Tick-Borne Infectious Diseases Masquerade as Mental Illness

My name is Cheryl Nagel. I was born and raised in Washington State. I got married in 1987 and had two boys: one in 1990 and the second in 1999. From the very beginning, both boys played competitive travel baseball as well as for local leagues and schools.

Cheryl and her two sons, Shane (left) and Miles (right).

Since 2003, I was the CFO of a specialty contractor located in Redmond, WA. During my employment, I was an active member of CFMA’s Puget Sound Chapter and served as President from 2015-18. During this time, I met Cal Beyer who was leading CFMA’s suicide prevention initiative.

Through my presidency, CFMA’s Puget Sound Chapter teamed up with the Associated General Contractors of Seattle and Local #302 of the International Union of Operating Engineers and held Seattle’s first ever Suicide Prevention Summit. The event was amazing, and the impact we made on our local community was incredible, with 147 attendees from various contractors, labor unions, apprenticeships, public health agencies, and mental health nonprofits throughout the Pacific Northwest.

To be honest, my participation was selfish because my youngest son, Shane, was experiencing thoughts of suicide at the young age of 16. My story begins with one night sitting on the floor of Shane’s bedroom crying that he just wanted to kill himself. He was deep in depression and having extreme anxiety, and I was completely caught off guard and unaware that my son was struggling with mental illness. A typical day was school, baseball practice, and video games in the evening, and Shane kept his struggles to himself until he could no longer bear the responsibility and asked for help.

At that moment, I stopped and listened, and the next day, I put a plan into action. I went online and found Dr. Ravinder Marok, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who treats individuals from early childhood into adulthood. While I would like to say this was the end of our story, it was just the beginning.

Over the next few years with treatment from Dr. Marok, Shane continued playing baseball and graduated from high school with an Associate degree from Green River College through an accelerated dual program in June of 2017. At the age of 18, Shane was off to Central Washington University with a focus in Construction Management. Shane was a very good student although he continued to struggle with depression and anxiety. After Shane’s first year, he interned with Lakeside Industries during the summer of 2018. It was during this time that Cal and Lakeside took Shane under his wing, where Cal made a significant impression on him to pursue Safety as a minor to his Construction Management degree. It was clear to me that Shane was struggling with memory retention, which I thought was related to his depression and anxiety medication. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and Shane was doing his next internship with Hoffman Construction. He started complaining about shooting pains in his arm and continued to struggle with confidence and memory issues. That summer was difficult, working through the anxiety and various pains, and by September, Shane did not want to return to college. I told him to “suck it up” and shipped him back to school. Even though Shane was sick, I ignored the signs and stopped listening to his basic emotional needs. Two months later, our lives changed when answers to everything suddenly appeared.

I was on a trip to Denver with my CFMA Peer Group when I met up with Denise Day, Controller of Phillips Hardy out of Boonville, MO. She is telling our group a story about Lyme Disease and how her son was bitten, leading to the side effects he was struggling with because of the infection. Knowing nothing about infectious diseases, Shane showed me a sore that he got in August after he was hiking in a remote area of the woods. It was as if a light bulb clicked on in my brain; I started to ask Denise all about Lyme Disease and how to get tested for it. I called Shane right after the meeting because I was a believer and felt in my gut that this was Shane’s illness. In the meantime, Shane continued to struggle in school and told me he could not remember what he was learning; his anxiety was out of control.

Long story short, my husband and I met with Shane’s doctor. We expressed our concern about Lyme Disease, and the doctor adamantly denied that Washington State has Lyme. Regardless, he ran the test on Shane, and it came back negative. I was so upset because I was convinced this was Shane’s illness. It was at this moment that I turned all my attention to Shane and finding the truth!

In November of 2019, I pulled Shane out of college and brought him back home to Seattle. I reached out to my friend Denise to help look up all the doctors in the area. This is where she found Dr. “M”, a world-leading Naturopathic doctor specializing in the treatment of vector-borne diseases (Lyme, Bartonella, Babesia, etc.). 

A week later, Shane was seeing Dr. “M”, who immediately diagnosed Shane with Bartonella, a tick-borne disease. His diagnosis was easy because his mid-section from waist to shoulders was covered with stretch marks, which was common for Bartonella (just like the bullseye is common for Lyme). It turned out that Shane developed the stretch marks around the age of 14, indicating that he was bitten over six years earlier. This answered so many questions related to his constant need to go to the doctor plus his struggles with muscle aches and pains while playing competitive baseball.

