I turned 29 last week and the evening before my birthday I began reflecting on the past year. I genuinely enjoy birthdays because I feel they are a great time to evaluate how much I have grown and to set new goals for the future. I have never cared much about age in terms of the number, but the fact that I am now in the last year of my twenties is astonishing. I feel as if the past five years have flown by and I still remember my 24th birthday like it was yesterday. I’ve been questioning, “How did I get here?” And while that thought lingers in my mind, I can’t believe that this time next year I will be embracing a new decade.
Overall, I initially felt that I had a wonderful year, but when I sat down to reflect I realized that it was one of the most difficult years I had in a long time. I believe there are specific trials, tribulations, and blessings that we experience until a specific lesson is learned. I also believe every individual has unique encounters that contribute to either “making” or “breaking” them. For me, constant evolution is a must, therefore I do my best to recognize patterns and crack the code to overcome whatever the lesson may be. Ironically, last year on my birthday I was ill with food poisoning, and little did I know that this event would foreshadow how the better half of my 28th year would unfold. In August, I began experiencing extreme sensitivities to a large variety of food and chemicals that I never had issues with before. I experience allergic reactions to things like eggs, nuts, aerosol, perfumes, and bleach, among many other triggers, some I am still discovering. My reactions result in swollen lips, rashes, hives, and headaches. The symptoms can vary from a few hours up to several weeks at a time, depending on the amount or strength of food and chemicals that infiltrate my system.
Throughout the vast hardships I experienced with my health, I also had many triumphs. It is safe to say I was truly “living my best and worst life at the same time”. Last March, there were many changes that transformed my blog and Instagram. I cut my hair into a short bob and began playing around with new editing styles which amplified my growth. I took a huge risk by leaving my part-time job to focus on growing my blog as a business. Finally, after three years in the industry, I hit 10K on Instagram in June and within 12 weeks I doubled my following. By November, I matched my previous part-time salary which was one of my biggest accomplishments. As you can imagine, quitting my job was a huge risk and sacrifice, but I truly believed that I could succeed in the influencer space. I attained these goals all while I was enrolled in school full-time and earning straight A's.
These milestones were a culmination of years of effort finally paying off and I was one step closer to fulfilling my dreams. This was also when my symptoms were at an all-time high because I had not learned the extent of my triggers until I did an elimination diet several months later. During this time, the brands and agencies I was working with were pressuring me to complete campaigns before the contracts stated the work was even due. I felt cornered and revealed that I was having health issues and needed the full allotted time until my symptoms subsided, but the pressure did not waver. Although I had a doctors note excusing me from work and school, I was forced to find ways to maneuver around my mangled lips. I hid behind my hair or extensively edited photos. I felt like my dream career was slipping through my fingers. These circumstances put a strain on my business partnerships, I was unhappy with my content, and my engagement was falling. Throughout the entire holiday season, I was going through my longest flareup which lasted two months. You can only imagine how difficult it was to produce quality content on deadline.
I have never been an overtly optimistic person and I consider myself more of a realist. However, one thing living with chronic illness has taught me is the impact a positive mentality has on recovery. I was pushed far beyond my limits mentally and physically for the better half of my 28th year. There were weeks when my face was unrecognizable, and I barely left my bed because I was in so much pain and discomfort. I was also ashamed of my appearance and did not want anyone to see me in public. My blog was suffering and I missed a lot of school which was scary considering how close I am to graduating after a decade of pursuing my Bachelor's Degree. Regardless of what I looked or felt like, each day I woke up and thought to myself, "Today is going to be the day that my skin looks better! Today will be the day my lips heal!" Most days, I did not look better, but it never stopped me from hoping for the best. I learned that I had to be patient and work around the circumstances I was granted. Living with food and chemical hypersensitivities has taught me the increased importance of having a positive mindset, to set clear intentions, and repeat positive affirmations to myself. It also reignited my relationship with yoga, meditation, and prayer which I strayed away from for some time.
This past year has taught me that regardless of what is going on outside my bubble, I have to focus on what is best for me as an individual. I have gone through several impactful phases throughout my twenties and now my health is taking the front seat. I understand that many people feel that their twenties are their selfish years, but I feel I am only entering that phase now. For so long I prioritized my former job or the way other people felt. Whereas now, I am much more selfish about how I spend my time, money, and energy. I am putting myself first and not letting outside factors influence my emotions or actions. It has become easier for me to “let go" of people or experiences that no longer serve me or are toxic to my health and I don't feel bad about it. As a highly empathetic person, this can be difficult at times, but I need to be selfish for the sake of my body and mind at this point in my life.
The hardest thing about living with extreme food and chemical sensitivities is that it is very lonely. Most people don't understand the extent of my allergies and I find myself constantly explaining why I can't do certain activities or ingest particular foods which is exhausting. I am already an introvert, but dealing with this situation has caused me to retreat into myself even more. I can't fully enjoy most social gatherings that include food or drinks and I am also often reluctant to commit to attending events because I fear, "What if I have a flareup?" on the scheduled date. My goal for this year is to focus on healing and to slowly rebuild relationships with friends and family that have stood by me for the good and the bad. I spent a lot of my 28th year isolating myself or pushing myself away from people, but I miss having certain connections. Although I still experience flareups, I do have a better handle on my sensitivities because I have learned what my main triggers are and how to treat a flareup naturally with healing foods. I am feeling more open to new experiences and meeting new people, in addition to nurturing the positive relationships I already have.
Although I had a rough year, I hope you enjoyed learning about my experiences and what I look forward to in my 29th year of life. I understand that sharing these intimate moments on the internet can make me vulnerable, but I feel it's important to share my reality. Food and chemical hypersensitivity is rare and a newer occurrence so I feel that sharing my health issues can open the discussion to others experiencing the same symptoms. When I had my first reactions, I was misdiagnosed by several doctors and nurse practitioners and there was barely any information about what I actually have on the internet. I feel that sharing this information is helpful for anyone who has gone through something similar. I know how lonely it can be and I want you to know that we aren't actually alone. I am the kind of person who finds written expression therapeutic and liberating so I appreciate you taking the time to be apart of my journey by reading this blog post. I am sending you all virtual kisses and I want you to know how grateful I am to be surrounded by such a supportive community.