A Year With No Regrets

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I have a hard time taking compliments; acknowledging that other people see the value of my skills or my life. I guess it’s just easier to be self-deprecating. But, every year on my birthday (12/17), I choose to look at all I’ve accomplished in my difficult life with pride. I also give praise and gratitude to my co-workers, friend, family and God for carrying when I felt like I couldn’t go any further. Each day I live is blessing and I cherish it.

I saw this image online and wondered why it’s always been hard for me to ask others to support the book I’m most proud of, my memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search For Dr. House. It’s my tool to advocate for people struggling with misdiagnosis, chronic illness, chronic pain and a crisis of faith. I guess I felt like it would be begging to ask everyone who claims to be my friend or my family to buy my books, to share my posts or videos or do something to show that my life’s mission matters to them. I guess I didn’t want to be disappointed. But, by not saying anything, I let myself down.

My grandma Nettie used to say “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” And mother said,”by asking you have a 50-50 chance at yes. By saying nothing you have a 100% chance of a no.” I’ve decided not to let another year of my life go without saying something about this and anything else I want.

I will release my next memoir, Chronic, my journey to find peace despite emotional and physical pain. I don’t know if I will make another request. But, I know I will face this new year of life with less fear, less hesitation and less concern about whether or not anyone else will let me down. I’m focused of my actions. And, I vow to have no regrets.
#birthdaywish #noregrets #eachdayisablessing #memoir #autoimmunedisease #invisibleillness #chronicillness #chronicpain #igg4 #disability #spoonie #africanamerican #women

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Bringing Hidden Strength Forward

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Isabel Allende said “We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward.”
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The depth of my appreciation for all I’ve survived now inspires me to help others who can’t or don’t have the means to help themselves. It also pushes me to be grateful for what I’ve gained rather than what I’ve lost.

Here are two more clips from my speech at the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association public forum in Detroit. I explain why I always say I’m fine when I’m asked, “how are you?” And I explain why there is a good side to being sick. I hope my words let others know they can soar above their obstacles without losing their joy or zest for life.

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Why it’s good to be sick

The real answer to how are you

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#autoimmunedisease #invisibleillness #chronicillness #chronicpain #igg4 #disability #detroit #spoonie #africanamerican #women #isabelallende

From Whence You Came

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James Baldwin said “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

I can’t forget how hard I’ve fought to stay alive. It’s been a struggle to eat, walk, to just exist without pain. But, the decades of chronic illness have also shown me the depths of faith, love and resilience. It’s driven me to use what I’ve learned to help others; to change the world’s perception about people like me (Sick, African American, women, disabled, etc…). And, Baldwin and my soul tell me I can make a difference.

I’m using everything I have to accomplish my goal. I’ve shared my road to diagnosis in my first memoir and now I’m working on a second one about the coping skills I’ve developed. I’ve also stared speaking publicly again. Most recently, I addressed a public forum hosted by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association in Michigan on 12/9. Here’s are two snippets from my speech.

What you need to know about autoimmune disease

Search for disease beyond the surface
#autoimmunedisease #invisibleillness #chronicillness #chronicpain #igg4 #disability #detroit #spoonie #africanamerican #women #jamesbaldwin

Trapped in A Cycle of Harassment as a Chronically Ill Person

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Here’s the sad truth: I expected to face some workplace harassment when I entertained the entertainment/ journalism industry more than 20 years ago. As a woman and an African-American, I was frequently warned about colleagues who had racial biases, were physical aggressive, would continue to ask for a date or tell inappropriate “jokes.” I wasn’t warned that the chronic illness I was battling would subject me to harassment. It would also prevent me from simply leaving a toxic workplace.

Over the years, I’ve had managers ask me to give details about my illness in violation of my right to privacy. I’ve been questioned about the use of my time off, which a company benefit is provided to every employee. I’ve even had on boss suggest that I was upset about a staffing issues because of my “condition.” I’ve had to work shifts that were tough on my body because asking for an accommodation might make me a target. I’ve stayed when I was ill so no one could look at my hours and try to use short shifts against me. I’ve used my vacation time instead of sick leave or disability so that I didn’t take more time off per year than other co-workers. I’ve returned to work as quickly as possible after procedures so employers didn’t look for a reason to let me go. I had to be better at my job so there was no excuse to doubt my ability.

Other than complain I could do little about these egregious violations other than complain or speak up for myself. Until the Affordable Health Care Act was passed I couldn’t leave a job. Why? I was unable to by health coverage on my own due to my pre-existing condition.

The autoimmune disease that tore through my body robbed me of job choices. My industry was going in a freelance direction. But, with bills piling up and the need for continuous health care, I couldn’t afford to be without a steady paycheck. I couldn’t take unpaid time off. I couldn’t risk having to explain my illness to someone else. Therefore, I endured being victimized repeatedly. I forced myself to work despite frequently being over burden by work while my healthy co-workers took unlimited time off.

Not much has changed over time other than I am now aware that it’s hard to be a woman and to be African-American in my industry and this world. However, it’s even more difficult and lonely to be a chronically ill person in the workplace.

Originally published in the Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trapped-in-a-cycle-of-harassment-as-a-chronically_us_5a1ecd72e4b00579aa29f91c

Guilty or Innocent, Cosby Has Proved He’s Not “America’s Dad”

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Bill Cosby has entered the courtroom with his head held high nearly every day. But, the truth is Mr. Cosby is the loser no matter what the verdict. 

When allegations began to resurface about Cosby drugging and sexually assaulting women, America was shocked. Why? He’d already publicly battled allegations of infidelity. Yet, I concede that cheating on your wife is far different than raping a woman.

