To my son as I graduate…

Dear Jakob,

May 17, 2017. Today NYU’s 185th Commencement Ceremony is taking place to celebrate the achievements of many graduates including myself, but today I want to take a moment to celebrate you.

My journey to the tassel has been a long one. A journey plagued by frustration, stress, anxiety, doubt, fear, and numerous attempts at quitting. But through hard work, the prayers of those around me, and the grace of God I have made it to this day- Graduation.

And as proud of myself as I am and as much as those around me are celebrating me for this accomplishment, I think you are the true star in all of this. You have been the silent partner working behind the scenes to help me get to this point. So I thought you should know how grateful I am for you and why this achievement belongs to both of us, not just me.

Thank You.

For all the times I couldn’t tuck you in because I had class. For all the times I had to cut playtime short so I could take a test, write a paper, or finish a project. For all the times you went crying to Mimi and Grampy because you didn’t understand why I couldn’t stay just one minute longer. For all the times when I was impatient with you or short-tempered because I was so stressed and exhausted. For all the times I put a few more minutes of sleep above waking up early to spend time with you. For all the times that I was so stressed I was physically ill and you prayed for me and did everything you could to make me feel better. For the times I shared the good news of a test passed or a course aced, or a GPA above a 3.5 and you celebrated with me. For all the times I wanted to give up and your mere presence made me reconsider.

Thank You.

As cliche as it seems, you are the real MVP of all of this. Because even in the midst of all of that you managed to remain the same sweet, caring, helpful, generous and thoughtful child you’ve always been.

So thank you for bearing with me and motivating me and helping me get to this point in my life. I hope one day, when you are old enough to understand, you are just as proud of me as I am of you. This one is for us!

Love Mommy

 

 

PCOS & Fibromyalgia… I have them, now what?

I’ve really battled with whether or not to share my diagnoses publicly. Why? Because I am a private person. Because I don’t need people sharing and discussing information about me. Because I don’t want pity. However, I’ve been increasingly convicted to share my story. Why? Because I know I am not alone. Because the purpose of my blog has always been to use what I know, feel, and experience as a means of helping others. Because I want to be free of the burden of keeping these very real conditions in my life a secret.

In order to understand my journey to diagnosis with each of these conditions I am going to go back a little. Note, this post will be very long, open, and honest. I feel it is important to tell this story in all of those ways in order to accurately portray what I’ve been through to get to this point.

It was late 2013 when I first started to experience some symptoms that troubled me. I’ve been a relatively healthy person the vast majority of my life. No major illnesses or injuries. A cold here, a stomach flu there, allergies. Normal stuff that I have been able to live with, with much ease. But the symptoms I experienced at the end of 2013 alerted me that something was terribly off with my body. Exactly one week after my cycle ended I had another full week of a menstrual cycle, which has never happened before. This second cycle was extremely heavy, caused me to have painful cramps, I had severe lower back pain and I had blood and mucus in my stool. All of those things happened for seven days. And then they stopped. Just as suddenly as they started they stopped. And one week went by. Then another week. Then another week. So naturally I assumed I was alright. And then the next month a very similar thing happened. By the third month I knew I needed to see a doctor, so I made an appointment with my gynecologist (assuming it was a gynecological issue). However, it took me 4 months to see her as she was totally booked, and having not shared my story with the front desk clerk there was no rush made to get me seen. So I waited 4 months, and in that time span I was completely fine. Not one incident. Not one symptom. And when I finally got in to see my gynecologist and shared my story we both assumed that whatever was going on had resolved itself on its own. After all, my blood work and all the other tests she ran came back normal. So why wouldn’t we think that?

At that appointment my gynecologist told me that if my symptoms should appear again I was to call immediately and demand to be seen and to mention that she (Jennifer) had specifically advised me of such and would be furious to find out I had been placed on hold. So when all my symptoms returned just a month after that appointment including some new ones like migraines and huge/frequent mood swings, and when those symptoms continued into the next month I made another appointment to see Jennifer and demanded to be seen as soon as possible. I got into her office in less than a week and again all tests came back normal. So she scheduled me for a vaginal ultrasound.

When I had my ultrasound appointment the first person to come in was a student technician. She introduced herself, the process, and then the vaginal ultrasound began. First off, this procedure isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. It’s not painful, but having something stuck inside you and then pushed around with a bit of pressure doesn’t feel good. Nevertheless, I looked at the screen as she explained where my uterus was, my Fallopian tubes, and my ovaries. And then she stopped. Really suddenly. And she looked at the smaller screen, made some notations and measurements and then hurriedly excused herself from the room to go get someone else. The doctor.

