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6 Reasons I Witnessed Change for the Better In My Life With Autoimmune Disease

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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 rise out of bed in the morning without any assistance. It means being able to walk down the block without feeling over-exerted and defeated. 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 these things and more.

Four years ago, I graduated from Howard University feeling like the next chapter of my life would be spent in a coffin instead of 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 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 in the muscles and skin. I required medication for about six months before tapering off. Today, my health is dramatically improved.

During my journey to healing, I realized there were some things I had to do — aside from taking medication every day — in order to start witnessing some changes for the better in my life. Those 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. And 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. Even though I didn’t feel like it, I literally forced myself to think positively towards my situation every day. I would wake up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and recite a list of affirmations one of my aunts 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 significantly enhance my symptoms (which mainly included chronic fatigue and severe skin and muscle inflammation). That’s when I cut gluten — which is typically found in wheat-based foods — out of my diet. I discovered that other people with autoimmune conditions have had a hard time consuming foods with gluten because it triggers inflammation in their body. So I ate a lot of green, leafy salads, and made sure to stay pumped up on vitamin D, calcium and omega-3’s (cod liver oil was my best friend). I also drank a series of concoctions my mom made for me every day: a fresh fruit and spinach smoothie followed by a shot of wheatgrass, a glass of carrot and celery juice and a cup of fresh ginger root tea. It helped me tremendously.

4. Staying lifted. My theme song was “Sweet Life” by Frank Ocean, which stayed on repeat every day. I would listen to the cheerful melody and sing the upbeat lyrics as I took my medication and drank whichever previously listed health concoction my mom whipped up for the day.

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 way of thinking. Free E.G.O. was my outlet to focus on helping and inspiring others through my testimony, rather than focusing on my illness.

6. Forgiving. When I first began developing symptoms, I went to see a holistic doctor. He asked me if there was anyone in my life I hadn’t forgiven, and at the time, I couldn’t think of anyone. But not too long after that visit, I realized there was someone I had been harboring bitter emotions towards — one of my friends from college. Right before we graduated, we had a big disagreement that put a damper on our relationship. She was also getting married that summer, so I made a personal vow (no pun intended) to not attend 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 recovering my illness at the time, it seemed like right after the wedding my health improved significantly. Oftentimes, we miss the fact that the act of forgiveness isn’t for the people who hurt us… It’s actually for us. And for me, I believe forgiveness, along with the other things I mentioned above, played a huge role in my journey to wellness.

That period of my life taught me a lot. And to this day, I still reflect on everything I went through because it helped me realize my true purpose: To encourage others by sharing my experiences.

Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

young woman wearing purple sweatshirt with words "goal digger" on it

Follow this journey on According to Kori.

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Originally published: April 4, 2016
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