Welcome, everyone. To my second face to face interview for Coffee With A Question.
Caitlin Teich – a strong, beautiful, talented, driven (did I mention strong?) soul.
I arrived at her house Sunday afternoon as she and her husband were getting out of their car – they’d just seen Knives Out so we exchanged theories on what we’d thought throughout the movie. We entered their manicured house through the garage (which reminded me I must clean mine) and instantly heard little dogs yipping in the other room… seriously, so previous and small, you could fit both of them in your purse. After running around outside and falling in love with the little creatures, it was time for a tour. The ceilings were high, the furniture stunning, and the fixtures original – definitely ready for a game night at the Teich’s.
After getting the full walk through and washing my hands in the upstairs bathroom, we made our way back down to the perfectly clean, but cozy living room. I sat in a beige, cushioned chair to Caitlin’s left and folded my legs up because I can never manage to sit with my feet on the floor. As she tugged on her black tee shirt and shifted her body, I could tell her back was already hurting but she didn’t complain. Instead, we sent Cameron to Chipotle and started recording.
She reiterates her name for me – Caitlin Merle Teich, 28, born in Florida, moved to Arizona at two years old.
“Talk to me about your childhood in Prescott,” I request.
She tells me she’s the youngest of three and her two sisters were, and still are, her best friends. She tells me she was always bubbly and active, with lots of friends, good grades, and two loving parents who are still happily married today.
“I started karate when I was four and started dance not long thereafter, but I took a break and don’t remember really getting back into it until I was in fourth grade,” she offers, also sharing about her stint in gymnastics (I think all serious dancers went through that phase).
“Were you boy crazy at all as a child?” I wondered aloud, as I was brought back to eight-year-old Devon, also recognizing how much the boys in her class must’ve loved her, with her doll-like brown eyes, luscious cocoa-colored hair, small frame, and big lips.
She tells me she had boyfriends here and there, but she didn’t really have time to be “boy crazy” as a young girl… dance was consuming twenty hours of her week, every week. It wasn’t until age twelve when things started to change for the worse.
Age twelve is when Caitlin started noticing a confusing pain in her hips – especially her right one. At first, she chalked it up to the long hours put in at the studio, but as the pain quickly turned into agony, she realized this wasn’t a sore muscle… this was a real problem.
So, Caitlin and her mom decided to see what would be the first of many doctors.
“We actually saw multiple specialists who initially thought I had tendinitis from dance, but it wasn’t getting any better and it quickly started to move down my legs. I remember my legs would just give out as I was walking, and doctors would tell me I just needed to take a break from dancing which I knew wasn’t right. I knew something was really wrong with me,” she shifts again.
We both take a deep breath and a gulp of water before continuing.
“By the end of eighth grade, the pain was everywhere. It felt like every cell in my body was on fire and I couldn’t do anything about it. And the doctors didn’t have answers. Some of them went as far as suggesting I was just seeking attention. I couldn’t understand why something that hurt me so bad couldn’t come up with flashing lights on any of these tests,” she said, so matter of factly.
At this point, doctors thought it might’ve been lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, or fibromyalgia, none of which were substantiated by a diagnosis.
“My memory started to go my freshman year; my mom actually had to remind me how much school I missed back then. I do remember lying on the floor to take tests in Science class because the chair made my hip feel even worse. My pain continued to worsen and my trips to different doctors were consistent; we went to an orthopedic sports surgeon in Tucson who was actually able to identify a huge tear. He said he’d never seen a hip so angry in all of his practice and suspected something else was going on, but we went forward with the surgery and my hip actually started to feel better. I still had to figure out why the rest of my body was in pain, though.”
She talks about her love for pom and dance, as it was one of the only things that made her feel good.
“Maybe the endorphin release I experienced with those long hours actually helped my pain in some way. But I vividly remember being told I could no longer be a part of the pom team due to how much time I’d missed at school. This nearly broke me. I lived for this. I felt creative and part of something. I felt special, but also like everyone else. The small amount of joy I’d held onto was taken away.”
We drop down to the floor so the Chipotle bowl and chips could be consumed, and I couldn’t help but notice Caitlin’s perfect posture – as if someone were pressing their thumb on her spine to ensure it remained straight.
We got right back into the flow of her experience.
After her hip surgery, she’d been in and out of the hospital for things like dysfunctional uterine bleeding and transfusions.
Her anger started to become apparent and she began seeking external pleasures like piercings and tattoos which quickly turned into habitual self-harm… anything to distract her from the pain she was feeling.
