Savannah Wall

@savannahwall2 | contributor
Savannah is a public special education teacher based in Fort Worth, TX. She has experienced deep pain in both the physical and emotional sense and believes that neither has to keep us in a stronghold for life. Savannah writes in the belief that there is beauty that comes from sharing our painful stories with one another. You can read all of her work on The Chronic-ill(s) of a Quirky Teacher.
Savannah Wall

Trying To Be Superwoman While Battling a Rare Disease

Devic’s disease, also known as neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), is a neurological disease of the brain and spinal cord that causes inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis) and inflammation of the spinal cord (myelitis). It’s often mistaken for multiple sclerosis (MS) because both diseases have similar symptoms. I have a relapsing form of the disease. This means I go through multiple attacks, which can cause disability that adds up over time. I was diagnosed in 2019, and soon began treatment after they found three brain lesions and inflammation of my optic nerve, which carries messages from your eyes to your brain and gives you the ability to see. In Devic’s disease, the attack results in inflammation and damage to the nerve fibers, disrupting nerve cell communication. Patients with this disease can experience blindness, paralysis, and life-threatening complications. In the beginning of my diagnosis, my sense of normalcy was completely shattered by complications from Devic’s disease: I went half-blind and still am to this day. Since I lived very independently, battling the effects of this debilitating disease was extremely humbling, and I had to finally learn to accept help from others. I’m a public school teacher for children with disabilities, and in February during my second year of teaching, three months after my diagnosis, I had to quit my job. I felt like I had failed so many people in my life: my husband, my students, and my co-workers. I could no longer do what had been so easy for me, like washing the dishes, cooking, and waking up in the morning to dress myself. I was shattered — the superwoman inside me was no longer alive. Devic’s disease seemed to want me to lose all hope and give into despair, to never jog with my full strength again, to never get out of a hot bath on my own, to never get out of bed without burning feet, and to wake up every day throwing up in pain. But I have seen all of those things, and I didn’t give into despair. And though I live with chronic pain, I know I’m a stronger woman for it. Sometimes tough situations build strong people, strong women. Now, two years later after receiving my diagnosis and beginning my life with Devic’s disease, I am working again with students with disabilities as a public school teacher, and even taught throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Every morning that I wake up and enter my classroom, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I sip my coffee, looking around my room with the feeling that I made it again. I chose to do what I love, despite my daily health challenges and biweekly treatment. I chose to go through my life not allowing pain to dictate how I live. I’d rather live a painful life than not live one at all. Living with a rare disease like mine is lonely, yes. I fight for my health every day. People may think I’m lazy or dramatic. People will give their homeopathic advice, but an arnica mountain daisy isn’t going to cure my challenging disease. People have made me feel the most lonely I’ve ever felt in my life. But here I am — living despite the battle not only with my disease, but also with people that don’t understand what I’m going through. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how bad the pain we are feeling is, either physical or mental. As long as we can still feel the love of those that love us, we will survive that pain, over and over again. And I’ll keep going and doing the things I love with passion, grit, and heart. I am my own superwoman.

Community Voices

I Have A Rare Neurological Disease; Here’s Why I’m At Peace

I’ll be 30 next February. It’ll be a Tuesday and I’ll be working, teaching students with disabilities like any other day. I’ll walk to my car and turn on the ignition without trembling hands, throbbing nerve pain, or tears dribbling to my mouth. I’ll probably have a pep in my step—but it wasn’t always this way.

Last year (2019) was the hardest year of my life. It began in March when I was staring out our window at the birds eating when the room shifted, my eyes became blurry, and I lost my balance and fell. What followed after my scary fall was a year of endless vomiting, long migraines, blindness, and a rare neurological diagnosis called www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Related-Conditions/Neur... (or Devic’s disease). It affects the optic nerves and spinal cord which leads to blindness and or paralysis. Devic’s has taken half of my eyesight away, and some doctors presume a patient will go blind within five years of their diagnosis.

Despite living with an incurable disease, I wanted to share a couple of truths in how peace has finally met me.

