How My Battle with Autoimmune Disease Changed My Outlook on Life

If there's one thing I've learned in my early 20s, it's to never take your health for granted. My health means being able to get out of bed in the morning without any assistance. It means being able to walk down the block without feeling over-exerted. It means looking in the mirror and recognizing the person staring back at me. For me, my health represents my victory over a severe condition that once limited me from doing all of these things and more. Six years ago, I graduated from Howard University feeling like my next chapter would be spent in a coffin rather than a cubicle. Towards the end of my senior year, I began developing symptoms of severe fatigue, muscle weakness and swelling. Literally right after I crossed the stage on May 12, 2012, my condition took a turn for the worse. What was supposed to be the happiest and most exciting period of my life was instead filled with depression, misery and anger — mostly at God. After graduating, I returned home to Michigan with my parents, since there was no possible way I could work or live on my own. After being in and out of the doctor's office and getting a slew of tests run, I was finally diagnosed with dermatomyositis (pronounced dur-mat-oh-my-oh-sigh-tis), an autoimmune disease characterized by severe inflammation, muscle weakness and chronic fatigue. I was required to take medication for about six months before tapering off completely. Today, six years later, I am in full remission and am medication-free. During my journey to healing, I realized there were some things I needed to do — aside from taking medication every day — in order to witness significant changes in my life. These things included: 1. Talking to God: I prayed, a lot. I literally had full-fledged conversations with God about what and how I was feeling every day. The more I spoke to Him, the more I felt His presence. The more I felt His presence, the better I felt physically, mentally and spiritually. 2. Encouraging myself: I would literally force myself to think positively every day. I would wake up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and recite a list of affirmations my family sent me: “I am healthy. I am strong. I am thriving. I am beautiful. I am grateful. I am flourishing. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am powerful beyond measure.” 3. Listening to my body: I was extremely cautious about my intake of certain foods. Whenever I ate something, I paid very close attention to how it made me feel. I noticed that whenever I ate bread or pasta, it would drastically enhance my symptoms. That's when I decided to cut gluten — which is typically found in wheat-based foods — out of my diet. I discovered that other people with autoimmune conditions have a hard time consuming foods with gluten because it triggers inflammation in the body. So, I implemented a lot of anti-inflammatory foods into my diet, which helped improve my health tremendously. 4. Staying lifted: My theme song was “Sweet Life” by Frank Ocean, which stayed on repeat every day. I would listen and sing along to the cheerful melody, which helped keep my spirits lifted. 5. Focusing on my vision: I would literally sit for hours working towards my newfound vision, Free E.G.O. Apparel (the acronym stands for empowerment, gratitude and optimism). Although I was still trying to recover from my condition at the time, I became inspired to start something that would encourage others to develop and maintain a positive mindset and lifestlye. Launching an inspirational clothing line was my outlet to focus on encouraging others through my testimony instead of focusing on my illness. 6. Forgiving: Right before graduating, a friend and I had a pretty big disagreement that put a damper on our relationship. She was getting married that summer, so I decided not to go to her wedding. But as time went on, I let go of my bitterness and decided to support my friend on her big day. Although I was still battling my illness during her wedding, my health improved immediately afterwards. Oftentimes, we miss the fact that the act of forgiveness isn't for the people who hurt us, but for us. And for me, I believe forgiveness — along with the other things listed above — played a huge role in my journey to healing.

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