For most of my life, I’ve considered myself blessed. I came from a wealthy family with strong Christian values who would stop at nothing to give me not only what I wanted, but what I needed as well. As a child, I would always hear my grandmother say “Beauty is only in the eye of the beholder.” However, I always felt that was said out of fear of our family being superficial and shallow due to our reputation of striking looks and exotic beauty. As far as I was concerned, I was “eye candy” and there were certain luxuries that physically attractive people received that not so attractive people did not.
Living in a Barbie-world of superficiality had more pros than cons. I discovered that being a beautiful airhead meant that you were waited on faster at restaurants and granted you favor over other applicants at job interviews. Misdemeanor crimes of stealing and speeding were second nature to me because if worse came to worse, I would just bat my eyelashes and get myself out of the situation, considering the fact that cops are easier on “pretty” people. True enough I was always taught that it was better to rely on interior attributes than exterior, but thank God I slipped past having to process that principle because my looks and material possessions did the trick. Living the “glam- life” meant surrounding myself with more conceited individuals. I would meet people at the malls and social events and hangout with them based on the idea that we thought the other was glamorous. Without any mention of their character, they were invited into my circle of friends. As long as they had wealthy parents, designer labels, a cute face, and miniature pooch, no questions were asked. I saw no harm in this because as far as I could see, beauty meant clout.
It was not until my diagnosis with lupus, in 2002, that my life began to change. Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. This disease, which usually affects African American women, claimed the life of my grandmother and was genetically passed down to me from my mother. Before 2002, I had watched my mother battle this devastating illness but never did I believe it would claim me.
After suffering from the initial symptoms of lupus, joint ache and extreme fatigue, my rheumatologist placed me on steroids called prednisone, which are created to reduce inflammation in the body. Because prednisone is well known for having strong side affects, such as, weight gain and acne, I secretly decided to refuse the doctors orders. Determined to rock my designer jeans and European cut logo t-shirts, I began to abuse drugs as a way to deal with the stress and worries of knowing that I was basically killing myself due to my fears and insecurities.
As with any chronic illness my disease began to get worse. So off to the MAC counter I went, buying expensive makeup to help disguise rashes and breakouts, which I felt, at the time, were the beginning of my destruction. As the lupus ran its course, I enrolled in and out of college due to hospitalization and visits to the doctor. Even though I was a pretty kind individual I knew that I was enduring this trial for a greater purpose. Did my ungratefulness and conceit land me in such a state? Questions like this boggled my mind, as I searched for the pieces missing from my life.
On my 21st birthday I decided to make a vow to God to put away my childish mentality in order to find peace. For some strange reason shopping did not fulfill me anymore. Calling home asking daddy for dollars did not ease the pain in my heart or lighten the burden of my disease. I also realized that those “beautiful individuals” I thought were friends were not around during hospital visits and only called when they needed something. It finally occurred to me that my definition of beauty and what life was all about needed to be revisited. It dawned on me that I could not fake being happy anymore. I had to search for it and it was not going to come from someone or something, but from within.
To deliver me from my captivity, I began to ask God for guidance. I was tired of being used by fake people and I was even wearier because of my suffering. After months of prioritizing, I realized that my health was more important than other people’s perception of me. I decided to put away hiding my face face reality. So after years of neglect, I decided to take my disease more seriously. Not only did I find out that the lupus had worsened, but it was now starting to affect my kidneys. As fluid began to compact my ankles and face, I wondered if fighting at all, was even worth it. My pretty white teeth could not save me now and neither could my chiseled cheekbones, which are now buried under fat due to steroidal side effects. What was I to do?
I’ll tell you what I did. I had to find the strength to let it go. I had to let go of the worries and learn how to place the situation in God’s hands. I let go of the need to be “Mr. Beautiful” and became content with living in my own skin. I let go of tomorrow and started living for today. I began to realize that my life served a greater purpose. I owed it to God, my family, friends and supporters to live in truth instead of “a life of lies.”
Even though I am preparing to take chemotherapy this spring to help tranquilize my disease, I am so proud to say that I’ve graduated from the class of the “clueless”. Even though I face struggles day after day, I still hold my head up high as I search for the lessons my burdens possess. It pleases me to know that my joy comes from giving. Never have I felt as fulfilled as I do now that I am doing for others the same things that I once did for myself. I am D’unte Brown. I have lupus, but my lupus does not have me. This is what lies behind my Gucci frames.
What’s behind yours?