My name is Dawn & I was born in Liberia, during a war, which contributed to me developing certain conditions such as Fibromyalgia, PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Chronic fatigue syndrome & a few others. Initially, I was ashamed, but I now hold my head high because these conditions slow me down, but they won’t stop me.
I never thought those minor health concerns would lead to this. I was unaware that I had these conditions until about 5 years ago when the pain started manifesting in my body in a way that forced me to pay attention to it. My body had been sending me messages for years…whispering. But now, it was yelling for me to listen, heal, refocus, & reset.
5 years ago, at 24, I began having severe pain from my lower legs to my feet. Within 2 to 3 years, I had chronic, widespread pain every day. Because of the severity & unpredictability of the moving pain, I lost my job & eventually began using mobility aids. So here I am, learning to adjust from an active, social person to now, not being able to move for 10 minutes without experiencing fatigue, sitting with stabbing pain in my back, thighs, & tailbone, walking with nerve-like pain under my feet & hands, finding it sometimes difficult to retain or process information as well as before, forgetting simple things (brain fog), losing my balance, & even finding it difficult to be in loud, busy settings (sensory overload). I felt like a young person living in the body of an old person. After some years of seeing doctors, trying treatments, & running tests, & even getting misdiagnosed, I was finally diagnosed.
I finally had something to call by name.
First, I was relieved & eager to share my results, because a formal diagnosis felt like “I told you it was real”, but then, it started hitting me that I was “that girl”. I was embarrassed of being the girl with a list of issues, who needed everyone to adjust. I didn’t want to seem too high maintenance, sickly, or needy. I didn’t want to seem negative, so people would stay. I was still afraid of people not believing me because I knew that outwardly, besides my posture, & the occasional “oohs” or a few teardrops, I still looked the same.
I was the strong, reliable friend, willing to be anyone’s therapist, checking on everyone. But now, I needed people to be that for me. But having a chronic condition is not like having a terminal one, or even a temporary one. There isn’t an influx of people, checking on you, out of concern & fear of what might happen. Because we learn to adjust as best as we know how. We learn to smile & move, while we’re feeling pain on a scale that would shock, immobilize, & depress many people. The world doesn’t slow down for you when you get diagnosed, so you keep moving. So, from the outside looking in, you’re strong & you look like you’ve got this.
Many people with chronic conditions feel this way this very minute. You are so not alone. Many people don’t know how to explain what’s happening to them. They’re tired. Many people don’t even fully understand what’s happening to them. They’re still learning. And many friends/families/coworkers may not know what to do or say.
This is why I use my social media platforms to raise awareness around mental health, chronic illnesses, & disabilities. To educate people & encourage ourselves. To help bring back the connection. To encourage people to gain confidence in trusting & loving themselves & creating their voice, because that is where their strength to rise again actually lies.