From Death to a Full Life
LGB: You are one of the few people I’ve talked to who remembers seeing the tick that bit her and also got a bullseye rash. How long ago was this, and where were you?
Mariko: It was in 2003, and I was living in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, with my husband. I was hiking with our wolf-dog Bodhi when I saw the tick walking away from what would eventually be the bullseye rash on my arm. I didn’t think much of it at the time since there are plenty of ticks in the Eastern Sierras. It did strike me that it looked different from the ticks I’d seen—it was smaller and sort of red and black versus the engorged gray ticks I’d seen on dogs.
LGB: Did you get diagnosed right away? How long did it take you to get diagnosed?
Mariko: It took three-and-a-half years to get a solid diagnosis despite showing the bullseye rash to my doctor after I first contracted it. I remember he was holding my arm, looking at the rash—it was at the crease of my inner elbow—and he pondered it but didn’t know what it was. I also had a larger rash covering much of my torso.
It’s so obvious now that I had Lyme disease. But I was actually there to see him after having a near-death experience from something else, so he wasn’t thinking of infections because I had a lot more going on. It took a total of 16 doctors and alternative practitioners to finally find one who knew what it was. Thankfully, I had drawn out a picture of the bullseye rash to show all my doctors, so I knew exactly what it had looked like.
LGB: Were you working at the time? Did you have to stop working?
Mariko: Yes, I was building a new business in energy healing and bodywork therapy. I’d been practicing for five years at the time, and we had just moved from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Lake Tahoe, so I was starting over.
As far as when I stopped working, it wasn’t as gradual as you’d think. For me, it happened all in one day. I was injured by someone practicing alternative medicine without a license, education, or certification. This person had already gone before the state board to answer for practicing without a license, and I had no idea. This person had used their spouse’s medical license to obtain medical equipment in order to create their own practice. I ended up injured to the point of having a near-death experience.
I had sought out treatment from this person—not knowing they were unqualified—because I’d contracted Lyme disease three weeks before but thought I had the flu and just hadn’t gotten my energy back. My neck hurt, I had a constant headache, and I was totally rundown. I started to worry that I wasn’t bouncing back the way I should have at 29 years old. So that, on top of the Lyme, is what my husband and I believe created so much confusion around getting a diagnosis.
LGB: What sort of support did you have?
Mariko: My husband Chris and God. He was (and still is) amazing—my husband…and God. At only 25 years old, he picked up all of our responsibilities and supported us. We were newlyweds and had been married for a year and a half. We were so excited because we’d recently gotten hired as caretakers for a large estate on the lake, so we had a place to live and very little expenses at the time. We would tend to the house year-round and in turn just had to pay our phone bill, which was incredible timing because my medical expenses were about to skyrocket.
It’s hard to put into words how much I felt supported. We hadn’t been in Tahoe long, so while we knew a few people, we didn’t belong to the community. We had support, however, from my parents, my sister in San Francisco, and my mother-in-law in Atlanta. They’d all call me daily, which kept my spirits up and helped me feel less isolated.
But, honestly, the day-to-day, moment-to-moment support came from Chris and our wolf-dog Bodhi. He was my tether to this world, and without him I wouldn’t have gotten through it—my husband, not our dog. Well, the dog, too, but that was different. Bodhi was my constant companion during the years I was home all day by myself. He never left my side either.
Without Chris’s support, determination, and love, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He got me through it all and was my mental, emotional, and spiritual support during the most unimaginable moments of excruciating pain. At that point, the Lyme symptoms were nothing in comparison to what I was going through from the injury. The doctor I saw after it happened said it was as if I’d been electrocuted. My acupuncturist and mentor in Chinese medicine said it was as if my organs got cooked a little. It’s the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced, and I couldn’t imagine getting through it without his help and skills. His herbs and acupuncture healed me over time and were the only treatments I used to recover from the injury.
Something important about my NDE [near-death experience] is that I was told not to use Western medicine, which was out of my comfort zone, having spent five years working in hospitals. But I knew it was an important instruction for me to follow. The surprising thing was, the doctor I saw weeks after my NDE had also had an NDE years prior, so he understood the importance of following the instructions I received and honored the one to avoid Western medicine.
