I’m a real life example of, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” But for an expression that best fits of the story I’m about to share with you, let’s go with saying something a little more specific like, “Don’t judge a girl by her selfies.”
I believe that we are all examples of this, actually, because everyone goes through things that can’t be seen from the outside looking in. We all have daily struggles that others never get to see (unless we choose to show them). Whether they be physical or mental illnesses, insecurities, financial issues, stressful living situations, dysfunctional families, etc. — there are things we have to wake up to every day and figure out how to deal with. I consider these things to be our realities, because no matter how “perfect” we appear to be to others, these are the things that humble us and remind us that we are human… That we’re real.
While it’s possible that all of us deal with every real-life issue I listed above + more, there’s usually one specific thing that REALLY seems to bring us down the most. Mine is a physical illness that I was diagnosed with at age 13, and since, have been having a lot of trouble accepting the fact that it is part of my reality. (Like on some, maybe if I act like I don’t really have it, it will go away, irrational, type of “trouble accepting.”)
Now, from scrolling through my Instagram feed or watching my selfie-filled Snapchat stories or simply seeing me out at an event you may think, “She doesn’t look sick.” And yeah, I get that reaction a lot. But then I always have to ask, well what does a sick person look like?
I have ulcerative colitis — an inflammatory bowel disease. An autoimmune disease that’s often considered to be an “invisible disease” because its effects are rarely seen, but they are very much felt by those who have it. The best way for me to describe what it is, is that my digestive system doesn’t function properly. My colon identifies food as being harmful to my body and it tries to fight it off. As a result, eating causes excruciating pain and frequent, urgent trips to the bathroom. Definitely a condition that has made me super self-concious and at times, afraid to even leave the house.
In many cases, ulcerative colitis can be controlled with maintenance medication and those with the disease can generally live a normal life… But every case is different. My specific case has been one of the uncontrollable ones, and it has been very difficult for doctors to figure out over the past 5 years or so. (One of my latest doctors basically told me, “Wow. I have no further ideas on what to do for you. Good luck with everything.”)
I feel like pity parties only make bad situations worse, so I try my best not to complain too often or beat myself up about it. And despite barelyyy graduating college because of it, and experiencing failed relationships, and constantly having to delay my personal goals, I try not to consider myself a failure because I am sick… But rather, I’ll be a failure once I stop trying to live the life I want because I am sick.
“Weaknesses” only make us weak if we let them… And in reality, our not-so-glamourous realities are what make us stronger people. The pain we experience daily that isn’t displayed via social media is sometimes the reason why we’re able to smile a little harder in our selfies and maybe flex a little more on a regular day… Because we go through real shit and we’re still pushing; we know that we’re capable of growing through anything that doesn’t kill us. It’s all about accepting the journey for what it is. Flaws and all.
My illness is actually a major reason in why I decided to create DARLA Magazine… And I remember the day I was inspired to do so, so vividly. It was July 29th, 2013, my late Aunt Darla’s birthday, and I was riding in the car with my cousin Mia (her daughter). Mia was driving me to school because I was taking summer classes at the time and my car wasn’t working on top of a bunch of other shit that went wrong for me that morning. I had already missed too many classes for that session due to being sick and couldn’t afford to miss another. (I couldn’t afford anything actually, I had like $9 in my bank account and maybe like $6 in my pocket… Ballin, ballin.)
It was a hard day for both of us; Mia was missing her mother a lot, I was pondering ways to get through the day without eating food… But there was still some kind of peaceful energy present in her ’98 Oldsmobile Regency that made me feel like, “It’s okay. We’re going to be okay.”
It was a long summer day we ended up spending together around West Philly, with details I’ll save for one of us to put in a book some day… But times like those… When shit literally sucked, yet we were still able to laugh with each other until we were in tears, is what inspired me to create DARLA.
At the time, I was in doubt of my being able to pursue a real fashion career with such inconsistent health; college professors were tired of me, so I knew a company would be quick to fire me… And so, I knew I’d most likely have to be in control of my own work situation. I decided that I wasn’t built to find a place to fit into in this world; I was built to create my own. And that’s everything DARLA represents — not letting your struggles and insecurities be the reason why you fail, but letting them be the reason why you refuse to give up; the reason why you strive to create more for yourself.
I used to feel like I had the worst luck ever. Like, “Fuck I’m always sick… Why can’t I be fortunate enough to live a normal life and get a normal job?… Why do I deserve this?” and I was a super negative person. I wanted to blame everything and everybody for why I wasn’t progressing. But as time went on and I was fortunate enough to meet new people and learn about their stories, I came to understand that EVERYONE is going through the same shit, just in different ways. Battling cancer is what lead Sarah Leticia to learn a new type of dance and become an instructor. Spending his whole life being told he was too small to ball is what made Jason Richardson a relentless business owner. We all have dreams but we have to learn how to face our real life situations in order to achieve them.
I try to put my best work into everything I do with DARLA as far as content creation and branding because I want it to accurately reflect my reality… Your reality… Our realities. We live during a time when it’s soooo easy to create fake shit that will quickly get views or likes or publicity, that sometimes we catch ourselves doing so, and simply just need to take a step back and reflect on why we started in the first place.
For those of you who have been supporting DARLA’s mission + to anyone who took the time to read my story right now… You are very, very much appreciated. If you are going through tough times of your own, I hope that we can inspire you to keep going. Never give up on your dreams, never give up on yourself… No matter how tough it gets. You got this<3.
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