I used to think that self-care was earned, that it was a measurement of my hard work, an incentive for all the sweat, blood, and tears that I put into something. To me, self-care was a badge of honor — it was about earning my stripes after years of experience. It was the culmination of everything I had achieved, almost like a graduation gift to myself.

I didn't feel worthy of self-care because I always felt like I didn't put the time in, so to speak. Or that I wasn't seasoned enough to partake in this celebration.

Now I realize that self-care is not an option, it's a necessity. It's more than just some celebratory gift — it's obedience and liberation. It's about introspection, a metacognitive check-in, and an act of self-fulfillment and self-preservation.

That all changed on September 21, 2017, when I found out that I had Discoid Lupus.

After months of doctor visits and being told that the symptoms that I had been experiencing were "normal wear and tear" from being a full-time mommy of two, I finally received an official diagnosis. Autoimmune diseases are so difficult to diagnose because symptoms like chronic fatigue, joint pains, and skin issues are common in other diseases as well. Thankfully, in my case, it only took 6 months to detect, but still, the news hit me like a ton of bricks.

I had been anticipating this dermatology appointment for weeks, and according to my research on Google (hah!), I was expecting them to tell me I had Psoriasis. The doctors examined the two distinct marks above my left eyebrow, measuring them with rulers and taking photos. They asked if there were any other mysterious marks that I had seen, and I told them about the dark patches on my hairline and scalp and sporadic hair loss. After a few minutes of them conversing in their medical jargon, the only words that I could manage to understand was that this is a "classic case" and that they needed to get a biopsy of my scalp immediately.

Anxiously, I sat in the cold room waiting for them to come back with their findings. Several minutes later, they came back and told me that they're almost positive that what I had was Discoid Lupus — a form of Lupus where the body attacks the healthy cells, causing rashes and/or lesions. In other words, natural and/or artificial sunlight is my kryptonite.

I must go through great lengths to protect my skin from sun exposure, i.e. sunscreen, wear sunglasses, wear wide brim hats, or use an umbrella to prevent flare-ups.

Doctor "S" warned me that if I didn’t find healthy ways to cope and manage my stress, it would make my condition worse and could potentially make my fears come true. She begged me to enjoy life and to not limit myself by living in darkness. She said, "You will be okay, only if you believe it! Your biggest obstacle in this thing will be you."

I floated out of the office feeling disoriented and in a daze. I couldn't process what the next few days, weeks, or even years would feel like — and that worried me. It was all good about a week ago! *in my Kanye West voice*

I had literally just graduated with a master’s degree. Life was good, or so, I thought. 

My husband was preparing to leave for 9-day Singapore trip the very next day. I was pissed that he was still leaving after hearing my devastating news, but the more logical side of my brain understood that duty calls. *side eye*

I was overwhelmed with how I would hold down the fort with my two toddlers, and “take care of myself.” But in Black girl fashion, I adjusted my crown, and did the damn thing — even though I felt like I was dying on the inside.

Over the course of a few months, I battled with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I constantly blamed myself for “being sick” and I was angry that my body had failed me. And that felt like the ultimate betrayal. There were times when I stopped going outside or attending social events because the awkward stares and questions about the scars on my face were a constant reminder of my pain.

I was a hot mess, to say the least, but I knew that I needed to pull it together.

It's unfortunate that something like this had to happen for me to wake up to the fact that I had to take better care of myself, but I am also glad that it happened the way that it did. 

I know it sounds cliché, but we really don’t know our own strength until being strong is our only option. I had to literally take control of my life, and leave old thought patterns of negative thinking and self-pity. I had to learn that asking and receiving help from others was not a form of weakness, but of strength. Self-care looks different to everyone, and for me, it was about self-forgiveness and loving myself again — and learning to find peace despite my circumstances.

I started going to therapy, journaling, getting monthly massages, and being honest with myself and others about how I was feeling and accepting that it's okay to not be okay all the time. I am taking charge of my health, and of my life. I have a great team of healthcare professionals that I am working with who have helped me to find coping mechanisms and how to manage my symptoms through healthy lifestyle changes.

It’s been a little over a year and a half since my diagnosis, and I am learning how to embrace my new normal and not being ashamed to tell my story.

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