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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Did Vincent Van Gogh Have Lyme Disease?



Dr. Gachet (second version), 1890
  Portrait of Dr. Gachet.jpg
Dr. Gachet (first version), 1890

Did Vincent van Gogh Have Lyme Disease?

As I struggle to overcome tinnitus that comes with Lyme disease,  I recalled reading in college that the famous Post-Impressionist, van Gogh, also suffered from the same ringing sensation.  He supposedly cut off part of his ear in frustration and in an attempt to stop the noise.  It was well documented in his letters that he wrote to his brother Theo, that he was tormented by the never-ending noise of tinnitus. He actually had the mental capacity  and insight to seek out help for his illness, while few with an actual mental illness have the self-awareness and insight to do so. Dr. Gachet, who treated him after his release from an asylum, became a personal friend.  He made two paintings of  Dr. Gachet with a Foxglove plant which was an herbal remedy that contained digitalis. The tinnitus may have even led to the eventual suicide that ended his life.

 There were no antibiotics in Vincent's day and age to treat any bacterial infections.  Vincent and others often used herbal remedies or alcohol to treat illness and deaden pain.  Vincent was known to drink absinthe (made from the plant Artemesia which also is used to treat Lyme disease: Artemisinin) during tumultuous times in his life.  He had fits, or seizures, which many who have Lyme and co-infections of Babesia and Bartonella do suffer.  He also islolated himself, like many who have Lyme.

Many doctors and scientists now think that Lyme disease is not a new illness.  It have been around for thousands of years.  It was only discovered recently in the 1980s.  It has been masquerading for years as other diseases that can cripple and kill. Lyme has been called many other things, including mental illness, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, ALS, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's, the list goes on.

It is no secret that a high percentage of people with Lyme disease will die, not from the disease itself, but from depression and suicide.  Lyme disease can ruin someone financially, end careers, destroy relationships, alienate, and isolate people.  It is no wonder that many feel despair.

I am going to take a leap and propose that perhaps that Vincent felt this way, too, despite his considerable talent and financial and emotional support from his beloved brother,Theo. I am connecting some dots here that are circumstantial in nature and could never be proven, but make an interesting theory that could explain his long bouts with depression and stays in sanitariums.  I realize that my evidence is flimsy, at best.  But my explanation for what happened in his life, actually makes more sense than some of the history books that I have read, movies that I have seen, and autobiographies that have been written about this tormented artist.

Just suppose, that it was actually Lyme disease that was causing Vincent's illness?  How frustrating for him to have an illness with no name and no treatment! I often wonder how Vincent's life story would have been different if he had chosen life instead? What if he could have been treated in some way? What additional paintings would he have painted?  Would his doctor have been able to help him overcome Lyme disease with herbal medicines?  Would he have eventually found the love and family that he desired?  Would he have found fame for his art in his own lifetime?


Portrait of a clean shaven man wearing a furry winter hat and smoking a pipe; facing to the right with a bandaged right ear
Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait With Bandage, 1889

If you are, like Vincent, feeling despondent and considering suicide, please reach out to a fellow Lymie, a loved one, someone at a suicide prevention hotline.  You still have talents and gifts to offer this world and you are not alone!

1 (800) 273-8255 Suicide prevention hotline

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