On this day four years ago, I was two weeks away from graduating college and felt like I was moments away from my deathbed.
Over the last few months of my senior year, I went through some drastic physical changes. It started with a strange, itchy rash on the left side of my chin. Then another developed on the back of my neck. Then several more appeared on my legs and under my armpits. My muscles were sore to the point where it felt like I had been doing an intense cardio kickboxing class everyday. I was physically weak and tired all of the time, and depression had sucked out the little energy I had left in me.
Graduation Day was a blur. My entire body had swollen up and I couldn’t even walk ten steps without trying to catch my breath. I remember my entire family crying at my graduation party — not tears of joy, but ones of sorrow and confusion. A joyous occasion had been tainted by this random, mysterious plague that had taken over my body. I had no clue what was going on with me and I was terrified. It wasn’t until a month later that I was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called dermatomyositis (DM).
I often tell people that my journey to healing was the best and worst time of my life. While I was unable to do a lot of things on my own like get out of the bed, take a shower, get dressed, do my hair, and even speak at one point, my physical disability ultimately helped strengthen my character and faith in God. Although my family was a huge support system, I knew that God was the only one who could turn my situation around.
During this time, I prayed and sat in silence a lot. I learned how to listen to my body and my inner Spirit. I began to focus on the things I could do rather than the things I couldn’t. Each day I became more inspired to start something that would encourage myself and others to hold on to faith in the midst of trying times and adversity. So I began sketching out ideas in my journal. And from there, Free E.G.O. was born: an inspirational clothing line promoting Empowerment, Gratitude and Optimism (EGO). I teamed up with this awesome graphic designer to help bring my ideas to life.
My very first t-shirt design was a phrase that popped in my head and stuck with me throughout my recovery: “Goal Digger.” Although it’s a very popular phrase now, back in 2012, “Goal Digger” was simply something I thought up and began calling myself to stay motivated. Being a goal digger meant encouraging myself to set small goals everyday and to push through to achieve them. It meant remaining steadfast in my faith and overcoming the odds.
I wound up creating a Kickstarter campaign to help launch my clothing line. After campaigning for 30 days, I exceeded my pledge goal of $3000 and raised enough money to create my t-shirts. The Goal Digger designs are still my best seller to this day.
Four years later, as I am walking in my healing from myositis medication-free, I will continue to share my story as a platform for bringing more awareness to myositis and to encourage those who are currently struggling with autoimmune disease. So today, in honor of Myositis Awareness Month, I am relaunching my Free E.G.O. clothing line. It serves as a “souvenir” of what I’ve battled and conquered, and a reminder to everyone that with Empowerment, Gratitude and Optimism, we have the ability to achieve any goal and overcome any obstacle we face in life. I have sweatshirts and t-shirts available for $15 and $25, so if you are interested in purchasing, please let me know! I’ll be donating a portion of the proceeds to myositis support groups. Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease was a huge turning point for me. And while the process was ugly and painful, something beautiful and promising was born from it: my relentless faith in God and my ability to encourage and inspire others through my testimony.