I also felt immense support from God. I’d dive back into the bliss of my soul that I experienced during death to escape the physical reality, and that was key to getting through it, too.
Chris fed me, carried me to the bathroom when I couldn’t walk, helped me shower, and took me to any and every person we thought might help, all while working full-time at a brand-new job. Eventually his job took us to Phoenix, Arizona, where he could better support us, and I would eventually find the doctor who diagnosed and cured me of Lyme.
LGB: Over the three-and-a-half years that it took you to get diagnosed with Lyme, what were the responses you got from doctors and alternative practitioners?
Mariko: Oh, you know, what a lot of us have heard: that I’m depressed and it’s all in my head. There was one internal medicine doctor, in particular, who looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You’re making this up. It’s all in your head, and you just need to go back to work full-time and have babies.” Looking back, he was totally right; it was in my head…the Lyme was headed to my brain!
Other times they’d just listen and not write anything down until I said something that they believed. I’d always tell them that I was not depressed because since my NDE I’d been in a constant state of joy and love, so how could depression feel so euphoric? I’d also show them the drawing of my rash, and many would only glance at it.
The best was when one would just be honest and say they didn’t know what was wrong with me or how to help. At least that gave us some hope that even though the doctor didn’t know, they didn’t flat out think I was making it up.
The alternative practitioners had different theories and were always supportive in whatever way they could be, even if they couldn’t get to the bottom of it. After about 10 to 12 months of illness in Tahoe, I went back to visit Flagstaff to see our old friends where we had been part of a community. Two were doctors practicing family medicine, and a few more practiced alternative medicine. At the very least, I knew they’d believe me since they’d known me for years.
After being there for a few days, other holistic practitioners came out of the woodwork when they heard I was back and very ill—some I had never even met. They helped in whatever way they could. One of my old clients even drove me to my appointments. Other practitioners helped me free of charge or at a big discount, including the friend I was staying with who also was a doctor.
I didn’t get the answers I was looking for during my stay, but I healed on a deeper level, and it got me through some rough times. I had reconnected with my community, and being a part of a community who believes in you is key to healing, even if it’s a community of one.
Despite so much generous help, I also remember a time when we had exactly $1.59 in our bank account and a lot of debt. That’s what eventually led to our move from Lake Tahoe to Phoenix. As you well know, this is an expensive disease, and we needed to go where Chris had more job opportunities.
LGB: Describe what it was like at your lowest point with Lyme.
Mariko: There was a time when I was sick that I’d completely forget what I was talking about in the middle of a conversation and no amount of reminding me would help to recall any of the conversation. I felt as if I’d just entered the room, even if we’d been talking for a long time. Other times I’d stare off into space for a little while, miss part of the conversation, then jump back to where I left off as if no time had passed. Sometimes one leg or both would just give out, and I’d have to lie on the floor, crawl to the couch, or have Chris carry me. At other times, my eyesight would go black for a few moments, then come back. Often I couldn't get out of bed because I couldn’t stand up or move more than a finger or two. Chris had to do everything for me, and the only answer we had was that I was depressed and making it up. My whole life was ahead of me, but by 32 I had trouble walking and talking, had nearly no community, no answers, couldn’t think straight, and was in pain 24 hours a day.
LGB: How did your body react to the move to Phoenix? Did you find a doctor there?
Mariko: Moving to Phoenix was a culture shock for both of us after living in the mountains for a decade, but we needed help and hoped to find the answers there. It was also necessary financially for Chris to take a job in corporate America with room to grow and good health insurance. When this all first happened, we weren’t insured.
But going from living on a six-million-dollar estate on a private road in Lake Tahoe that we were caretakers for to an apartment that was in a rough area of town was difficult, to say the least.
Pro Tip: Never move into a place you’ve never seen that’s in a part of town you’ve never been to.
