A man with lupus jumps over a hurdle as the sky turns from dark clouds to a bright sun.

Every Hurdle Comes with a Purpose - Introduction

I just celebrated my 47th birthday on Thanksgiving Day. Given my 30 years living with lupus, which includes a myriad of visits to the emergency room, three brushes with death, and now 16 medications, I always celebrate. Because I have a birthday that is always celebrated in conjunction with a day that Americans celebrate family and the harvest, my birthday always seems special. Thanksgiving reflects my ability to jump another hurdle in life.

Since this is my first article, I think it necessary that I introduce myself. I was diagnosed with lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) in June 1990 at Crawford Long Hospital of Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

Before my diagnosis

First symptoms: headaches

Four to six years prior to my diagnosis, I lived with chronic headaches and a few other unusual conditions. The muscle spasms in my abdomen that mimicked a hiccup are the most memorable. My headaches were diagnosed as migraines, but they lacked the common secondary symptoms like aura or nausea. My parents searched for alternative treatments by the age of 13 because my headaches became a daily event. I frequently missed school and missed assignments. My headaches were so painful that it was difficult to really keep my head up in class. My parents eventually took me out of public school and entered me into a private school because the public school system thought I had a mental illness.

New symptoms: pain and exhaustion

By the age of 16, the headaches were the last thing on our minds. I began to suffer from chest pain while I walked to and from the bus stop on a daily basis. When I walked up the stairwell to my bedroom, I collapsed from pure exhaustion and pain. I was always short of breath even walking the shortest distance. It was not uncommon for me to crawl from the stairwell to my bedroom. I could not eat without vomiting. My muscles ached. I lost weight. My wrists and hands hurt. By the summer of my 10th-grade year, I remember being in driver’s education class barely able to wrap my hands around the steering wheel.

Increasing symptoms: hospital admission

My symptoms seemed to increase. I went back and forth to the family doctor with no solution. The symptoms just worsened as I neared the end of the school year. In June of 1990, my internist admitted me to the hospital after seeing a spot on my lung. Once I was admitted into the hospital my symptoms progressively got worse. My pulse and blood pressure increased, my fever hit extreme temperatures, I hallucinated, and I had a seizure.

After two weeks in the hospital and many complicated, painful, annoying, and even embarrassing tests, an infectious disease doctor diagnosed me with systemic lupus erythematosus.

Living with lupus

In the 30 years that I have lived lupus, I have seen changes in the lupus arena that can only come with progress. I distinctly remember asking my mother on a ride from one of my many doctor’s appointments why God could have struck me with this horrible disease. I think at the time I was concentrating on the weight gain from Prednisone, the acne, and the constant aches and pains. I was also scared. At the time, I read that the mortality rate for people living with lupus was 10 years. I remember running across a soap opera in which a central character, a white female, died of lupus, and any reference to lupus in the media was a picture of a white female. I remember my first experiences with a lupus organization reflected the same characteristics mentioned above. The keynote speaker, a doctor at one of my first lupus seminars, said that men do not develop lupus.

Overcoming obstacles

Despite these obstacles, my mother’s response helped lift me up. My mother said that God struck me with lupus because God knows that I can handle this obstacle, and that “God knows that I have enough strength to overcome any obstacle. God knows I am wise enough to figure it out. God has given me a purpose.” Ephesians 2:10 says:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I often tell audiences that I am on a journey, and that journey has a purpose. I may not know what it is or what will be accomplished, but it is positive. Over the next few articles, I hope to share with each of you the way that purpose has made me resilient to obstacles, to challenges, and to living with a chronic illness such as lupus which has impacted a majority of my life.

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