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How Chronic Illness Shaped My Life This Decade

A difficult journey can be the biggest blessing in disguise.

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Ten years ago I was fresh out of college and searching for not only a job but answers to the mysterious chronic illness that I was dealing with for five years. It is safe to say that in my early 20’s, denial ran rampant through my veins. While I took medication and made major lifestyle changes for my diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, I hadn’t fully embraced what had happened to me at the beginning of this decade.

My outlook on life after graduating from college was positive. I was happy and proud of myself for my accomplishment while facing joint pain, fatigue, weekly injections, and constant doctor appointments.

However, there were many times when my own self-limiting beliefs and the opinions of others impacted me. Being comfortable in your own skin is one thing, but add in an illness that can cause irreversible joint damage and physical deformities and it is a whole other ball game. It was traumatizing to see my hands change and not be able to function as freely as before. It made me self-conscious to go out in social settings and let my illness show.

Chronic illness was one part of my life where no one but my immediate family, a few friends, and professors knew about during that time. Now the whole world knows and I am not shy or ashamed of my illness. Thoughts of not being attractive enough or suitable to find love landed me in situations that were less than loving. Now I know my worth and what I deserve when it comes to friends and a significant other.

When I told an occupational therapist that I was going to school for journalism, she looked at me with concern. The thought of not being good enough or not being able to accomplish my goals In life because of my disease scared me. Now I am grabbing my dreams by the horns and making it happen.

It wasn’t until 2012, when a major health scare that landed me bedridden for a week with my joints inflamed to the size of melons, that life would take me onto a path of transformation. For the following three years, I learned methods that would assist in my healing on all physical, mental and emotional levels, besides what I was already doing. I adopted a regular routine of meditation, Reiki, and other spiritual practices that helped me push past any negative feelings about myself and others.

Feelings of anger, grief, sadness, depression, isolation, were constant for me in this decade. I didn’t know how much I was really harboring until I started on my journey of self-discovery. When I underwent a total knee replacement in 2016, it felt like I woke up from the procedure of a new person and mission in life. During my healing process, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to let myself, my illness or anyone stop me. It was as if my potential was unlocked and I went on a creative renaissance.

I ended launching my blog, Rising Above rheumatoid arthritis, became a patient advocate and activist, freelance writer, have been featured in major online and print publications, created a three-part documentary-style film for people living with invisible disabilities and illnesses, a merchandise shop, and now I am working on my debut children’s book, and other stories.

If you were to tell me ten years ago that I would end up doing all of these things, I would not agree. Pain though shifts your perspective but only if you let it. Chronic illness has been a blessing in disguise. It has helped me transmute pain into power and ultimately purpose, to help myself but others out there going through similar situations.

My three-part documentary film, I Am Invisible No More for those living with invisible disabilities and illnesses can be viewed on my YouTube channel, RA & Myself.

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