“My mind started slipping so I really didn’t care what happened to me. I didn’t care who I spent my time with, I didn’t care who I hurt, because truthfully, I didn’t know if I was going to wake up the next morning. Every birthday I would cry and every new year I would cry because time kept passing, but my pain remained consistent. And I looked fine, so people didn’t really take me seriously. I started convincing myself no one would figure out what was wrong with me.”
The tears began to flow but not in a ‘poor me’ way, but in more of a “wow, did I really go through all of that?” type of way.
I know there isn’t a stereotypical image of pain in a human, but like she said, you would never guess someone like her, someone so naturally beautiful and poised had been through such a battle. I would assume it’s both a blessing and a curse.
“I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember my sheets were purple. I told my mom I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t live in pain like this for the rest of my life. So I asked her if I could kill myself because I was convinced this was the only way to stop the pain. Of course, she said no, which I took to heart, despite my strong desire to take the full bottle of oral lidocaine or any of the other countless prescriptions I had.”
As we both wipe away hot tears, she tells me about the hundreds of pills she’d been prescribed over the years, feeling like a guinea pig.
She spent her sixteenth birthday at a clinic where she’d get adjustments four times a day, every day, which made things better, and then worse.
“I couldn’t focus at school or with friends. I would often start talking and the words I wanted to say wouldn’t come out. I decided I needed to get my GED because I literally couldn’t get through a full class. My boyfriend (yes, somehow I managed to have a boyfriend during this time) lived in Phoenix, so after I got my GED, I moved out and got my own apartment in the valley,” she said, as though this was the logical step to take. “My parents didn’t know what to do… they had already lost me in so many ways; they didn’t know what would happen if I stayed in Prescott.”
She remembered her mom telling her there was nothing harder than being a parent and a nurse, and not being able to help. Her mom consulted so many colleagues at work, spent countless hours researching, and continued to be let down by the medical field.
“When I got to Phoenix, I decided I would go to cosmetology school. Every day started and ended with me crying, but I discovered something that gave me some hope… I discovered my love for aesthetics, I loved the science behind skin and really wanted to learn more. So, I decided to keep pushing forward because, if by chance I got better, I would need something to fall back on.”
Did I mention how strong she is?
Caitlin graduated cosmetology school right before she turned eighteen and then everything turned around – everything was smooth sailing… oh wait, nope, that’s not right. Believe it or not, there is still more story to be told.
“After graduating, the pain got worse…everything got worse actually. I had a new issue to deal with… sleep. I literally started falling asleep in the middle of a task, including driving, which is when I knew I had to move back to Prescott. I needed help… I needed my family. Once I made it back up and back to my old room, I started sleeping 22 hours a day; I barely had the energy to go to the bathroom. My mom was up doing research every night and after reading countless reviews, she came across a doctor with high praise in California. She couldn’t have booked the trip faster. When we got there, he ran every test imaginable, which told us my thyroid wasn’t working. I’d also test positive for Lyme disease, as well as some other co-infections (Babesiosis, Human Parvo, and Bartonella) I’d been carrying around for years. For those of you that don’t know, Lyme disease is an infectious vector borne disease caused by the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is carried by ticks and mosquitoes. Lyme is known as “the great imitator” as it mimics so many different diseases. We assumed I contracted my disease during a camping trip in Yellowstone when I was twelve, but there is no real way of knowing because I never developed that typical bulls-eye rash (only about 50% of people do). While all of this was scary, I was so relieved to finally have an answer.”
My eyes are wide as Caitlin continues through her experience. I can’t fathom the mental toll this would take on any human psyche, let alone a young girl. I ask what the doctor’s feedback was on how to fight Lyme disease.
“Well, they didn’t really have much of a protocol at the time. I went on antibiotics, anti-malaria, and antivirals though, for three years. I’d be on two at a time and have to switch every three months because your body gets used to what you’re ingesting, and the Lyme becomes resistant somehow. I was also on Heparin because my blood was “sludgy” which caused inflammation.”
I mean really, universe, give this girl a medal.
“Over time, my memory started getting better, but my pain was the same. I was working part time as an aesthetician at a local salon and decided to apply to a med spa in Phoenix. I was 21 years old. I got the job and stopped going to doctor’s appointments. It just seemed futile. My mom must have sensed my fatigue and lack of will to go on so one day she brought me a faith-based book which really touched me, though I continued to go through my days in pain, with lots of anger. Until one night; I got back to my apartment and I was feeling suicidal again. Instead of dumping a bottle of pills into my mouth, I started praying. I just kept saying ‘I need this to be done, I can’t do this anymore; I can’t keep living like this.’ and then I heard something, or someone say, ‘not yet’ so the next morning, I searched for churches and found one that spoke to me – Scottsdale Bible Church.”
Her words were heavy as her throat began to clench; her eyes started crystallizing with tears.