Besides the stretch marks, Shane’s other symptoms included fever, fatigue, headache, depression, anxiety, brain fog, muscle pain, swollen glands, and feet and shin pain; random pains in his abdomen, chest, shoulders, and back; and crystalized joints. I remember telling Dr. “M” that no one believed me that Shane was sick and all the doctors over the years thought he was crazy. What she said to me next was, “You saved your son’s life!” You advocated for him, and without treatment, his body would have stopped functioning and he would have eventually ended up in a mental institution. I just remember crying and holding Shane in my arms telling him that we finally had answers.

Over the next week, Shane had 58 vials of blood drawn and sent to a lab specializing in infectious diseases in California (IGeneX). In late November 2019, Shane was finally diagnosed with Lyme, Bartonella, and Borrelia Garinii (a German tick-borne disease). The next two years were the worst ever!

For seven months straight, Shane slept 15 or more hours a day. COVID-19 became part of our world as Shane’s immune system was fighting for his life. Since the beginning, he has been on 3-4 different antibiotics along with many other supplements to offset the damage that the diseases have caused to his central nervous system and other parts of his body. Even though Shane fought nausea constantly, he forced himself to take over 100 pills a day as prescribed. On top of treatment, Shane was also isolated due to COVID-19 so all his interaction with friends was through online chatting and gaming. Shane lost over 50 pounds and unfortunately all his muscle mass.

I am happy to say that Shane has finally turned the corner. In the fall of 2022, Shane returned to college but remains on treatment. He is close to finishing his third year now and is making progress. Shane’s grades are back to reflecting himself as a very good student, and he is regaining social skills and confidence. The brain numbing is significantly better, but Shane still has some memory issues. Shane’s treatment will continue until he is cured, but until then, he cannot eat wheat, sugar, or dairy as these foods feed the “bugs” that I refer to as the infectious diseases.

But my story is not over! Rolling back to October 2021, my oldest son Miles, age 30, starts to have high anxiety and depression. He is calling me in states of panic and is having a hard time coping with everyday life. His sleep pattern is starting to mirror Shane’s along with other noticeable living challenges. I said to Miles, “I think you have what Shane has and that you need to be seen by Dr. “M”.” Miles tells me, “You’re crazy, Mom, because I don’t have any of the physical problems with body aches and pains.” 

I tell him I am concerned because he also had stretch marks since he was a senior in high school. I am worried so I tell Miles I am making him an appointment. I call Dr. “M”’s office telling her Miles is sick like Shane. Dr. “M” says to me, “Cheryl, you know the drill and what it takes to figure it out! I have an opening this Thursday, and we’ll get started on Miles.” 

Sure enough, after getting blood drawn and testing, Miles is diagnosed with Lyme, Bartonella, and Babesia. Miles is in shock, and I am again stressed but relieved to have also gotten him diagnosed. Miles, who works for a local city parks department, shared his story with his supervisors who have been very supportive of his treatment. In the beginning, he missed a lot of work as his body was fighting against the antibiotics. But it has been over six months now and Miles is still being treated for his tick-borne infectious diseases, but he is able to perform his job duties without much time off.

Since Shane’s diagnosis, I have shared his story over and over to anyone who will listen. Over five of my coworkers or peers have referred their friends or family to see Dr. “M” for treatment. Tick-borne infectious diseases are in Washington State and worldwide. The medical community is not properly trained in how to handle these patients or provide cures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that nearly half of a million people are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually, but unfortunately, most doctors don’t know how to diagnosis or test properly for tick-borne infectious diseases. Shane had Lyme, but his test came back false; this is not unusual and happens more often than not. Dr. “M” is Shane’s savior, and Denise Day is Shane’s Angel. Both are my heroes!

I have researched these diseases out of necessity and have found professionals who are providing treatment that is specific to my son’s needs. I know that there are many families who do not know why their children or spouses are sick and cannot find answers. What I say is, advocate for your family members. Reach out to me at cheryl-nagel@outlook.com for help or advice. Don’t let anyone tell you “no”!

I am truly blessed. My family has a future, and while this process has not been easy, it’s been rewarding. My boys are still living with tick-borne infectious diseases, but someday they will be cured and normal lives. Until then, I live their struggles and successes alongside them and honor the life we have together.

About the Author

Cheryl Nagel

Cheryl Nagel is CFO of Pacific Northern Environmental.

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