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4 Ways I've Grown Because of Arthritis and Lupus

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I didn’t have the same early 20s experience that most had, and actually, I’m OK with that. I am turning 24 in November and ready to take on the world full-force. For this, I interestingly enough have my chronic illness to thank.

Although I was diagnosed with systemic lupus just last year, I struggled with the vague diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis from the time I was in third grade. From all those years, I learned how to manage pain as a child and continue my passion for sports. It wasn’t until recent years that my symptoms became overbearing and unmanageable, along with the health of my knee dwindling after my surgery and infection mishap, which most likely happened from lupus. This ultimately resulted in a total knee replacement just two months ago today.

As I transferred colleges between my sophomore and junior years, which was drastic going from a small rural school of 2,500 students to an urban school with 40,000 students, I knew I had to quickly become an “adult” if I wanted to make it on a large and unfamiliar campus. Building new relationships, being proactive in all aspects of life, and time management were huge learning experiences for me as a young 20-something. I was determined to reach my goals, and then suddenly I was beset by lupus and end-stage osteoarthritis.

Experiencing these circumstances first hand is extremely unique, however I would not wish it on anyone. I do like to look at every experience, good or bad, optimistically though. So I am taking these unique experiences as an opportunity to grow from, whether it’s for better or for worse:

1. I learned time management. I quickly realized that my time was limited, and that I never knew when another flare would come. I prioritized every aspect of my life so that I knew everything would get done before my body turned on me again and left me couch-ridden. I am carrying this discipline through into adulthood to be successful in life, school and my career even as my health improves.

2. I learned how to cut myself a break. In college, especially after I transferred, I never gave myself some time to unwind. Overloading on credits every single semester so I would graduate on time, while balancing a social life and an internship, I was going on high speed from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed. No breaks. This is unhealthy for anyone. After my diagnosis, I knew that my stress levels were high and dedicated myself to taking some “me time” where I just learned to live in the moment. Now, a year later, I am a much less freaked-out person which makes for a more productive adult.

3. I learned how to take care of myself. Many college kids have the perk of eating whatever they want, drinking every night, staying out until 4 a.m. and rolling out of bed to class the next day without a second thought in my mind. Lupus prevented me from going down that path. If I stayed up late and did everything that everyone else did, I would have failed out of college because my body would have kept attacking itself.

I was constantly researching proper diets, proper exercise, and proper mindset strategies to keep myself in check and healthy and to rid my body of excessive inflammation. This was a must for me to function, and if I stayed up late or ate unhealthy foods, I saw the difference in the mirror. I look back to pictures my freshman year of college, and I looked unhealthy without even realizing it at the time. I was over-stressed, over-tired, and my body was fighting itself from the inside out. Now since I have a name to put to my condition, I make the time to sleep, prepare whole and nutritious meals, and I have an excuse sometimes to not go out. I look like a totally different person, and I am so proud of myself for coming to this realization.

4. I realized the true importance of faith. Faith has always been an important aspect of life within my family as a grew up, but it isn’t until you experience trauma in your life that you truly see the hand of God working. I’ve been close to death before, I have been unable to physically sit up from pain, I constantly have to have the worry that lupus will attack my vital organs. However, I overcame each of these things with flying colors.

I know my path is being guided. I do not worry or stress much about the future anymore, because in every instance of uncertainty, I physically saw how God brought my life to a new beginning. At my six week mark after my total knee replacement, I was told I defied the odds of any patient, especially comparing my condition in the past. That’s faith and willpower in the works. I was worried about being well enough to finish school and start my career after my diagnosis, but I did it.

I came across the New York University masters of public health program online at a whim (and with short notice), had a literal epiphany that this is where I wanted to direct my career path, and then got in with a scholarship when I doubted I would even get in. I found my purpose in life for my career from my traumatic experiences, and hope to improve the entire face of healthcare and treatment options to make other patient’s experiences better. If that isn’t God working in my life, then I don’t know what it is. My mindset and outlook is totally at ease with the present. These experiences with chronic illness have allowed me to be successful, and now I am more determined that ever to make an impact in the world.

Although many would say that having lupus and arthritis “sucks” or that I “must be worried about my future,” I just smirk knowing that my future has changed for the better because of lupus and arthritis. I’m proud that I was able to absorb these learning experiences and turn them into good, but I know that without these events, I would not be the person I am today. I had to “grow up” earlier than most in many aspects some people don’t realize, and although I had more worries than most who are in their early 20s, I know it was all given to me for a reason. Here’s to life’s challenges, whether short or long-term, and what we make of them. We all have potential for greatness!

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Thinkstock Image By:  DENIS KIPKAEV

Originally published: August 9, 2017
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