I’m at peace because I’ve realized the bigger picture in suffering.
Although God can heal us, we must never presume that he must. The word shares many cases when God does not directly eliminate misery, but rather engages with it for good. Even Paul pleaded to the Lord three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed and God responded to Paul’s prayers for healing not by curing him, but rather by working through Paul’s suffering to draw him nearer to his glory.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m at peace because I didn’t do this to myself.
I know of people that live a healthy lifestyle who still end up in the ER or have some kind of illness. I read many blog articles and many swear that by living their certain lifestyle, you’ll never get sick. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, dairy-free, paleo, gluten-free, pescatarian, soy-free, or have never smoked a day in your life—suffering meets all of us in different ways. If you watch the Netflix documentary www.netflix.com/title/80220013, you’ll see people who did all of the above—but still got cancer.

The thing is, no one can really control when illness strikes. You can do absolutely everything right, and still be the one that gets sick.

I’m at peace because through suffering, I have an opportunity to bring people closer to God.
Remember Jesus’ words when his disciples asked him who had sinned and why the man was born blind. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).

What we think is unfortunate in our lives could very well be one of the deepest, most amazing ways God displays His glory. It’s through the trial. It’s through the aching. It’s through the disease.

God oversees all catastrophes and all diseases. Satan is real and has a hand in it, yes, but he is not final and can do nothing but what God permits (Job 1:12-2:10). In my life, I view my illness as a way to bring people closer to Jesus and a means to glorify God.

I would be lying to you if I said that I don’t feel anguish over my diagnosis at times, but knowing my suffering can help others in their journey makes it all worth it.

For this reason, I am at peace.

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Savannah Wall

How Support Groups Help My Life with Devic’s Disease

On the night before Thanksgiving in 2019, I went to sleep feeling relieved that the sight in my right eye had returned; I had lost it months before. However the next morning, I found myself painfully blinded in my left eye, as a result of another Devic’s disease attack. Most Thanksgivings, I’m grateful for family and friends. But this time? I treasured seeing them, since the sight in my right eye came back just in time. Devic’s disease is a neurological disease of the brain and spinal cord, dominated by inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis) and inflammation of the spinal cord (myelitis). It is also called neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder or NMOSD. I live with a relapsing form of the disease, which means I can experience multiple attacks that can accumulate over time. Attacks can result in inflammation and damage to the nerve fibers, which can disrupt nerve cell communication. People who live with Devic’s can experience blindness, paralysis and other serious complications. That sums up what living with a rare disease can feel like: unpredictable, like “normalcy” is slipping away. So I tiptoe around my life like everything is made of china, terrified that at any moment my disease might make things worse. Every morning is a surprise. I don’t know what to expect on a daily basis. People may not know if their partner or loved one will be the last thing they’ll see, or if forms of paralysis will manifest. But most of all, it’s impossible to understand what living with Devic’s disease is like, which can make it feel extra lonely sometimes. I was in the first month of my diagnosis when I found online support groups. I shared my story with complete strangers; they could have just offered unsolicited advice. Instead I ended up getting an ample amount of support and positive encouragement. Some were diagnosed around the same time as me, are half-blind like me, have lost their ability to walk or are in the hospital fighting for their lives. I felt seen and like I was a part of something special. We all walk our own path, but sharing similar experiences and relating to others in the rare disease community makes the journey richer and more comforting. We have the opportunity to spread love, support, faith and contagious joy in the midst of something that can be so challenging and life-changing. The online support groups have become nothing short of family. We celebrate milestones together and post silly photos during infusion days. We sometimes call each other or attend video group chats too. We wish each other happy birthdays, and we mourn the loss of fellow community members together. O nline communities are a reminder that the person we were before being diagnosed is the same person we always have been. The only difference is that we get to use all the vitality of endless uncertainty, angst and sorrow to continue sharing our journeys with others, all in the hopes to spread inspiration. Whether through a photograph, poem, prayer, piece of music, social media post or article, the entire group appreciates the means to share bits and pieces of where we’re at in our respective journeys in the hopes of building each other up. Anyone can build a community, but what makes a community great is its ability to create a circle of vulnerability and realness for people living with rare diseases. Feeling heard makes me want to be a part of it. Along with my faith in the good Lord and how much he has seen me through, I found a community that is filled with raw expression and supportive communication, which leads to togetherness and belonging. Both have given me hope that I’m never fighting alone and that I can still do things I’m passionate about. Alone we are rare, together we are strong.