“The second I walked in, I felt like I’d made it home. My identity wasn’t in my disease anymore or what I’d done in the past. I suddenly felt like I didn’t need to hate myself for the thoughts I had or decisions I made. I just felt like I’d known everyone in that room forever.”
As we both take a Kleenex up to our eyes, she tells me how supportive her family was, noting that the book from her mom may have planted the seed to turn toward faith.
Before we move on with the interview, I feel it important to insert something Caitlin would like to share with the audience. Her memories…
I remember my skin would hurt when I wore clothes.
I remember my mom watching me fall asleep to make sure I was okay.
I remember hearing my mom cry when she didn’t know I was listening.
I remember losing faith in doctors.
I remember feeling so alone even though I had (and still have) the most supportive parents and sisters.
I remember cutting myself so deep that I had to get my mom (an operating room nurse) to help me stop the bleeding.
I remember asking my mom for permission to commit suicide.
I remember wondering if I would ever live a normal life.
I remember feeling hopeful and hopeless at the same time.
I remember people telling me how strong I was, when I’d never felt so weak.
I remember finally getting answers but then realizing it wasn’t a quick fix. I remember sitting in the shower in a ball crying asking God why… why me?
I remember FINALLY starting to feel better…well enough to work.
“I met Cameron in San Diego when I was 22. We were the only two Christians in the group and quickly realized we attended the same church. We hit it off immediately and within eleven days, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was nervous because I had to tell him my story, but he embraced me without hesitation. On our third date, I went to church with his whole family and I knew then, without a doubt, he was my person. That’s not to say our relationship has been easy, though. When we met, I was so used to being on my own, I didn’t know how to take this loving, romantic support, but still, he didn’t waver. He continued to make me feel loved; he wanted to be there for me.” She smiled and looked upstairs where Cameron was probably creating some new furniture piece for their home.
I ask Caitlin what her new-found spirituality meant for her medical issues… if she was still in pursuit for a cure.
“It wasn’t about that anymore. It was about focusing on my spirituality and giving love to the person God put in my life. I know I would be dead if I hadn’t found Cameron.”
“How is your pain now, though?” I ask, leaning over the coffee table, hoping she’ll say everything went away – that she’s feeling great.
“Well,” she starts, “my back is completely numb right now which is pretty normal. There are days of anger and pain, and nights that consist of Cameron praying for me as I cry. But I just remind myself this pain isn’t going to last forever, because I won’t be in this physical world forever, so I’m going to make the most of it and really value all of my relationships. Oh, and, I can do low intensity barre classes now, so that’s a win!”
“Lyme disease is such a well-known disease at this point, though… why can’t they cure it?” I practically plead.
“Standard protocol is doxycycline for a couple weeks and if it’s new, you may be able to tackle it, but it’s not easy to get that diagnosis, and once you do, and it’s past a certain point, you have to essentially live in a center which is about $75K a year for treatment.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“So, what would you recommend to people who are suffering?” I ask, touching my phone to make sure the recording didn’t somehow stop.
“Be an advocate for yourself. Listen to your gut. Don’t lose hope. Keep searching, whether that’s through doctors, a more holistic approach, or spiritually. Do not give up. Also, find things that bring you joy, which for me, is trying not to focus on myself. Everyone is so self-love these days, which I think can be a disaster waiting to happen. I hate the saying, “you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.” I chime in.
“I think it’s more that you can’t hate who you are as a human being, right? You didn’t make the connection with Cameron until you were able to accept your reality, accept God into your life and realize you’re okay, just the way you are.”
“Right, and I agree with that, I just think we spend so much time focusing on ourselves and the external pleasures like getting our nails done and going shopping. Not that those are bad things, but the joy is fleeting, and that’s not how we should be building our happiness – it should be through loving other people or doing for other people.”
“Pain really changes a person. I was sad and angry. I still get angry, but you know what…I am alive. I have a great life. Over the last few years, I have made it a priority to put myself out there more because it’s so easy for me to isolate and assume people won’t understand. People have proved me wrong, though. And now, I’m almost 29 and have a career that I love as a Medical Aesthetician and Laser Technician. I have a husband that I love more than anything, and my relationship with Jesus will always be my number one priority. I will continue to fight for my health because I’m still in pain all day every day, from numbness, shooting pains, burning sensations, cramping, to feeling like boiling water is being sprinkled on me. But despite all of this, I know I am not alone; I have a purpose; I was created in the image of God, and I AM STRONG.”
To that, we both agree. I grab a chip out of her Chipotle bag and stand up, promising Caitlin we’ll tell her story in a way that makes her proud.
I think we’ve done it, Caitie.