What happens when you mix a chronic disease diagnosed at a young age and a person that doesn’t care…you get me.
I have beaten the odds, and honestly, I can say the majority of them not only deal with health concerns, but family concerns. The deaths of very close family members, imprisonment of others, while pursuing multiple higher degrees aren’t exactly the things that you are taught to deal with while you’re a child or teenager. I am happy for those who are reading this and have no idea about what I am talking about, however, I still feel the need to discuss how to get through this. I have every reason to be a pessimist. And honestly, most of the time, I am more of a realist, finding EVERY way that I should be able to be where I am. But when I am leaning towards non-optimal thinking, I realize that I have done and experience more than most twice my age, and that is something to take pride in.
I have dealt with an incurable disease in the prime of my youth, where the world is your oyster for lack of a better cliché. During that time, I had beaten death and somehow came out stronger than ever.
As any teenager, I identified myself with what I did, and how well I performed…sadly, my dreams had to change. I excelled in academics and continued to pursue a higher education. I have my MA in Chemistry and am published in multiple scientific journals. I have had to deal with multiple deaths in my very close-knit family, while pursuing these “mind-centered” dreams, where family concerns should be the furthest things from your mind but have taken my primary goal, because I tend to have significant empathy and sympathy towards situations where those emotions identified as weaknesses.
Luckily, despite my difficulties, including fearing diagnoses of leukemia, pancreatitis, and if the stars aligned, ultimately death, I have come out the other side. Yes, I am still completing my PhD in Chemistry, but despite my difficulties with health, family and friends, I have found a way. I have found my love in music; the way it makes me feel when I lose myself in it and connect with the lyrics. Ironically, these musical inclinations have lead me to the most influential individuals in my life thus far, one who is my best friend and partner, and another who has been a faithful source of encouragement despite the negativity that surrounds me. Naturally, with my love of music, I have found communities, where no matter your journey, education or faith, you are accepted and loved unconditionally. I can’t even count the number of people who I have met along my journey with music that have provided more positivity and love than they could even imagine.
Recently, I have learned about my family and understood the hardships they undertook to reach America, and if you haven’t learned your family history yet, I highly recommend this sobering experience. Seeing that my family had come to America from towns in Europe and the Middle East, you realize that you are a part of a bigger story.
I am not a diseased individual. I am strong. I am determined. And no matter what happens, I am ready. I am lucky enough to have the support structure that I have fostered throughout my 29 years on this Earth. I have friends all over the country, and they not only know me because of my disease, but because of my intellectual contribution to my scientific and artistic communities. I am more gregarious because of the secrecy typically associated with a bowel disorder; I was only six months from my diagnosis when I joined one of the most well-known organizations in the country and petitioned on the steps of our Capitol for equal rights. I am glad to say that when I am on Facebook (sorry, but not sorry that I am not more popular on other social media websites) that I have friends from all over the world congratulating me on my academic success or liking pictures which show friendships that are 15 years old or older.
I am known for my kindness, my dedication, and my truth. I have learned to not allow Crohn’s to define me, but to me define what I can do despite my illness. Along the way I have learned that identifying your weaknesses, whether physically, mentally or spiritually, can make you a stronger and a more compassionate person to those you share your life with, whether it is your “partner in crime” or the stranger sharing your train seat.
I have learned to accept people despite their apparent short comings. Although I have dealt with “difficult people”; whether they have obscured my focus on personal, I have decided that I am who I am, and these negativities will not deter me from my truth and my ultimate goals.
I am the person who will talk to the cashier, because even though they may not have an advanced degree, we still work federal and religious holidays, and commensurate on loss of family time and how “they understand that this is what we need to do.” I have found solace in those people who are willing to share their hardships if they look like they are having a bad day and I ask “Hi, I know we only see each other on the train but are you ok?” I find reasons to let someone in front of me in the grocery store because they look like they have the type of day that in my world, could have kept me in bed and not even make it to get myself food. I don’t do these things because I like being commended for my compassion or gratitude, I do them because it who I am, and more importantly, helps those who are still finding their way. Sometimes, you need someone to show you that despite your own difficulties, that others have the compassion that you could only wish you could have.
We live in a society that is so self-centered most of the time. “I need to be the best”, “I need to be the first”, and other similar ideas are commonly shared in our traditional hustle and bustle. I do not necessarily believe in being “blessed” with a disease; however, I have realized I am more open and willing to be MORE human (or what is expected of HUMAN) in my everyday life. I have been recognized as a joyful person that’s brightens someone’s day, and more importantly, I have been recognized as a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and motivates other people to try to be themselves and do what they think is impossible.
Some could label me as lucky, but I am not. I have not lived a life full of blessings, joy and luck as traditionally acknowledged in our society, but rather a life full of heartache, turmoil and a feeling of loneliness, but have come through the other side with an attitude of gratitude and determination to connect with everyone and anyone.
My advice to those who are going through difficult times, know you can survive it all and to realize you need to surround yourself with those who expect nothing less. Often, when you are in a difficult position, you want to shut down and close everything off. And although that seems like a viable solution, you need to be strong enough and believe that YOU ARE CAPABLE OF SO MUCH MORE. I was raised in a single-mother household, second generation college student from an average household. I have dealt with those who treat like I am less than human and doubted my physical or mental abilities, and I have realized they do not matter. Your belief in yourself is all that matters and that is what will get you to where you want to be. You are important, and although I am a disembodied voice just in your head as you read this, I will always talk to those who feel the need to share their stories or difficulties. I don’t care if you are half way across the world. I will talk to you and help you figure out a plan to be the person you could only dream to become, and if I can’t help I will find you someone who can.
Live, love, and enjoy. Life isn’t just what you are expected to accomplish, especially if you are from a situation that is less than what others may deem as “ideal”. Life and your success are what you make it; dream big and be the light to others, the latter I personally place more importance on.