Community Voices

I Have A Rare Neurological Disease; Here’s Why I’m At Peace

I’ll be 30 next February. It’ll be a Tuesday and I’ll be working, teaching students with disabilities like any other day. I’ll walk to my car and turn on the ignition without trembling hands, throbbing nerve pain, or tears dribbling to my mouth. I’ll probably have a pep in my step—but it wasn’t always this way.

Last year (2019) was the hardest year of my life. It began in March when I was staring out our window at the birds eating when the room shifted, my eyes became blurry, and I lost my balance and fell. What followed after my scary fall was a year of endless vomiting, long migraines, blindness, and a rare neurological diagnosis called www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Related-Conditions/Neur... (or Devic’s disease). It affects the optic nerves and spinal cord which leads to blindness and or paralysis. Devic’s has taken half of my eyesight away, and some doctors presume a patient will go blind within five years of their diagnosis.

Despite living with an incurable disease, I wanted to share a couple of truths in how peace has finally met me.

I’m at peace because I’ve realized the bigger picture in suffering.
Although God can heal us, we must never presume that he must. The word shares many cases when God does not directly eliminate misery, but rather engages with it for good. Even Paul pleaded to the Lord three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed and God responded to Paul’s prayers for healing not by curing him, but rather by working through Paul’s suffering to draw him nearer to his glory.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.2 Corinthians 12:9

I’m at peace because I didn’t do this to myself.
I know of people that live a healthy lifestyle who still end up in the ER or have some kind of illness. I read many blog articles and many swear that by living their certain lifestyle, you’ll never get sick. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, dairy-free, paleo, gluten-free, pescatarian, soy-free, or have never smoked a day in your life—suffering meets all of us in different ways. If you watch the Netflix documentary www.netflix.com/title/80220013, you’ll see people who did all of the above—but still got cancer.

The thing is, no one can really control when illness strikes. You can do absolutely everything right, and still be the one that gets sick.

I’m at peace because through suffering, I have an opportunity to bring people closer to God.
Remember Jesus’ words when his disciples asked him who had sinned and why the man was born blind. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).

What we think is unfortunate in our lives could very well be one of the deepest, most amazing ways God displays His glory. It’s through the trial. It’s through the aching. It’s through the disease.

God oversees all catastrophes and all diseases. Satan is real and has a hand in it, yes, but he is not final and can do nothing but what God permits (Job 1:12-2:10). In my life, I view my illness as a way to bring people closer to Jesus and a means to glorify God.

I would be lying to you if I said that I don’t feel anguish over my diagnosis at times, but knowing my suffering can help others in their journey makes it all worth it.

For this reason, I am at peace.