Nearly five dozen women came forward and I still wondered, “Where’s the proof?” I know that there’s not always physical evidence in sexual assault cases. It often comes down to a case of her word versus his. But, in this case, I began to look at the details a group of women revealed that showed a dubious pattern of behavior.

America was expected to believe Cosby because he was “Cliff Huxtable.” And, he was the man who made us laugh for decades, was married for more than 50 years and lectured black America to look in the mirror and take responsibility for their woes.   If we were to believe Cosby did these awful things we’d have to see pass his image to the man. Cosby’s wife Camille urged us not to. She even issued a statement that said in part, “He is the man you thought you knew.”

Of course, I could fathom that “Cliff Huxtable” would cheat on “Claire, let alone drug women in the office in the Huxtable home while his wife slept. Nor could I conceive that the man who sold me pudding in commercials during cartoons in my youth would put Quaaludes in anything I ate or drank. However, I quickly realized that I wasn’t thinking of Cosby. I was focus on the character he played, the personality he displayed in public and not the one that may exist behind closed doors.

The problem is most Americans never knew Cosby because we’d never met the man in private. The women who did claimed he was a predator who used his money, power, influence and reputation to hide his crimes.

I, like everyone else didn’t know what to believe. Then, I read the excerpts from his depositions. He admitted to cheating on his wife for decades, buying Quaaludes for sex with a host of women, and to switching the drug he told Constand he was giving her. He also apologized to Constand’s mother then claims that was a lied because he didn’t want to be thought of a dirty old man. He then told her he’d send her the drug he gave her daughter but never did.  At the end of reading Cosby’s words I knew one thing for sure. He wasn’t my dad or any dad I wanted as an example; he wasn’t “America’s dad” or even a decent man.

Originally published in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59441cd5e4b0d188d027fdf0

A Love Letter To My M.F.F. (Mother and Friend Forever)

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I’m her first born, her baby girl, her only daughter and I am the sickly one. My twenties and thirties were a disaster. The autoimmune condition that frequently tortures me nearly claimed my life on several occasions. Each time, my mother rushed to my side and nursed me back to health. I felt guilty. I thought I was a burden. But to her, she was simply being a mother to me; a job that would never end. 

Thankfully, over the last year my medical issues have lessened, giving mother and I the ability to just enjoy together. Recently, we chatted as we sat across from each other while eating a lunch after a morning volunteering together. We talked candidly about our relationship woes, difficulty with the children and our medical problems. No topic was off limits. No judgment was passed. We simply exchanged advice, observations and offered support like two girlfriends would do.  

As we walked back towards my car, the lyrics to a song popped into my head:  

“I’ll always love my mama

She’s my favorite girl

You only get one, you only get one, yeah

I’ll always love my mama

She brought me in this world”

I realized the woman beside me taught me how to be a caregiver, to give back, to be a good partner and to pray when all else fails.  She wasn’t just my mother, she was and is my friend. She’s my M. F. F. (Mother and friend forever)

#mothersday #family #love #autoimmunedisease #caregiver #friends 

Open Letter to the President-Elect: My Life Is Worth More than Politics

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9:45 am, I limped over to my desk and began working on coverage of President-Elect Trump for the second day in a row. By 12:30, I had turned two reporter packages and written and edited nearly a half dozen anchor voiceovers. Then, it was time to hop into a cab for one of my nearly weekly doctors’ appointment. This time, the specialist was at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Years of chronic inflammation caused by the autoimmune disease igg4 related systemic disease had taken their toll on my knees, spine and hip, as well as several organs that have either been repaired, required biopsies or rely on some medication to deal with the damage. And, walking had become nearly impossible at one time but innovative treatments like burning the nerves, steroid injections, and knee injections, along with physical therapy and pain meds had just about restored me to my previous form with a cane.

After an hour at the doctor’s office, I was done and it was time to return to work to write about presidential politics and the rest of the news of the day. Chaos kept me from thinking about the policy change the President-Elect vows to make to so-called Obamacare kept me up on Tuesday night. For hours something my grandma Nettie used to say played in my head, “those who do not listen shall feel;” meaning people who don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them will suffer the consequences.

Had I or any other chronically ill person done enough to voice our outrage over plan to scrap so-called Obamacare? I hadn’t. The thought that I’d done nothing to make sure that a plan that preserves my independence is retained haunted me. So, as soon as I completed my last story I hit the keyboard again to draft a letter to my senators Booker and Menendez and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. to see what can be done to preserve the portions of the Healthcare Act that have made it possible for me to live, work and thrive despite a sometimes debilitating autoimmune disease.

These thoughts played repeatedly in my head: I cannot go back to paying taxes in a society where, because of the ailment God gave me, I cannot buy health insurance. I cannot worry about getting cut off insurance if the treatment I need cost over a million dollars. Nor, can I go back to paying nearly every cent I earn on health care because there’s no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. I refused to be forced onto disability or into subpar health facilities because that’s the only way I’ll be able to survive without some of the terms of so-called Obamacare. And, the truth is that’s no life at all and not a life I want to live.

A flood of questions ran through my mind too like: If more competition, lower premiums and greater coverage is the aim of repealing the law that’s fine but does throwing out what does work make sense? Why not scrap this so-called Obamacare before another is ready to go? Does it make sense to leave millions of citizens in the lurch while you try to come up with something? Why hurt the very people trying to make America great by requiring less government services by standing on their own two feet? Why is the average American entitled to less medical care than senators, congressional leaders or the president and his family? More importantly, I wondered, why deny hardworking Americans the right to life in the name of politics? I deserve better so I will fight for it like I battle for my life every day. I’m not ready to die yet so I won’t let anyone take away my health care options easily. Will you?

Originally published in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5824a5fae4b0edfa13936169?timestamp=1478797289257