Life & Lupus: The Dreamkiller by Shanelle Gabriel

Someone once told me that living through your twenties is all about losing the fantasies of your teens. As you add more years to your life, it can feel like you're adding more reasons to be pessimistic. Being diagnosed with Lupus the year before I could drink legally meant I started losing those teen fantasies a little early. At nineteen, it seemed like I had a hundred mountains I wanted to climb, seven seas to swim, and a encyclopedia of a to-do-list I planned on attacking prior to dealing with this autoimmune disease. Reality has a way of settling in when it hurts to keep up in your college Hip-Hop dance team and when your mom suggests you take a semester off to "rest a bit." Granted, I wasn't about to sit in the house for the rest of 2005 so I went back to school, but the craziest thoughts cross your mind during silent painful walks from class to your dorm room. 


"Why am I even here? Am I fooling myself for having goals and plans for my life knowing my body will fight my mind for control every step of the way? Who am I if I can't accomplish these dreams I've had all my life?" 


I never shared these thoughts with anyone because I knew I'd get those Reading Rainbow responses: "You can be anything you want to be, if you just believe." (*Struggles not to throw up.*) We're adults now, and we know that we cannot fly two times higher than butterflies, especially with that butterfly rash on our faces. Many of us got our realities handed to us along with test results and had to grow up pretty early. 


It helps to realize that this painful end to optimism doesn't just hit those of us with chronic illnesses. As many of my friends are entering their late twenties and crossing the ("dun-dun-dun") thirties, they're asking themselves the same questions we are. I'm not the famous singer I thought I'd be when I was 16. I'm not the radio announcer/ A&R / wife & mother of 3/ homeowner / CEO of a non-profit that I swore I'd be when I was 22. My present life is nothing like I planned, and that is in part due to dealing with this illness and part in realizing that you can't put a timeline on certain things. 


Having Lupus with its unpredictable flares and remissions makes planning for life hard. Shoot, life makes planning for life hard. Depression can come from the way an illness and struggle can seem to kill dreams. I've learned one way to overcome it: FIND A NEW DREAM. I may not be the the mother and wife I planned on being at my age, but I'm consistently working towards my new goal of being an amazing aunt and an inspiration to my nieces and nephews. My friend Judith Mills may not be the track star she was on the path to be before her diagnosis but it lead her to become a biology teacher and founder of an organization working to provide Lupus medication to countries in Africa. Your illness may have stopped you from being a lead dancer at Alvin Ailey but maybe this will lead you to a new dream of running a non-profit that provides ballet shoes to under-funded arts programs. 


They say when there's a closed door, God opens a window. I know it isn't easy to step away from the door you've been walking to all your life, but that window may lead you to a grander purpose then the original path you were on. The same way you surprise yourself with your ability to deal with everything your illness throws your way, you'll be surprised at the skills you have that you didn't even know you possess. Aim to focus less on what you can't do and more on what you can. Find the hidden passions within you, and maybe your new dream can become a reality.