4 people are talking about this
Savannah Wall

Chronic Pain: What's Hidden Behind My Smile

It was a cold September morning in Colorado when I first starred at myself in the mirror with tears in my eyes, begging myself to be strong. After an attempt to wipe my never-ending tears, I wobbled myself to my kitchen to make a pot of coffee. It was the weekend and all I wanted to do was lay on my couch and sleep so I couldn’t feel the pain in my joints. They diagnosed me with systemic lupus in 2013, but I always felt like there was a lingering question mark because throughout the years, I wouldn’t test positive and I had questionable symptoms. Fast forward six years, I found myself again in front of my mirror, unrecognizable after a rare neurological diagnosis, begging myself to hold on. It was 2019 when my symptoms were textbook of Devic’s disease (neuromyelitis optica or NMO) and it wrecked every part of my life and caused me to become half-blind. What most people can’t see behind my smile at work, the checkout at the store, or the cafe, is the anguish I deal with about my diagnosis . Most people see my smile, but they can’t see the night before when my husband helped me in and out of a bath because I couldn’t bend my knees. They can’t see the night my nerve pain tortured my legs and my husband had to listen to me shriek in pain until I’d fall asleep, only to be woken up with the same pain six times in the night. They can’t see the moments I cried in the work bathroom, vomiting in between teaching. They can’t see how I limped on a treadmill going at the slowest speed just so I could tell myself I got one foot in front of the other when I hit my pillow at night. They can’t see the pain my body would feel after a hot shower. They can’t see the ache in my heart of quitting a job I worked hard for and saying goodbye to students too soon in the year. They can’t see the pain behind my eyes when they’d take turns going blind because the optic nerves were inflamed. They can’t see the mental toll of my diagnosis and how it has forever changed my life. They can’t see me driving to a chemotherapy infusion every two weeks for the rest of my life and the lonely thoughts I have while I sit there for two, sometimes three hours. They can’t see the fear I get when I think about bearing children and having another relapse only to not be able to see my child because I’m blind. They can’t see the anxiety I deal with about going blind one day like Master Chef winner, Christine Ha who went blind to Devic’s disease in her 20s. “Despite my diagnosis and the things people will never be able to see, one of the happiest moments during my journey has been when I found the courage to let go of what I couldn’t change.” Like many people who live with a chronic illness will tell you, just because there is a smile on their face, it doesn’t mean they’re always feeling better. They’ve learned how to embrace their illness and be thankful for the better moments. They’ve learned to be grateful for those that help them in their worst moments and to cry when they need to. I read once that, no matter how bad the pain we are feeling is, either physical or mental, as long as we can still feel the love of those that love us, we will survive that pain over and over again. And this is how we continue to smile despite what you cannot see.

Savannah Wall

4 Lies People Believe About the Mental Health Community

It’s no surprise that there’s a stigma against mental health, but it shouldn’t be a battle mental health patients have to face. I’ve battled with depression in my past, and not even a year later I was diagnosed with a rare disease. I also live with anxiety. Lots of things have probably attributed to my mental health like emotional abuse, my ex-relationship, toxic family and things that have been hard for me to overcome. I, along with millions of others in the mental health community, are tired. We’re tired of the bias, the lies that people believe about our mental illness and the endless excuses we must make up for missing work or a gathering because most people won’t take our mental health seriously. I believe that in shedding some light on those lies below, it will help de-stigmatize mental illness and open us up for more unashamed conversation. Lie #1: If we share our reality, we’re seeking attention. Whoever has said that someone is seeking attention because they’re struggling mentally lacks a string of empathy — empathy that could mean a matter of life or death for someone. Our reality is real — and our feelings are valid. Any kind of “attention” we’re seeking is because we’re seeking help. And we certainly do not have to struggle in silence. We know that just because no one else can heal or do our inner work for us, it doesn’t mean we have to do it alone — therefore we vulnerably share what we’re going through. Lie #2: When we make some improvement, we were faking our mental struggle all along. Don’t forget that at one point, our only relief was sleep. Our struggle was real, is real and faking a mental illness is of no benefit to us or anyone else’s life. Making improvements in our mental illness is beautiful progress, and it is not to be misinterpreted as faking a mental illness. Some of us have fought for our lives while battling our inner demons. Some of us, like myself, had suicidal thoughts in our darkest hour and have self-harmed multiple times. So when we make an improvement, we’ve realized our life is worth living and you can’t fake that kind of reality. These things are as real as anything else in the world and the progress matters to us. Every time you think someone is faking their mental illness, you’re a part of the problem, not the solution. Lie #3: When we’re struggling with our depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, we’re not trying hard enough. It’s OK to have bad days and be less than perfect. It’s OK to do what’s best for our mental health even when that “looks like” we’re not trying. Everyone’s effort looks different. For some, it’s going outside and feeling the sun on their face. For others, it’s getting out of bed for the first time in a week and drinking a cup of coffee. And for some, it’s merely an effort to stay alive. We’re trying. Trying is not giving up — and that’s all that matters. Lie #4: If we keep the struggle to ourselves we’re not really struggling. Just because we keep our feelings to ourselves, doesn’t mean we wish to heal alone in our mental illness. It’s not easy to open up about what we’re going through because we feel we’ll be rejected. Mental illness is not easily seen. We don’t have a runny nose, fever or a rash where someone will easily run to us with a warm towel or Tylenol. We long to be able to express something we can’t explain, and we ache for help. People with a mental illness know what it means to feel alone no matter how much support we may actually have. We struggle with accepting help from those who love us because we don’t want to be a burden. Mental health will always matter. Everyone is going through something and everybody has had something they’ve had to overcome. There is hope, even when our minds tell us there isn’t. The fact that we’re still making it to work, caring for our families, being there for our friends, while still battling inexpressible pain, is strength, not a weakness. People will believe what they want to believe about those with mental illnesses — no one can really change that. But we can let people know how truly precious they are. W e can be a part of the change for good and give people a reason to have hope again. Because hope should never be lost.

