I never thought this day would come, but it’s soon to be here and I can’t wait! The countdown til graduation: 7 days! [Lucky] Seven days that will seem like forever, yet fly by in the blink of an eye.
It is definitely a bittersweet feeling as I don’t want my journey as a student to end. I don’t want to say goodbye to the many wonderful friends and colleagues I’ve made, to say goodbye to the school I have learned to love and take pride in. On the other hand, I am excited to say goodbye to papers, stress, the 26 mile commute to school and say a big fat [scared, yet excited] HELLO to the real world, an income, and of course, [well-deserved and long overdue] shopping! ;]
I am finally graduating from my master’s program. It has been two crazy amazing years that came with ups and downs, gains and losses, just like any other year. But these past two years were different.
These past two years were the first two years in which I had to live with Lupus. I was diagnosed with Lupus in mid-July 2010. I started my master’s program in late August 2010. Few people were skeptical about me jumping right back into reality, advising me to take time off and recover. My doctors, my family, and I thought it was okay to go back to school as long as I felt ready and was willing to take it as easy I as I could. I also knew that the moment I felt it was too much for my body, I would have to take a break. As selfish and possibly irrational as it was, I went back to school right away. I worked too hard to get to where I was at and I could not just put this on hold. Flash forward two years later, my decision to go back to school immediately wasn’t so irrational after all. I did it and I have no regrets. I made it, not without struggle, but the important thing is I made it. I made it, graduating as Summa Cum Laude, with honors, a 3.9 GPA. I’m graduating with a generous stipend from a county department and “priority” in the job hunt. I’m graduating with friendships and memories that I would not have had if I took that break. The only thing I can really say is, IN YOUR FACE, LUPUS! I did it.
Lupus: You tried to stop me with illness, joint pain, weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, stress, financial burden, fear, insecurities, the list of gloom can go on and on, but I learned how to cope with it. It wasn't easy, but you couldn’t stop me.
As graduation quickly approaches, I am still in awe of everything I have accomplished and everything I have gained as a student, as a professional, and as an individual. One of my peers had told me one day, “I don’t know how you do it. You have so much more on your plate than most of us, but you somehow you come to school and have it together.” I don’t really remember what I told her, but I believe it was something generic like “I had no choice, I had to do my work” and something lame like “I do homework on the weekends, never during the week.” I don’t know why this little conversation between us stuck with me or bothered me for a little bit afterward, probably because my answer to her wasn’t really my answer? I just came up with something on the spot without much thought. On my way home, I did think about it and realized that the reason why I had to “have it together” was to prove to myself that I could be a “normal” person, that I could be like anyone else in my class, that despite having Lupus, I was still capable of functioning like anyone else. And this is probably not even the right frame of mind to have. It is still a work in a progress for me to embrace and accept the "new" me - the "new" me with "limitations," lifestyle changes, and goals that still remain but realizing it may take a little longer to attain them.
Negative me wonders if I should’ve taken that break because I feel like I didn’t maximize my time in graduate school. I wasn’t totally myself. I was too occupied with what was going on in my head and my life that I wasn’t the student I knew I could be. I kept to myself, distanced myself, and didn’t take advantage of everything “healthy” non-Lupus me would have done. Though this crosses my mind on occasion, I realize that although I didn’t do everything I had thought I would have done, I GAINED SO MUCH MORE. The support from my colleagues, peers, professors, and friends mean the world to me. The little things such as making sure we get a shaded table at lunch, lending me an umbrella for our walk to Acapulco, telling me my hair looks thicker when it’s really just frizzy (LOL), driving me to my doctor when I couldn’t, wearing purple on World Lupus Day, organizing Lupus Walk, going with me to Lupus Wellness Day, just being there to listen to me vent when I felt like the universe hated me... If you’re reading this (you know who you are), thank you so much :) Your love, your kindness, and your support mean the world to me. And I am so glad to have each and every one of you in my life. I am so blessed that our lives have crossed paths and I hope that as the craziness of life goes on, we someday, if not often, cross paths again.
I know the next few years aren’t going to be easy because Lupus is so damn unpredictable and I have no idea what’s in store for me or how Lupus is going to affect me. The bright side (if you consider there to be a bright side) is that the beauty of having a chronic illness is that it changes perspectives. It teaches you how to live life to the fullest because you don’t know how long life will be or how challenging life will be. And that idea goes for anyone, “healthy” or “unhealthy,” but for people like me, “living life to the fullest” has a new meaning. The beauty in the most simplest things like a hug from a loved one, kindness from a stranger, and a beautiful day become magnified tenfold. Lupus has given me that awareness to see the beauty so commonly overlooked. This awareness allows me to see the blessings and fortune within the last two years: I am happy, my support system has grown tremendously, and I am as healthy as I can be. For that, I am grateful.
And as graduation approaches, I am going to cherish every last beautiful moment I have with my classmates because our time now is limited as this chapter comes to an end. I look forward to our last moments together because every minute with them is a sincere pleasure and freakin’ workout for my abs because all we do is laugh and laugh. The next few days are going to go by so fast. I can’t believe after two years, graduation is almost here.
As the saying goes, “I have Lupus, but Lupus doesn’t have me.”