We’ve all heard the saying live like you are dying, and as cliché as it sounds, I did not start living until I was told that death was imminent. But I am getting ahead of myself…
My childhood seemed perfect, especially to the outsider looking in. I had an older brother who doubled as my best friend, my parents were loving and I had lots of friends. I played basketball, took music lessons and excelled in school. Everything was good, until one day I realized it was not.
I realized my parents’ marriage was not stable. They stayed together for my brother and me, or at least that’s what I told myself. Because of this, I felt like it was necessary to over achieve and excel in everything. I thought this would keep them together. In high school I got straight A’s in all advanced classes, had leadership roles in multiple clubs, and played AAU as well as High School Basketball. I kept a smile on my face and had an upbeat personality, but on the inside I was a mess.
That became evident on the outside when I was 16 and so stressed out that I began losing hair in clumps. I was terrified of going bald, but I was even more terrified that my family would fall apart if I slacked off. In my head my achievements were what kept my parents from getting divorced. So the pressure on myself continued.
I graduated high school with honors and moved to St. Augustine for college. Shortly after I began college I got the dreaded voicemail from my mom that said she filed for divorce. I felt like it was my fault because I moved away. I was in a new city, a new environment and I felt all-alone. I could not talk to my parents and I did not really have close friends in St. Augustine, so I withdrew from life. I felt like I was not good enough because I could not keep my family together; I began giving up on everything. My grades dropped and I stopped focusing on my internships. I was hurting, but I did not want anyone to know, so I kept the smile on my face.
My life was on the decline and then one random afternoon it got even worse when I began throwing up uncontrollably. Three weeks later I had lost over 30 pounds. I was emaciated and terrified, but my parents were consumed with the divorce and I did not want to bother them with my problems.
I began all the doctors’ visits by myself. The first doctor told me the illness was due to my parents divorce. According to her I was severely depressed and needed to go on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. I had no problem admitting I was depressed, but deep down I knew this was not the main cause of my sudden illness. So I went to the next doctor, and the next one, and the next one and eight more after that.
During this time I was invited to a Lovely Experience. I was extremely weak and not feeling well, but I got out of bed on that Saturday and went. I met some Lovely Girls and immediately they invited me to hang out. I made up an excuse and did not hang out with them. I dodged so many texts and avoided them like they were the plague.
My doctors’ visits continued. I was 20, alone and scared. It got to the point that I was praying to die. When you’re young, weak and not capable of feeding yourself or walking it’s difficult to find a reason to live. The depression got worse and I felt more alone than ever before.
I went to a new doctor and he told me he had no idea what was wrong, but he knew it was bad and told me I could possibly die before I was 25 if doctors did not figure out what was going on. As soon as I heard him say I could die, I realized I did not want that. I could not believe I ever prayed to die. I wanted to hike in Yosemite and backpack through Europe. I wanted to live!
A few days after this doctors appointment I thought about the girls I met at the Lovely Experience and how joyful they were. Their lives seemed so full and exciting. I knew that I wanted to be friends with them and live a joyful life like theirs. But honestly, I’d dodged so many texts from them that I was embarrassed to reach out. Luckily the lovely ladies I met were relentless and one actually invited me to another Lovely group just a week after this appointment. I finally went and my life was transformed. (I am not even being dramatic.)
My friendships with these girls flourished, but my health was still declining. I had surgery to remove a piece of my thigh muscle in October of 2014. The night before my surgery two friends I met through Lovely texted me and told me that I would get through this. They were right, I did.
Fast forward a couple of years and I have learned to live with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that rejects gluten (bye-bye pizza) and a neuro-muscular disease. I am thankful because I no longer have complications from either disease. I am even more thankful though, because I have learned to live and rejoice no matter the circumstance. My Lovely friends helped me overcome my fears of dying and of my diseases. They helped me to forgive my family.
They helped me to see that I am not alone.
The girls I have met through Lovely are lifelong friends who love me, support me and inspire me on a daily basis.
With their love and support I have hiked up to waterfalls in Yosemite and traveled to 12 countries in Europe. I am accomplishing goals and living an adventurous life that I never thought would be possible. I no longer hide behind a fake smile, now it is a genuine smile because I know that I am not to blame for my parents divorce and my diseases do not define me.