Savannah Wall

Why Living With a Chronic Illness Can Be Lonely

According to the the RAND Corporation, there are over 150 million Americans living with chronic diseases with around 100 million having multiple conditions. But despite the fact that there are many people living with a chronic illness, it feels very lonely. I’ve lived with chronic pain since 2013 when I was diagnosed with lupus. And in 2019, I was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare disease that affects my central nervous system. They used to call it the sister to MS, but it’s entirely its own entity now. I know chronic pain well, and I don’t wish it on my worst enemy. Before I started bi-weekly treatment for my rare disease, I often felt elderly but without the benefit of looking back on my younger years with pride. Instead, I would watch with envy the girl running on the sidewalk with all her strength and might. I would watch the young make memories they’d never forget, praying that I would get my chance again. Chronic-illness is lonely. It’s not that we don’t realize how many people are also struggling from an illness, it’s that in the perimeters of our daily lives, our friends and family, or our work places — we don’t seem to come across someone who relates with us — and so the people closest to us don’t understand what we’re going through, making us feel even lonelier. We can try to explain the emotional and physical pain of a horrible diagnosis that changes our lives forever, but we usually say we’re fine time and time again, because no one will truly understand. Chronic illness feels like you’re swimming upstream the moment you wake up. It feels like you’re sinking down in an ocean of struggles during the day only to swim upstream all over again come the morning. But to tell that to someone who doesn’t fight a disease daily also feels like an uphill battle. It becomes a matter if people believe our pain even when they can’t see it — while we are desperately and hesitantly walking on eggshells within our own body just to push to another day. And some people don’t care. So we find comfort in our online communities with people who get it — with people who are fighting the exact same battle we are. Whether we’re fighting a rare disease or a more common disease, we find support from people we’ve never met and they feel like family. What I’ve learned in battling chronic illness for eight years now is that some people are scared of understanding things they’re afraid of. They’re scared to fully comprehend the pain you’re going through because deep down, knowing and understanding every inch of your pain and the fact that you’re struggling as much as you are is hard for them — because they love you. Though they will never understand your physical pain, it also takes a mental toll on their heart. I remember when my spouse first heard of my diagnosis. It was a hard day for both of us. It was hard for me to see tears in his eyes when he was reading about my disease. So, a lot of the time we hide our pain because we don’t want our loved ones to worry. But if they care and want to be there for us, we must open ourselves to the idea that maybe we don’t have to feel so alone after all. My disease had full intention of seeing that I would lose all hope in my despair and never be able to jog with my full strength again, or get out of a hot bath on my own, or get out of bed without burning feet, or never see a day where I wasn’t throwing up in pain. But I have seen all of those things through today, and jogging with all of my might again is a feeling inexpressible. Sometimes tough situations build strong people. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how bad the pain we are feeling is, either physical or mental, as long as we can still feel the love of those that love us, we will survive that pain, over and over again. Chronic-illness is lonely, yes. You will fight for your health every day. People will call you lazy or dramatic. People will give their homeopathic advice, but an arnica mountain daisy isn’t going to cure your disease. People will make you feel the most lonely you’ve ever felt in your life. But here you are — living despite the battle of not only your disease but of people who don’t understand what you’re going through. Your pain is real. Your loneliness is real. But you will make it through this, and you will be stronger. I am here for you, and so are the millions of others who get exactly what you’re going through. You’re not alone.

