Ally Hilfiger is a Los Angeles-based writer, producer and health advocate.
As a child she divided her time between Manhattan and Connecticut and it was in the latter that she noticed a seemingly-innocuous tick bite on her stomach.
After initial tests for Lyme disease came back inconclusive, the aches and mood swings she experienced were summarily dismissed as growing pains. But as her condition deteriorated and her behaviour became increasingly erratic, Ally's parents felt the only remaining course of action was to hospitalise their then 19-year-old daughter.
Ally credits this decision with saving her life. After years of misdiagnoses, a therapist correctly linked her various symptoms with neurological Lyme disease and although the diagnosis was devastating, it empowered Ally to make significant changes in her life and better manage her illness. Now healthy, happy and the mother of a lovely little girl Ally has written about her experiences in the hope that it will demystify the little-understood illness. Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy, and Almost Killed Me follows Ally's story from that fateful tick bite to her eventual recovery.
I spoke to Ally ahead of the UK release of her book to talk about living with chronic illness, the importance of self-care, and taking responsibility for your own health.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE BITE ME, TO SHARE YOUR STORY SO PUBLICLY?
I wanted to break down the misconceptions surrounding Lyme disease, and shine a light on the truth of what many people with Lyme disease go through. I found different solutions in the end which help me manage the disease, and I also wanted to share those with others.
WERE YOU concerned THAT PEOPLE WOULD TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY IF THEY KNEW YOU WERE SICK, THAT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS MIGHT BE AFFECTED by the diagnosis?
The only thing I didn't want was people's pity. I felt that Lyme would actually make my relationships more honest and bring me closer to those around me. Nothing is more liberating than telling the truth.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM CHANGE TO SUPPORT THOSE WHO ARE LIVING WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS?
I would like the medical community to be more educated about Lyme disease and be open to better testing and prevention.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALISE THAT YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALING?
I was 25 and tired of being so sick for so long and taking loads of antibiotics. I had to decide whether to go on like this (which was like death) or if I wanted to live, which meant trying something new – changing my diet and homeopathy.
WHAT PROTOCOLS HAVE YOU TRIED THUS FAR?
Everything, from Ayurvedic medicine to German homeopathy and intense meditation. Colonics and moving to Los Angeles are in there somewhere, too.
DID GIVING BIRTH TO YOUR FIRST CHILD ALTER THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR BODY?
I felt stronger and more confident. I graduated into real maturity as a person.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY?
Eat what you need, and have what you want in moderation.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FAIL-SAFE JUICE RECIPE?
This is my favourite immunity tea: 1 bunch of parsley, 4 stalks of celery, 2 green apples, 1 bunch of spinach and coconut water.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN YOUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING ON A DAILY BASIS?
Listening to my body and drinking lots of water. Eating three full meals a day is super important. When I need a nap, or to escape the chaos by going to a yoga class, I do.
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
My baby and fiancé.