most kids have asset after asset...high IQ, basics needs met and far exceeded, good safe schools. Clean safe neighborhoods. Loving safe families. Looking for assets, means looking for what makes a teen feel stable and able to participate in life.
No teen has everything and many have emotional pain and dysfunction. But for the most part, I often see teens who are cutting, suicidal, very anxious or darkly depressed when in my mind, it doesn't make sense why they would be. Teens are by nature social. Even teens with a quiet temperament enjoy their close friends' company. When I see an adolescent who cocoons socially, I begin to explore reasons why. When I see an otherwise active kid taking frequent naps after school, I question what might be going on inside his body.
Knowing what is a reasonable expectation for a teen helps a clinician or even a parent find medical reasons for behaviors or moods that do not make sense. Kids who have an eating disorder or who cut on themselves generally have a trauma history or an emotional reason to do so. When you see significant symptoms in a teen without any known reason, begin to dig, explore and look for a cause.
Lyme, Bartonella Henselae, Babesia, Mycoplasma, the MTHFR Gene Mutation are examples of medical explanations for why a teen may be acting out or suffering emotionally in a particular way. Countless teens have found relief from dark depression via antibiotics or methylated versions of B12 and Folate. Some teens talk about seeing shadowy figures or feeling like their bedrooms are bugged. Others are too anxious to go to school or too edgy to be socially desirable. When a teen's presentation does not make sense, dig. Finding reasons for a teen's darkness can be exhilarating. Learning that there are reasons he soothes with pot or she cuts herself in the shower can be rewarding. What a gift to realize that there is an infection to fight, not a child. That the infection is to blame and not the parents.
If you suspect something more may be going on with your child, ask a Lyme Literate Doctor to do a thorough assessment. Referrals to such practitioners can be given upon request.
Before I knew about Lyme disease, I had a lovely teenager with a wonderfully supportive family in my office asking for help. It seemed their bright teen was cutting and suicidal and I did not understand why. I didn't think my therapy was helping much, but a few months later, she was remarkably better. I scratched my head, bewildered...not understanding how I helped this child when I didn't even know what I was helping with. A couple of years later she returned. Worse. Now on top of her old symptoms were new ones. Hallucinations, OCD thoughts, poor judgement. This time I knew about Lyme disease. This time she was diagnosed properly and treated appropriately. But why did she improve before? Much to my surprise, during my initial counseling treatment with her, she had begun extensive antibiotic treatment with her Dermatologist for acne (which some teens with chronic infection have). The year of antibiotic treatment was just enough to make her neurological symptoms retreat. A year or so after she stopped the treatment, her Lyme disease came back with a vengeance. By this point, I was able to send her for an assessment and she received Lyme related treatment right away. Unbelievable! Imagine if she continued to worsen. What would be her fate? I shudder to think of the teens who are institutionalized or in juvenile detention because of infection. But it happens. Every day.
Don't wait. If you suspect infection, get help right away from a physician who sees Lyme disease every day. We can help our adolescents...even if it is one teen at a time.
Unless specified, Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the author of these posts. Gabrielle is a Therapist and the Director at FTC. She is a married mother of 2 and has experienced chronic infection in the practice, herself and in her family.
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