Savannah Wall

Why Living With a Chronic Illness Can Be Lonely

According to the the RAND Corporation, there are over 150 million Americans living with chronic diseases with around 100 million having multiple conditions. But despite the fact that there are many people living with a chronic illness, it feels very lonely. I’ve lived with chronic pain since 2013 when I was diagnosed with lupus. And in 2019, I was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare disease that affects my central nervous system. They used to call it the sister to MS, but it’s entirely its own entity now. I know chronic pain well, and I don’t wish it on my worst enemy. Before I started bi-weekly treatment for my rare disease, I often felt elderly but without the benefit of looking back on my younger years with pride. Instead, I would watch with envy the girl running on the sidewalk with all her strength and might. I would watch the young make memories they’d never forget, praying that I would get my chance again. Chronic-illness is lonely. It’s not that we don’t realize how many people are also struggling from an illness, it’s that in the perimeters of our daily lives, our friends and family, or our work places — we don’t seem to come across someone who relates with us — and so the people closest to us don’t understand what we’re going through, making us feel even lonelier. We can try to explain the emotional and physical pain of a horrible diagnosis that changes our lives forever, but we usually say we’re fine time and time again, because no one will truly understand. Chronic illness feels like you’re swimming upstream the moment you wake up. It feels like you’re sinking down in an ocean of struggles during the day only to swim upstream all over again come the morning. But to tell that to someone who doesn’t fight a disease daily also feels like an uphill battle. It becomes a matter if people believe our pain even when they can’t see it — while we are desperately and hesitantly walking on eggshells within our own body just to push to another day. And some people don’t care. So we find comfort in our online communities with people who get it — with people who are fighting the exact same battle we are. Whether we’re fighting a rare disease or a more common disease, we find support from people we’ve never met and they feel like family. What I’ve learned in battling chronic illness for eight years now is that some people are scared of understanding things they’re afraid of. They’re scared to fully comprehend the pain you’re going through because deep down, knowing and understanding every inch of your pain and the fact that you’re struggling as much as you are is hard for them — because they love you. Though they will never understand your physical pain, it also takes a mental toll on their heart. I remember when my spouse first heard of my diagnosis. It was a hard day for both of us. It was hard for me to see tears in his eyes when he was reading about my disease. So, a lot of the time we hide our pain because we don’t want our loved ones to worry. But if they care and want to be there for us, we must open ourselves to the idea that maybe we don’t have to feel so alone after all. My disease had full intention of seeing that I would lose all hope in my despair and never be able to jog with my full strength again, or get out of a hot bath on my own, or get out of bed without burning feet, or never see a day where I wasn’t throwing up in pain. But I have seen all of those things through today, and jogging with all of my might again is a feeling inexpressible. Sometimes tough situations build strong people. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how bad the pain we are feeling is, either physical or mental, as long as we can still feel the love of those that love us, we will survive that pain, over and over again. Chronic-illness is lonely, yes. You will fight for your health every day. People will call you lazy or dramatic. People will give their homeopathic advice, but an arnica mountain daisy isn’t going to cure your disease. People will make you feel the most lonely you’ve ever felt in your life. But here you are — living despite the battle of not only your disease but of people who don’t understand what you’re going through. Your pain is real. Your loneliness is real. But you will make it through this, and you will be stronger. I am here for you, and so are the millions of others who get exactly what you’re going through. You’re not alone.