My life went from lying in bed watching the waves crash on the shore on the days I couldn’t get out of bed, or sitting on our private boat dock watching catamaran tour boats pass by on the good days, to watching prostitutes walk by and a guy with an ax who stood outside the apartment gate yelling every night.
It still took another two-plus years before I met my doctor.
So three-and-a-half years after the tick bite and injury, I met Dr. Olya Stouk, and I began to get my life back. She’s a naturopathic doctor specializing in integrative family medicine and fertility who’s originally from Europe. I saw her weekly so that she could witness all of the symptoms since nothing was consistent.
I had no energy and was sick all the time. I was a magnet for all types of infections, from strep throat and pneumonia to bladder and sinus infections. This was a whole different level of having no energy, as you probably know. I had no reserves, so if I overdid it by something simple like talking on the phone, washing a few dishes, or getting the mail, I’d be recovering for hours or days. If I did something really big like going out to dinner, the recovery would take weeks.
My day-to-day life felt like I was existing with no purpose, no community, and no answers. I was losing the person I had been, and it was terrifying.
Then one day something changed. I can’t remember the exact moment I knew something was very wrong, but once I did I picked up my phone to call for help and couldn’t figure out how to use my phone. I turned it over and tried to figure out how to use it but had no idea what to do. It was like holding an alien object in my hands. I remember looking at Bodhi, our wolf-dog, and he looked back at me like, Yeah, I dunno either, but I’m worried about you.
I got up and checked my pupils in the mirror. Before I went into alternative healing, I worked as a patient care partner in the UCLA Medical Center Neurosurgery/Trauma Intensive Care Unit. I thought to do a little neuro exam on myself. I saw that my pupils looked normal and my face moved the way it should and I seemed to have equal hand and foot strength. I didn’t think I was having a major stroke, so I sat back down on the couch and waited for my husband to come home. I couldn't call for help or figure out how to turn the doorknob to get out, so I was basically stuck.
It’s interesting that part of my brain had enough reason to think to check my own pupils to see if they were equal and reactive. I also had enough reason to decide not to eat anything that involved using the stove or a knife since that could be dangerous.
As evening came and it got darker in the house, I tried to turn the lights on but to no avail. I pulled on the light switch, pushed it, tried to move it from side to side, but it wouldn’t turn on. I squeezed it hard between my fingers but never once thought to flip it up. I tried our lamps and kitchen lights, too, but couldn’t figure those out either. When Chris walked in the door, I was sitting quietly on the couch in the dark—still in my pajamas, my phone lying useless by my side.
That night, despite having some trouble speaking and being confused, I didn’t want to go to the ER. I had an appointment with Dr. Stouk the next morning, so I just waited until then. I just knew she’d have a solid answer, and I’d been let down by so many doctors that it didn’t seem like a good idea to go. Plus, since I’d already been sent back from death, I didn’t think skipping the ER would kill me.
LGB: What was the first thing she treated you with?
Mariko: So the next morning in her office I sounded like I’d had a stroke and couldn’t walk on my own. I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember her asking, “Didn’t you have a rash at some point?” To which I slurred out “circle…dot” and drew out the spot with my finger where the bullseye had been.
I stood in front of her with tears in my eyes because I’d declined so fast. I remember her saying in her cheery sing-song voice, “It’s okay, Mariko, I know what’s wrong. You’re going to be okay, don't worry. I’ll take care of you.”
She laid me down for a relaxing acupuncture treatment, and once I had calmed down, she left the room and must have flown into action. By the time my acupuncture session was over, she’d scheduled an immediate MRI, had consulted with a specialist in Europe—Switzerland, I think—called in a prescription for azithromycin to the pharmacy, and we did some lab tests.
She’d figured it out and had a plan, which was such a tremendous relief to everyone. The thought of that day still brings tears to my eyes over a decade later. I think her husband, who’s a neurologist, even took a look at my MRI. Again, that time period is very fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure he did.
LGB: Do you think the fact that your doctor is from Europe had something to do with you finally getting diagnosed with Lyme?
