The Year That Everything Changed
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Health and Wellness

The Year That Everything Changed

I knew the road back to myself was going to be bumpy, but I never imagined it included living with an auto-immune disease

The Year That Everything Changed

Going off to college is supposed to be one of the most exciting times of your life. It's supposed to be scary, but liberating. It's supposed to be a fresh start filled with endless possibilities. This pie-eyed idea I had for this new season of my life quickly went out the window when I fell sick.

Let's rewind a bit though...

My memory flashes back to years prior; constantly sitting in doctor's offices. I sat there, pleading for answers. I just wanted to find out why my body was rejecting all the healthy nutrition and exercise I was giving it. After countless visits to general practitioners, specialists, and even a treatment center for eating disorders at one point, I became discouraged and unhopeful that I was close to finding my solution. My sophomore and junior year of high school, I was going to the gym almost every day before school or late at night after hours of pom and cheer practices. Protein shakes and low carb meals had become a staple in my diet. Yet, I was excessively gaining weight. I never saw any results from the countless hours and effort I was putting in. Instead, the number on the scale continued to increase as my uniforms grew tighter. By the time I got to my senior year, I think I had given up trying to find the answers to my burning questions. I had become so discouraged by the lack of support from doctors and their disinterest to further investigate, that I put the issue on the back-burner for the time-being. The amount of times I've heard a doctor blame genetics for my unusual symptoms is appalling, not to mention disheartening. To my surprise, someone walked into my life that year that effortlessly loved my soul and didn't care what number appeared on a scale; a kindred spirit I wasn't aware was missing from my life. I felt more genuinely accepted and beautiful than I had in my entire lifetime, as my weight had always been a topic of conversation and insecurity of mine. Yet, this stressor lingering in the back of my mind quickly faded back into my life once it was time for me to head off to college and we went our separate ways. It started to become more apparent how fast I was gaining weight no matter what lifestyle I lead. I'd look in the mirror and hardly recognize the girl standing before me. I can't count the amount of times I've looked in the mirror and cried asking myself, "How did this happen? Why is this happening? Why me? Why now? What is causing this?". I didn't understand, nor did all the doctor's I'd seen obviously.

When I finally went off to college, I was hopeful but was also scared and worried. I wasn't in my best state mentally, physically, or emotionally. I was a walking shell of the vibrant, passionate girl I once was. I was extremely guarded, living my life in survival mode. However, given my eternally optimistic nature, I held on for dear life hoping things would work out and finally fall into place. Well…I can assure you they didn't LOL. Nothing went right from the moment I stepped foot in this new state, new school, and unfamiliar world. In fact, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Shortly into my first semester, I fell ill; flu, sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, fever, etc. You name it and I can guarantee I had it at one point or another. However, anything I caught took weeks to go away, or better yet ceased to go away. No matter how much I was taking care of my body and trying to help my immune system, I couldn't get better. It then got to the point where I was having freak accidents. One fall morning, simply upon waking up, I sprained a muscle in my neck and landed myself in the ER. Try doing daily functions and not be able to move or turn your head and then talk to me, ok? I spent a week on muscle relaxers and in excruciating pain. It had gotten to the point where I was getting cystic acne and missing periods. I was getting chronic migraines that were so bad they left me unable to lift my head off my pillow. I was losing hair on both my head and my eyebrows. Try losing your eyebrows and not feeling like an alien amongst the rest of society. I had even stopped sleeping at night. I would toss and turn, cry out of frustration, and not be able to get a single minute of sleep until the sun rose. The only time I could sleep was during the day, after hours of physical and mental exhaustion. I was emotionally and physically drained, weak, and tired of fighting myself. I fell into a depressive state and didn't have the motivation to go to my classes. I no longer had the energy or motivation to do anything. My energy levels had become utterly depleted. Against my best efforts to continue to eat healthy in the dorm, exercise on the weekly, and keep a positive mindset, I couldn't help but feel lost, alone, and disheartened. At this point, I had put on a good 50-60 lbs. over the course of one year. The life and body I once knew, was long gone and I had no control over it. I didn't know what to feel, except helpless.