Savannah Wall

How I'm Learning to Accept and Fight the Anxiety From Devic's Disease

The shame long associated with anxiety and panic attacks is felt partly because of the stigma against mental health. We’re attacked for being strong and opening up about it publicly and defiantly. And many people tell us to get out of our heads — that it’s all mental. While there may be some truth in this, it’s a very difficult thing to control. In October of last year, I was diagnosed with Devic’s disease and it can cause me to become blind or paralyzed at any given moment. It’s a neurological disease that affects my central nervous system, and it’s caused me to become half-blind at 29. I was ordered to start chemotherapy treatment immediately to prevent disability. Anxiety filled my lungs. Anxiety attacks are daunting. I’ve experienced a handful since I was diagnosed because I struggle to accept this is my reality — that this is even a battle I have to fight so early in life. One day in January, I was sitting at my computer attempting to feel “normal” by burying myself in work. When my body and blind eye started to groan in pain, I grew exhausted of the constant struggle. I began to weep, which turned into a state of panic. I fell to the floor shaking, somehow able to text my administrator and explain what I was experiencing. By the time I opened my eyes, she was by my side helping me to breathe deeply. My husband came to pick me up, and I kept repeating, “this isn’t normal,” as tears ran down my face on the way home. I became bitter. I became indignant. I lost all sympathy for people complaining about yoga class being canceled or their favorite Starbucks drink no longer being served. I wished with envy their problems were my problems instead of dealing with what I was going through. I was sad and frustrated, and I took a lot of it out on my husband. It’s taken six months to get back on my feet. I’ve accepted this is my reality: the biweekly infusions, vacation accommodations and an unpredictable future. I’ve accepted no one understands what I’m going through unless they’re walking through similar shoes. I’ve let go of bitterness and replaced it with content. I’ve used this time off from work to regain my strength physically, mentally and spiritually. And come the fall, I will teach again. Despite that I am physically better now, I still struggle with anxiety. This disease wrecked every part of my life in a span of three months. I could barely walk without a limp or stand for a long period of time without my legs shaking. I was swollen from head to toe, gained weight, suffered severe nerve pain, eye pain and month-long migraines. I fell once. I had to quit my job just three months after my diagnosis in February of this year. I couldn’t believe everything I worked so hard for was ripped out of my hands. My career and any chance for normalcy — gone. I was no longer independent. I was incapable of getting out of a bath without my husband’s help. Getting in and out of bed felt like a chore. I was unable to cook, clean or even shower without pain. Fear of the unknown prompted a lot of my anxiety. An anxiety attack feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest followed by hyperventilating. Controlling my breathing and thoughts become impossible. I dread the thought of going blind every day — that at any moment, I could lose the beauty of a sunrise and the wonders of moonlight. When I became half-blind, half of my world felt suddenly gone. It feels like I have one chance left, that if I have another relapse, everything will change in a matter of seconds, and my world will be dark. Just because someone looks strong on the outside, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling mentally. Anxiety often happens when we feel like we’ve lost control. It can happen when we feel like we don’t have everything figured out. It can happen when we get a horrible diagnosis or when we’ve lost a job. It can happen when we’re in physical, emotional or spiritual pain. It can happen even with no significant threat. And it can happen to any of us. Maybe my anxiety happens because I’m trying too hard to play God in my own life. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t say I will never experience another anxiety attack in my life given my rare circumstances, but I do know I believe in God, and He tells me my heart and mind will make plans, but that His purpose will stand (Proverbs 19:21). Not everyone’s anxiety is the same. Everyone’s struggle is different, but it’s still important and it matters. I wish I could tell you if you’re someone who has a medical diagnosis, it doesn’t have power, but that would be a lie. It does have power, it changes our lives forever. Sometimes, we get so far in our thoughts that for a moment we forget we’re actually surviving the anxiety attack. We forget despite that, we can feel our heart beating in our throat, our hearts are still beating and our body is pushing through the attack for the promise there is a better tomorrow. And deep down, despite our best efforts at self-care, deep breathing and sound baths, the strong spirit in us that comes from above will overpower the weak. We will overcome it.