Mariko: Yes. She had medical training in Europe as well as the U.S. so that probably helped, especially with her perspective. But also since she’s from Europe, she knew other doctors there that she could consult with. But more important than all of that was that she talked and listened to me. She believed me.
LGB: What treatments did you do with this doctor?
Mariko: The first was azithromycin since it crosses the blood-brain barrier. I remember feeling so tired but in a good way—restful. Like my body was saying, Thank you! Finally, help is here. I can relax. I slept well for the first time in three and a half years. I stayed on that for a long time, but I can’t remember how long.
A couple of days later, she started me on IV treatments. She gave me different ones over the course of a couple of weeks to see how I’d react. I had a few high-dose vitamin IVs with glutathione and then a hydrogen peroxide IV, then a colloidal silver one. After my first colloidal silver IV, I was able to say two words in a row, slowly but without sounding like I’d had a stroke. So we stuck with that. I was lucky; the colloidal silver worked fast for me, and I continued to get colloidal silver IVs every other day for a while—I can’t remember how long—then we went to every week, then every two, then monthly. This went on for over a year. My parents came out for a while to help us and drive me to my appointments, while Chris worked to support us and pay for my treatments.
I wish I could say this is the right treatment for everyone, but it won’t be. Each of you will need to find your own path to healing. I’m just sharing mine in case it resonates with you. I’d absolutely recommend that you’re comfortable with the source of your IVs if you get them. My doctor got hers from a reputable source and that made me much more comfortable. I personally never took the colloidal silver sold at the grocery store.
One thing I will say that’s probably good for everyone is to cut out refined sugar. It feeds Lyme. Switch to stevia, monk fruit, or any other non-sugar sweetener that works for you. I even cut out most fruits except the occasional blueberry. It’s just not worth it for me and doesn’t make me feel good anyway.
I feel best on the candida diet. I’m pescatarian, and I don’t drink. I stopped eating meat when I was 13 years old but have found fish is a game-changer for my brain. Dr. Stouk has me on a lot more omega-3 nowadays. It’s also helpful in keeping inflammation down, and I do all I can to stop inflammation with my diet, which doesn’t mean I don’t eat brownies and ice cream. I just make them myself and use stevia and monk fruit for sweetener and avoid refined carbs. I also use coconut milk instead of dairy and prefer to use flax seeds instead of eggs in recipes. I like to joke that since stevia is known to kill Lyme and coconut is anti-candida, my ice cream is basically medicinal.
I also do a lot of fresh juicing. I prefer a blend of cucumber, dandelion, parsley, and cilantro—there’s no sugar, and it tastes great. It also helps keep inflammation down.
LGB: I think it’s really interesting that you’re not someone who researched Lyme once you got diagnosed, except to look at the symptom checklist. How do you think that served your recovery?
Mariko: I felt like learning too much about Lyme was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I needed to know about it to be my own best advocate, and on the other hand knowing too much about it could potentially create an identification with it and weigh me down. I’d seen many people over the years become experts on their disease to a point where it didn’t seem helpful. I’d hear them talk about it as if living with it was a foregone conclusion. I noticed that they referred to their health issues as something that belonged to them. They’d say, my disease, my symptoms, or my pain. I always thought of the Lyme as separate from me—more like a parasite. I felt like Lyme had a really low vibration but also a will to live, so I needed to fight it in more ways than just with medicine. So it’s important to know about it; just make sure to keep your mind frame, vibration, and consciousness higher than it. Most of the time I was relentlessly positive and didn’t accept it as something that belonged to me. I’d also allow myself the time and space to break down and cry at the reality I was living in.
I remember the moment when my doctor suggested that I take up pottery to keep myself occupied since I was so sick and neurologically impaired. In that moment, I took it as her saying there was a chance I’d never be able to do much more than make a cup out of clay.
That terrified me, and I got serious about my mental attitude, affirmations, and positive outlook. In hindsight, she may have just been making an innocent suggestion, but it lit a fire in me and helped me create a disciplined mind frame. After all, there was no guarantee I’d recover the way I did just from the medicine alone. I had to participate in my own recovery, even when all I could do was lie down and endure the die off. At least I could envision a healthy life, repeat positive affirmations, or listen to inspirational music or talks.
