ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — You’ve probably heard a lot already this spring about Lyme disease. Beyond the annual public service announcements, there’s the growing concern about a thriving tick season due to a warm winter and warming climate overall.

But the message that may be getting people to pay attention is coming from an unusual place — a viral YouTube video from U.K. musical artist Ren, called “Hi, Ren“. The tough-to-categorize, introspective performance explores Ren’s inner turmoil and struggle with mental illness. His psychosis and debilitating physical ailments triggered by a tick bite and Lyme Disease that went undiagnosed for several years.

Just months after appreciating a modest fan base, Ren’s material has caught fire online, drawing millions to his body of work, much of which is an open book into his ongoing challenges. His videos have sparked hundreds of so-called ‘reaction videos’, and comment after comment from viewers who are moved and can identify with his message.

Dr. Lisa Lindsay is a clinical psychologist in the Rochester area.

“The thing about Ren, was, he’s able to describe what he’s going through and he’s able to sublimate that into his music and into his raps and I think there’s something about that nexus. Plus he’s extraordinarily intelligent — he’s extraordinarily musical and talented.  He’s extraordinarily articulate, that you kind of get the down-low.   And I think there are a lot of people out there, whether they’re suffering from chronic illness or suffering from depression or other psychiatric disorders who can really relate when someone is doing such a good job of describing.”

“A person feels so horrible — it goes beyond description.”

Dr. Lisa Lindsay

Dr. Lindsay should know. She not only treats people who are struggling. She contracted Lyme from a tick bite back in 2009. The effects were slow to reveal themselves. At first, she attributed bouts of flu and fatigue to a busy international travel schedule.

“By the following year I was getting migraine headaches I’d never had them in my life before.   I would get migraines every day.  I was like ‘what the heck is going on with me?’ And by the following year I could barely leave my home.   Like literally, just couldn’t do it.  My muscles were so impaired.   I had no idea what was wrong with me for years.”

“You can have almost any neurological symptom when you have Neuroborreliosis.”

Dr. Lisa Lindsay

Neuroborreliosis is when Lyme disease affects the nervous system, including the brain. “The Lyme bacteria is like a little corkscrew that bores into the myelin sheaths of the central nervous system.  So you’ve got a pathogen that’s eating you from the inside,” says Lindsay.

The symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Physically, for some it may be fatigue, numbness, facial palsy, severe headaches, visual impairment, just to name a few. For others, extreme pain.

But perhaps even more difficult to deal with, the psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, insomnia and Bipolar disorder, and that list goes on as well.

“And if we’re told, oh, well it’s in your head, or that you need a psychologist, then what do you do?  Well, you think you’re crazy and you go away and you doubt yourself and that shouldn’t be happening to people…that’s doubly traumatic.”   

“There are very effective treatments for Lyme disease. It’s all a matter of getting diagnosed early before more disseminated symptoms happen,” said Dr. Paul Arnaboldi, Ph.D. Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College.

Your blood is tested to detect anti-bodies against Lyme disease and then you’re put on anti-biotics. But just as the symptoms can vary from person to person, so may the response to the treatment. Dr. Lindsay said the first thing to improve for her was clearing of the brain fog. But her muscles took more time. Ren is still undergoing extensive treatment to repair the damage done from years of his body and brain being attacked.

“With any disease, preventing it is always better than having to treat it,” said Dr. Arnaboldi.

Aside from repellants and limiting skin exposure outdoors, if you find a tick on yourself, a family member or pet, you should try to remove it with fine-tip tweezers, gasping as close to the skin, and trying to avoid squeezing the tick’s body. That will prevent you incidentally pushing the bacteria into the skin and bloodstream.

Lyme Disease Resources

Some people know me as hope
Some people know me as the voice that you hear
When you loosen the noose on the rope
And you know how I know that I’ll prosper?
Because I stand here beside you today
I have stood in the flames that cremated my brain
And I didn’t once flinch or shake

Ren, “Hi, Ren”