Savannah Wall

How I'm Learning to Accept and Fight the Anxiety From Devic's Disease

The shame long associated with anxiety and panic attacks is felt partly because of the stigma against mental health. We’re attacked for being strong and opening up about it publicly and defiantly. And many people tell us to get out of our heads — that it’s all mental. While there may be some truth in this, it’s a very difficult thing to control. In October of last year, I was diagnosed with Devic’s disease and it can cause me to become blind or paralyzed at any given moment. It’s a neurological disease that affects my central nervous system, and it’s caused me to become half-blind at 29. I was ordered to start chemotherapy treatment immediately to prevent disability. Anxiety filled my lungs. Anxiety attacks are daunting. I’ve experienced a handful since I was diagnosed because I struggle to accept this is my reality — that this is even a battle I have to fight so early in life. One day in January, I was sitting at my computer attempting to feel “normal” by burying myself in work. When my body and blind eye started to groan in pain, I grew exhausted of the constant struggle. I began to weep, which turned into a state of panic. I fell to the floor shaking, somehow able to text my administrator and explain what I was experiencing. By the time I opened my eyes, she was by my side helping me to breathe deeply. My husband came to pick me up, and I kept repeating, “this isn’t normal,” as tears ran down my face on the way home. I became bitter. I became indignant. I lost all sympathy for people complaining about yoga class being canceled or their favorite Starbucks drink no longer being served. I wished with envy their problems were my problems instead of dealing with what I was going through. I was sad and frustrated, and I took a lot of it out on my husband. It’s taken six months to get back on my feet. I’ve accepted this is my reality: the biweekly infusions, vacation accommodations and an unpredictable future. I’ve accepted no one understands what I’m going through unless they’re walking through similar shoes. I’ve let go of bitterness and replaced it with content. I’ve used this time off from work to regain my strength physically, mentally and spiritually. And come the fall, I will teach again. Despite that I am physically better now, I still struggle with anxiety. This disease wrecked every part of my life in a span of three months. I could barely walk without a limp or stand for a long period of time without my legs shaking. I was swollen from head to toe, gained weight, suffered severe nerve pain, eye pain and month-long migraines. I fell once. I had to quit my job just three months after my diagnosis in February of this year. I couldn’t believe everything I worked so hard for was ripped out of my hands. My career and any chance for normalcy — gone. I was no longer independent. I was incapable of getting out of a bath without my husband’s help. Getting in and out of bed felt like a chore. I was unable to cook, clean or even shower without pain. Fear of the unknown prompted a lot of my anxiety. An anxiety attack feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest followed by hyperventilating. Controlling my breathing and thoughts become impossible. I dread the thought of going blind every day — that at any moment, I could lose the beauty of a sunrise and the wonders of moonlight. When I became half-blind, half of my world felt suddenly gone. It feels like I have one chance left, that if I have another relapse, everything will change in a matter of seconds, and my world will be dark. Just because someone looks strong on the outside, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling mentally. Anxiety often happens when we feel like we’ve lost control. It can happen when we feel like we don’t have everything figured out. It can happen when we get a horrible diagnosis or when we’ve lost a job. It can happen when we’re in physical, emotional or spiritual pain. It can happen even with no significant threat. And it can happen to any of us. Maybe my anxiety happens because I’m trying too hard to play God in my own life. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t say I will never experience another anxiety attack in my life given my rare circumstances, but I do know I believe in God, and He tells me my heart and mind will make plans, but that His purpose will stand (Proverbs 19:21). Not everyone’s anxiety is the same. Everyone’s struggle is different, but it’s still important and it matters. I wish I could tell you if you’re someone who has a medical diagnosis, it doesn’t have power, but that would be a lie. It does have power, it changes our lives forever. Sometimes, we get so far in our thoughts that for a moment we forget we’re actually surviving the anxiety attack. We forget despite that, we can feel our heart beating in our throat, our hearts are still beating and our body is pushing through the attack for the promise there is a better tomorrow. And deep down, despite our best efforts at self-care, deep breathing and sound baths, the strong spirit in us that comes from above will overpower the weak. We will overcome it.