The doctor comes in and the student sticks the wand thing back inside and says something along the lines of “So I was looking around and then I see THIS here and THIS over there. Then the doctor takes over the wand thing and moves it around some more and then says, “Okay, hold on let me get Dr. “So & So”. I got the impression this was the head doctor and then I got a bit scared. The top gun comes in, the three have a mini discussion, the top gun introduces himself and does the little thing with the wand and then just says, “Okay. When was your last cycle?” Me: “It was a week ago.” Top Gun: “Well first of all, I can see that you don’t ovulate because these (points to ovals on the screen) are all your eggs which should have been released. Second, you have PCOS. That is Polycycstic Ovarian Syndrome. You see these things here (points to some dots on the screen) and these things here (points to a lot more dots on the other side of the screen)? Those are cysts on your ovaries. You have about 12 on your right and a bit more than 12 on your left ovary. They aren’t that large though. Roughly the size of an eraser head. But I’ll let you get dressed, print some stuff out, and have a chat with you in a few minutes.”

PCOS. I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t know what it was. But nothing about having dozens of cysts on my ovaries sounded good to me. Nevertheless the doctor came back in with a print out of my cyst covered ovaries. He explained to me that PCOS was a condition in which my ovaries were covered with dozens of tiny cysts. These cysts were not harmful to me, but they did cause a huge shift in my hormones which was throwing my entire body off (hence the changes in my cycle, the migraines, the mood swings). I was told the condition often makes getting pregnant a challenge and increases my risk for diabetes and heart disease. I was also told that common symptoms include acne, weight gain, trouble losing weight, extra hair on the face/body, irregular or heavy periods, and even depression (most of which I had been experiencing in addition to my other symptoms.) He went on to note that the little discussion he, the other doctor, and the student were having was related to one of the cysts which was about the size of an olive and looked to the student like a “problematic” cyst. However, in their little pow-wow he pointed out to the student that it was missing the 4 of the 5 major characteristics of a problematic cyst and thus it was nothing to worry about at this point.

So what was the treatment? Hormonal birth control. I was told that for me hormonal birth control would essentially offset the effects the cysts were having on my hormones and get everything back on track. So I got my prescription and hoped for the best. And sure enough things did get better and I thought all would be well for the rest of forever…..

Until Fibromyalgia. Just as I was improving in early 2014 , I began to notice that something was again off in my body. I was again getting migraines 3 times a week that lasted for 1-2 days (yes, that means I had migraines everyday.) I was feeling abnormally tired. More like exhausted. Like the type of exhaustion that you’d feel after running a marathon. Only I felt that everyday. No matter how much sleep I got the night before. No matter how little activity I did that day. I was also in pain. A lot of pain. At first it was the type of pain that I’d liken to when you have the flu. That achy feeling all over your body- that is what I felt every single day for seemingly no reason. And as time progressed that level of pain just increased all over my body. For seemingly no reason. My back, neck, and certain points on my arms and legs seemed to be in pain the most often and the most intensely. There were times I couldn’t get out of bed. Times I couldn’t get out of the bath tub or get out of a chair unassisted because I was in so much pain. And suddenly I was incredibly sensitive to cold. Like 65 degree weather was cold to me. And any type of cold made the pain in my body worse. Air conditioning in the car on a hot day- I couldn’t handle it. An actual cold day outside was like torture to me. On top of all of that, I was irritable, had these sharp mood swings, and even some mild depression.

I went to see my general physician at the time who ran every test you can run on a person. And small things were wrong that he assumed were the cause of my issues, and thus if those small things were fixed I’d be fine. This was mid 2014 at this point. For an entire year we went back and forth. Tons of blood work and every other test you can think of. Low Vitamin D so we will increase Vitamin D intake. Still ill. Low Calcium, so we will increase Calcium intake. Still ill. Increase Vitamin B12. Still ill. Iron. Still ill. Drink more water and get more rest. Still ill. Exercise and go to physical therapy. Still ill. And after a full year of all of this and still being ill my doctor was at a loss. Now all my tests were normal and I was still ill. On a fateful day in now 2015 I heard my doctor pull a superior aside right out front of my exam room. He explained to her my symptoms and this year long journey that resulted in no improvement. And then this woman walked into my room and asked me some questions. She asked me about my life, my responsibilities, my job and educational pursuits. She asked about my son and my social life. And then after those questions she simply looked at me and said “You’re fine, you just need to get some more rest and take some time away for yourself.” That was the fateful day I decided to get a new doctor.

