I know I said the next blog post would be regarding what a healthy relationship is and how to build one, but something happened early this morning that made me feel led to write this. I got my second rejection letter (I expect more) for my YA novel Finding Freedom. After feeling discouraged for all of about five minutes, I remembered two things- I remembered this personal essay I wrote for a contest about six months ago (which I’m assuming got rejected because I never received a response) and I remembered you, my readers. I remembered all of the encouragement and support I have been getting. I remembered how after my last blog post over ten people that I had never met personally thanked me for my writing. I remembered how it had been shared by people I didn’t know on Facebook and Twitter and how even some felons were thankful for it. I remembered that rejection is just part of a writer’s life and you can’t always take it personally. I remembered that I needed to just brush it off and keep going, keep writing. I remembered I needed to persevere.
A Beginning After the End
By: Brittany Nicole Lewis
After nine very long, emotional months of separation, my husband returned home. Just two weeks later, the baby that my daughter and I had prayed for so diligently for over a year, was conceived. It was the happiest time of my life. Then the symptoms started. It was November and our son was three months old. At first we all thought it was a simple flu and would pass quickly. We were wrong. They all were. After ten days of flu like symptoms I seemed to recover, for the time being.
About a week after my flu like symptoms had cleared up, though, my fingers began to swell. It started early one morning with a simple light pain in my wrist. I thought I had probably just slept on it wrong and it would go away. But by 8pm that evening, not only had the pain not gone away, things had gotten much worse. It had spread to both wrists, up my hands and affecting all of my fingers. Both hands were swollen. I couldn’t hold my baby, who was both soiled and hungry. He was up on the changing table when I realized I could barely move my hands. I placed a pillow under his head, gritting my teeth from the pain. I called my husband to come home and had my daughter, who was five, stand by the changing table while I attempted to make a bottle and feed him, using the throw pillow to keep him propped up. We went to the hospital and they couldn’t determine what was wrong, but gave me a tapper pack of steroids. After taking the steroids for a few days, the swelling in my hands went down, and I was told I shouldn’t have any more issues from then on. They were wrong…
One week after the swelling in my hands went away, I came down with fevers of 101-102 degrees every day and my entire body broke out in hives. Again, no one knew what was wrong, but told me to take Benadryl and sleep it off and I should be fine. Soon after that, the pain spread to my knees and hips. I couldn’t walk, and my husband had to carry me throughout the house, help me go to the bathroom and assist me with bathing myself. My five-year-old daughter would help me brush my hair and my teeth in the morning before preschool and different friends would come over in shifts to help clean and take care of my son. There were times when I could not even lift a glass of water to my mouth or open a jar of baby food.
As all of this was going on, my eyesight, which has never been very good, began to deteriorate faster than it ever had before. I went in for an eye exam and was told I had nerve damage and muscle damage in both eyes, as well as lattice degeneration (which takes away your peripheral vision) and myopic degeneration (which takes away your central vision). The doctor looked at me sadly as his assistant held and lightly bounced my new baby, trying to comfort him as we spoke, and told me that he would do whatever he could to help me to live as independently as possible for as long as possible. I asked him what he thought the prognosis was, and looking down at the floor while he spoke, he told me that he thought I would most likely be blind by the time I was around thirty-five years old. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. Awesome, I thought, as I left the office, now I can’t walk, and probably won’t be able to see either? What in the world am I going to do? Thankfully, I was able to hold in the tears until after I got home.
Over the next few months I began working with a social worker for Services for the Blind, and teaching myself braille, just in case I needed it later. I was also working with a Rheumatologist, seeing him every two to three weeks to be monitored. It took nine months from when my symptoms first began for me to be diagnosed- Adult Onset Still’s Disease. A disease so rare many doctors have not heard of it. I was told it affects about 1 in every 100,000 people and there is no cure. I began injections weekly but they did not work. I moved onto low grade chemo pills and steroids, which helped me to regain the use of my body, and after nine weeks of physical and occupational therapy, visits from a visiting nurse and a medical social worker, I was finally starting to do well again. Soon after that I began losing control of my bladder.
All of this took place within eleven months time. My entire world was turned upside down. My life had ended, the person I was was gone, and what had been given to me as a replacement, I hated. We all did. I lost the majority of my friends, though I suppose, looking back, they wouldn’t have really been my friends, anyway. I lost many of my hobbies because I was too weak to go out of the house most days. I lost my goals, both professionally and personally. I fell into a very deep depression that lasted several months. I was unsure I would ever be able to pull myself out of it.
Then, very slowly, over the course of the last eight months, I began to rebuild my life, a new life, better than the one I had before. I began to create a new me, who is stronger and more confident than my previous self, despite all of my new limitations. I realized that sometimes, everything you have and everything you are needs to be completely destroyed, so that you may rise above the ashes of your life’s destruction into something more beautiful, more vibrant than you ever could have been before.
My family moved to a bigger home, one that has features that are so beautiful I have only seen them in movies, magazines and, my imagination. My husband and I realized the importance of spending alone time together weekly, and made a commitment to do so, deepening our level of intimacy and friendship that had been lacking for several years, and reducing our stress. Though my previous career in education had ended because I could no longer keep up (I was a preschool teacher prior to starting a family, and watched young children in my home since then), I began to peruse a writing career, and have done fairly well in establishing myself. During this short time, I self-published a book of poetry and a short story, I was published in Hektoen International and I have written four articles that I have kept the rights to, and I have also ghostwritten seven books and four articles for various clients. I am currently working with several clients both writing books and editing, and I working on a personal project- my first Christian fiction novel!
One year ago when I got the official diagnosis, I thought, and definitely felt, like my life had ended. I realize now that it has only just begun. I hope to be remembered not by my limitations and what I can’t do, but by how hard I have fought, do fight, every single day, to overcome my limitations and continue pushing forward, striving to become more and more like the person I know in my heart I was created to be. There is a saying “The only real disability is a bad attitude,” I’m owning that saying, and I will continue to push myself forward despite my obstacles, with a smile on my face as I do it.
While I was writing Finding Freedom, I had to think of my brand, of how I wanted people to view me as an author. I had some difficulty with this because I didn’t want to have to be stuck in one genre. I wanted the freedom to be able to write what I wanted to write, when I wanted to write it. So, I decided to brand myself as an author, rather than the genre of my novel. My tagline is “Using Adversity to Grow,” and I need to remember to put that into practice.
Since this essay was written I have finished that novel and am about halfway done with the rough draft of my second. My book of poetry Shine through the Darkness is also being re-done and will be released as a paperback and ebook soon. To my readers: thank you for your support. I’m glad you like what I do, because I promise you, I’m not going anywhere!