In the beginning, some of our friends and family sent information they found on the internet, but I never looked at it—mostly because I couldn’t read! Chris looked a little, and it was all pretty discouraging. Basically, it said we’d spend about $200,000 to $300,000 in treatments, I’d probably never get my life back, and I might still die. Fantastic.
So no, once we saw what was out there, we didn’t look too much. I let Dr. Stouk be the expert and carry the weight of the disease. My job was to believe I’d be 100% well again and do everything in my power to manifest the life I wanted. Her job was to guide me through it. I think I’m the least-informed recovered Lymie out there.
I surrendered to the process not knowing much about my fate except that I wasn’t going to die just yet. I knew one thing for certain from my near-death experience: it wasn’t my time, and I had to go back and help people. So at least I had an assurance that I still had some life purpose. I needed that because after experiencing the blissful awakening during my own death I didn’t want to come back. And to have to come back only to be stuck in a body that didn’t work was heartbreaking and so frustrating.
And it wasn’t even a body I was familiar with anymore. I probably gained about 70 pounds from the illness, injury, and stress. I didn’t recognize myself. I’d gone from having an athletic body—I was an avid rock climber—to a sick and fat body, despite eating healthy. It would take years to figure out the best diet for me.
When I was well on my way to recovery, I finally looked up Lyme and found a list of 75 symptoms online. I remember thinking, Well, I’ve had pretty much all of these except erectile dysfunction and death. Technically, I had died, but Lyme can’t take credit for that one. Plus, I didn’t stay dead.
“Co-infections” was a term I’d hear about much later, after I was well. I really let go and allowed Dr. Stouk to get me to the finish line. I knew enough about Western medicine and the lingo to drive myself crazy with what was happening and that caused fear, and fear fed Lyme in my experience. I realized that I couldn’t be both afraid of it and beat it.
All I needed to know was that I was getting better and better, and I think Dr. Stouk sort of shielded me from knowing how bad it was. I was living at death’s doorstep for so long. I was aware of how serious it was; I just didn’t want to know the full diagnosis. That would have been depressing.
LGB: What precipitated your move to Southern California six years ago? How did your body respond to this new environment?
Mariko: It was time to come home. I was born and raised in Santa Monica, California, and we missed living in a town that felt like home. We had been going to Encinitas for vacations and eventually decided to move there. It’s a perfect fit for us, and we get to be closer to my family.
As far as my reaction to being near the ocean, it’s wonderful. I had so many health issues living in Phoenix. I contracted Valley Fever, a fungal lung infection, about a year before we moved back to California. I got it when I went outside one night. There was a dust storm happening, and I didn’t know it. It just seemed windy to me. A few weeks later, I was sick with the flu and just got worse and worse. I was hospitalized twice, treated for a year, and had to use an inhaler for several years after.
Everything’s changed now that we’re here. My health is good. I have a business now offering private coaching, meditation workshops, and retreats at MarikoFrederick.com. I’ve come full circle, and I’m grateful for every step of the journey, even the parts I crawled through.
LGB: Do you have any lingering symptoms or do any more treatments?
Mariko: I like to think I’m 99% well, but I still have my moments. I never say or even think, I’ve got Lyme, or that I’m sick. I just say my body’s different now because that’s the truth.
Life is different. Keeping inflammation down and being careful with food choices is a constant part of my life. A good day means something different every day. But I no longer define it by whether or not I’ve got an ache, gained a few pounds, or have a little mental fog. I don’t use my pre-Lyme self as the measure of health anymore.
I’ve got chunks of time missing from my past—even pre-Lyme. There are family events I don’t remember being at and concerts and movies I don’t remember going to. I was an herbalist at one time, too, and I don’t remember much about Chinese herbs now. Things I don’t remember come up all the time, and my husband and I just laugh and say it didn’t make the cut.
During most of the illness, my intuition was still very strong, so while I didn’t have a business anymore, I’d still get calls from old clients asking for a little advice or help here and there. That gave me a deep sense of belonging and purpose and has turned into the work I’m doing now.