I went searching at Fort Norfolk Plaza for a former doctor of mine that I last heard was there. However, when I called to schedule an appointment they informed me that she was no longer there and asked if I wanted to see Nicole Donaldson who had an opening that week. I did not know it yet, but this was divine intervention. I said yes and was seen later that week. I told Dr. Donaldson about my battle. She took incredibly detailed notes. She observed my body language when I talked about my life and responsibilities. She listened to me. And then she ran a whole lot of tests over a period of months. And then one day near the very end of 2015 she sat with me and told me that it was her professional opinion that I had Fibromyalgia. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t too stressed or too tired. I had Fibromyalgia.

My doctor spent that day explaining to me that Fibromyalgia is believed to be caused by overactive nerves which can result in the following symptoms: widespread pain, chronic fatigue, frequent migraines, hypersensitivity to heat/cold, forgetfulness/inability to concentrate (Fibro fog), anxiety, depression, and mood swings, among many other symptoms Fibromyalgia sufferers can have. What makes Fibromyalgia so tricky to diagnosis is that there is no test for it. You literally have to be tested for everything else first. Then if all your tests come back normal and you present a certain set of symptoms grouped together, then and only then will be diagnosed by a doctor. But because that combination of symptoms is so broad and general, it often gets misdiagnosed as the various other conditions that can cause those same symptoms.

I was oddly relieved. Because someone took me seriously and worked to get to the bottom of what was going on with me. Now that we knew what I had we could work on some way to manage it (there is no cure for Fibromyalgia).

So now it’s been 2+ years since my PCOS diagnosis and about 1.5 years since my Fibromyalgia diagnosis. I know what I have and I am still in the process of finding the right combination of things to help me live a good life. I take medicine for my conditions and I’ve made significant changes to my diet, exercise routine, and general life habits.

For my PCOS, taking my hormonal birth control is necessary to keep my hormones in line. However, I am also beginning to understand the role healthy eating can play in maintaining hormonal balance in my body. I’ve also been exploring essential oils (which have worked wonders for me) to help keep my hormones in check.

For my Fibromyalgia I have found a low dose antidepressant to be a Godsend for keeping my widespread pain in check. The antidepressant elevates my serotonin levels which in turn helps to combat those pain signals from my nerves. If I miss a day of my medicine, I feel it the next day, so I have no intentions of letting it go for now. However, I am also understanding the role food plays with regards to this condition too. As my nutritionist/health coach pointed out, food is medicine. I now understand the kinds of foods that cause inflammation in my body and lead to pain or an increase in pain within my body. I now also understand the kinds of foods that fight inflammation in my body and decrease pain.

I am still learning everyday what my limits are. It’s weird for someone like me who used to workout obsessively and run/jog a few miles in my neighborhood daily to feel pain and exhaustion after a 2 mile walk. I sometimes forget I cannot lift certain things or move certain ways suddenly without consequences for my body. The hormonal changes in my body and my decrease in physical activity have changed the way my body looks and feels…But I embrace where I am. I have good days where I forget I have a health condition. And I still have some really bad days that remind me that I do in fact have a chronic health condition.

Getting diagnosed with both PCOS and Fibromyalgia freed me from the mental anguish of knowing something was wrong but not knowing what. I admit that I had diagnosed myself with much worse conditions via my Google Search Doctor Degree (never do that!). But now that I know, I can take the necessary steps to continue to learn about my conditions and map out a plan of care that best manages them. This will be a lifelong journey. I learn new things everyday. My PCOS and Fibromyalgia won’t go away and they will likely cause new challenges for me as I age or try to conceive later in life. But I embrace them. They are a part of me. I am Diamond and I have PCOS and Fibromyalgia, and I am okay. I can still live a good life. And I will.

Look for me to be sharing information, resources, products/foods, and more stories with you regarding these two conditions in the future. Like I said, my purpose for sharing was to help others and if I find something that works for me, the least I can do is share it with others so they can figure out if it works for them too. And if you have information, resources, products, etc. that you have found work for you, I want you to share with me too. I am always open to learning and trying something new.