When I came home during winter break, I was a mess. My body was no longer anywhere near what it used to be, and I couldn't take another minute of doing my own research, playing guessing games, or mentally beating myself up. I decided to go to an endocrinologist, determined to finally find an answer to my dying questions. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, a form of hypothyroidism. In simple terms, my body attacked itself from within... Yes, you heard me correctly, go do your medical research. Thyroid problems exist on my mother's side of the family and this concern had been stressed to every doctor I'd encountered years prior. Yet, all those years, it was never found. Clearly indicated in my physical state, as well as the large goiter that was found in my neck on the same day as my diagnosis, this issue had existed for years and just never been found or treated. This alone made my blood boil. For years, doctors who thought they knew best, knew everything, were ordering the wrong tests, wrong panels of bloodwork, and brushing me off as another teen who probably just had an eating problem. Yet, this wasn't the case at all. Hell, they couldn't have been more wrong! I may have enjoyed a slice of pizza from time to time, but I was a healthy, active teen begging them to help me figure out what was wrong with me.

The following weeks and months, I felt completely disconnected from life, my family, my friends, my interests, my passions, and from myself in general. Although I was ecstatic to finally have an answer and an action plan to get my life and body back in order, I've never felt so alone in my life. No one truly understood what I was going through, could relate, or could fully grasp the weight of what I'd been through, or was continuing to go through. As supportive as I know my friends tried to be, or how much they tried to understand, they didn't. Most of them still don't. However, I can't fault them for that. I'm really not sure how you could be able to feel the weight of what I'd gone through, unless you've lived it. And truthfully, I wouldn't wish my experience on my worst enemy. I know how hard it must have been to watch me deteriorate and be unable to help me. The thought of it is heartbreaking. Those special people out there, please know I love you more for trying to go through this with me and support me no matter how bad things got. I can never repay you for the unconditional love and care you've showed me.

Although I was going through a time of struggle, hardship, and grief, I also found a strength in myself I had no idea was buried within me. I had been tested, but I had never stopped fighting no matter how defeated I became. I'd been through hell and back. However, this time made me reflect and analyze the life I was leading. As a result of reflection, self-analyzing, and self-discovery, I found my way back to myself. This road was long, treacherous, and emotionally strenuous, but I finally made it back. I had gone from neurotic and disconnected, to acknowledging and finally loving myself for the strong, compassionate, and amazing woman that I am. That sick, discouraged girl no longer had a place in my life. She was merely a broken record that I grew tired of hearing. I let go of my resentment towards every doctor that had "treated" me prior, my resentment towards past experiences, and learned to find gratitude in even the very worst of situations. I became thankful for each day I woke up and drew a breath, each bit of support and love from my family and friends, and grateful for the tribulations that had made me both stronger and wiser. I may have been through more than your average twenty-two-year-old in my lifetime thus far, but I couldn't be more grateful for the woman it's helped me become. It forced me to change my mindset, re-evaluate my values, and redesign the life I want for myself. I no longer force relationships, or allow toxic people to have a place in my life. Dealing and accepting the years of emotional and physical trauma was a hard pill to swallow, but the breath of fresh air I knew was necessary. I've slowly, but surely learned to show myself unconditional love, mercy and grace. I've learned to always find the positive, deeper meaning in life's lessons. I've learned to let go of things that no longer serve a purpose to me or my life. I've learned how to be a warrior, with more passion that I've ever had within me. I've learned to whole-heartedly accept myself, flaws and undesirable parts included.

No matter what you're going through, please know that you're not alone. There is someone out there in the world who's lived through similar circumstances and knows the depth of what you're feeling. You may not be able to see it or feel it, but they're there. Hold onto hope. You have the strength, courage, and love inside you. Live through that light that shines from within you. Live your life, chase your wildest dreams, and NEVER let anything stop you from finding the best version of yourself.

From AZ With Love,


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