I did have some issues this summer that were worse than they’d been in years with slurred speech and memory, so I went back for a couple of IVs to just make sure nothing got out of hand. Turned out, I wasn’t getting enough omega-3 after going vegan. So I started taking omega-3, eating fish, and taking phosphatidylserine.
It’s rare now but sometimes when I talk for a long time, like when I’m teaching a workshop, my brain will get a little tired, and I’ll slur a word or maybe forget what I was just saying. As long as I tell everyone what’s going on, they’re always supportive and patient with me. Most people don’t even notice when it happens. Honestly, it’s just funny to me at this point.
So the fact that I can get up in front of people, give a talk, teach a workshop, lead a retreat, and maybe just need a quick reminder or two of what I was talking about is a miracle.
Today I’m surrounded by a loving, supportive community who I can celebrate this life with. I’m living the way I only dreamed of, so the occasional slurring and forgetfulness is just a little part of how things are now. I have a sense of humor about all of it, and my perspective on health couldn’t be more different. I consider myself healthier now than I was before Lyme, when I was living in the mountains rock climbing, because the spiritual, emotional, and mental healing that’s taken place has transformed me.
LGB: You told me, “If you want to get better, it’s a spiritual journey.” This is something that makes sense to me now but definitely would have rubbed me the wrong way six-and-a-half years ago when I first got sick. How was this a spiritual journey for you, and why was that necessary for you to get well?
Mariko: I think since I started out my journey by dying, I had no doubt that it was a spiritual journey. I got the chance to experience who I really am and carry that essence back with me, which was an enormous blessing in helping me through the worst times. This body is temporary, and no matter what you do, it’ll die one day. Your soul will live on eternally, so assuming anything is just a physical lesson is too limited.
Nothing about going through this disease is just physical. It’ll run you through so many deep lessons and give you spiritual and emotional insights if you allow it to. We’re here to remember who we are as the soul and to live in the consciousness of that awakened state. That’s something Lyme can’t take from you.
My lessons from Lyme and death were so simple yet so hard:
Let go of desire
Live my truth
It took dying to get the lessons and a decade of illness to understand them and become the version of myself who could begin to do what I came back to do. I’ve gone through indescribable pain, lost my health, my career, and was stripped of all I knew myself to be. We’ve had seven miscarriages, I’ve suffered a bunch of memory loss, and it’s all been worth it.
LGB: Lastly, from all that you’ve been through on your Lyme journey—from death to a full life—what do you think is the most helpful thing for folks who are really struggling right now to know about how you recovered?
Mariko: You’re not getting out of this the same that you entered it, so let that person go. You’ll likely grieve who you once were, and it’s a painful process.
Lyme is transforming you, making you better, more humble, generous, loving, and soul-centered. It may even help you identify less with your physical body and more with your soul. These are all good things that bring you closer to enlightenment. You’re not sick. You—the soul—are always perfect, healthy, and radiant, so try not to say you’re sick or tired if you can. Your body may be sick and tired—but you are a limitless spiritual being whose true nature is boundless love.
Also, you’re not alone. I know it feels that way, like no one can understand what you’re going through, especially since you probably look fine. But we do know, and we understand how you feel. You’re never alone.
I’ve found some folks are almost competitive about how sick they are versus someone else. Try and avoid this way of thinking or speaking. It won’t help. In fact, I learned to avoid talking about my health unless it was with someone helping me get better.
Do what you can to understand the deeper lesson and transformation you’re going through. I knew I was going through so much because some day I’d need to share it. I didn’t know if I’d be sharing it lying down or standing up, but I knew I would. Begin questioning your deeper purpose around this; it’s not happening to punish you. Maybe you’re just ready for a bigger transformation.
Have hope, transform, and never give up.
*The content of this www.LymeGetsBetter.com interview is not intended to replace the advice of each reader's own medical professional nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness or medical condition. When making healthcare decisions, such as stopping or starting treatments or medications, please consult with a licensed medical authority.