Thanks for reading and getting to know a little bit more about who I am. No pity needed. Just prayers. ❤

26 Ways God Reminded Me Of My Value & Success In 24 Hours On My 26th Birthday

  1. Every person in my immediate circle either called me, texted me, sent me a card/gift, or personally wished me well on my birthday. Reminder: I am loved and appreciated by every single person I love and appreciate.
  2. My kid wished me a happy birthday a million and one times today. He also offered to use his change to buy me lunch and told me repeatedly about the cake he was going to bake me. Reminder: Despite how imperfect I am and how young he is, my child loves and values me. 
  3.  I got paid on my birthday, got a paid day off on my birthday, and received a personal note of appreciation and a birthday wish from the company CEO. Reminder: The work I do is meaningful to both me and the company I work for. 
  4. A mom in an online support group I am a part of told me that I inspire her as a mother. Reminder: Other parents are watching me, and where I think I am failing someone else wishes they could be the parent I am. 
  5. Freebies! Lots and lots of freebies! Reminder: It is okay to be acknowledged and get free stuff on my special day. 
  6. Social media shout outs! Reminder: Even people I might not know personally or be that close with anymore still thought enough of me to wish me well. 
  7. I got email confirmation that my cap and gown shipped. Reminder: I got a degree.  I freaking graduated. With honors. As a single parent. Working a full-time job. Just saying.
  8. My devotional today was like God peered into my journal and just took an excerpt from it. Reminder: God hears me and cares about what I am going through. And furthermore, he is working on my behalf to meet and exceed my needs. So basically, I’m always going to be good. 
  9. I fit into a size 4 skirt. Reminder: The hard work I put in and the commitment to fitness and nutrition paid off. (Thank you Shannon Stakes for guiding me through that journey!)
  10. My mom, as always, went above and beyond to spoil me today. From the thoughtful words, to the cards, to the gifts from her and “from Jakob”, to allowing me to sleep in while she tended to Jake, and so much more. She rocks! Reminder: God loved me enough to give me the most selfless and giving mother a person could ask for. If for no other reason, I am blessed just because of her.  
  11. I woke up this morning and prepaid most of my bills for next month. Reminder: I am financially stable enough to be able to do that and still have funds to enjoy my life. (I could not say that not too long ago. Thank you GOD!)
  12. A random woman told me I was incredibly beautiful. Reminder: Even when I am insecure I was created in God’s image, so I am beautiful.
  13. A former 6th grade teacher of mine sent me a heartfelt message about how proud she was of me and how honored she felt to have been a part of my journey. Reminder: I do matter to people. Even to people I never imagined would remember me, let alone care about how I am progressing in life. 
  14. The Alumni Organization at my college wished me a happy birthday today. Reminder: I am an alumni, which means I graduated. (I know I already mentioned that, but you don’t understand how hard I worked and how unattainable that goal seemed to me at so many points during the journey.)
  15. One of our oldest and dearest family friends (Ms. Kim Brown aka Kimerberloo aka “Kimberoo” as Jake says) surprised me by popping up at my house with a bunch of balloons. Reminder: Again, I am loved. 
  16. Surprise flowers. Reminder: The people who love me remembered one of my favorite things and made sure I had them. 
  17. My college bestie showed me special love today. Reminder: Even when I have been a less than stellar friend, my real friends still love me and show me grace and mercy. 
  18. My body felt amazing! Non of the chronic pain or health related issues I battle with  daily affected me today. Reminder: God is a healer. 
  19. I got a heartfelt apology from someone who really wronged me in the past. Reminder: God is an emotional healer and allowed me to get the closure I needed with that situation.
  20. I wrote poetry in my journal today and it was really good. Reminder: I am gifted and I’ve still got it. 
  21. I was inclined to use my wellness journal for the first time today. Reminder: It is okay to prioritize myself and my well being.  
  22. I got Tia Mowry’s and Ayesha Curry’s cookbooks as gifts today. Reminder: I have developed a new passion and it is okay (and delicious) to indulge in it. 
  23. I found peace regarding something I have been stressing over. I still don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know I will be alright. Reminder: My God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
  24. My child was relatively well behaved today. He only had one 3 minute melt-down, two mini attitudes, and only spilled two things today. That is a huge improvement! Reminder: God will give me peace and allow me to enjoy myself when I need it most. 
  25. I did not have one negative thought about myself today. Reminder: It is possible and healthy to think highly of myself. (I need to do it more often.)
  26. I was happy today. Like deep down from the inside filled with pure happiness. Reminder: True joy is possible and it is what God wants for me. 

So basically, turning 26 isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

Intro to 2017

The first week of 2017 is complete, and I am filled with so much promise for what is in store for the rest of the year. I enter into 2017 with a profound sense of self. At 25, I finally know who I am, what I am worth, what I want out of life, and what I intend to do to get where I want to be. And while my purpose has not been revealed to me in its entirety, I do have a general vision for my life that I know will guide me into places and realms I’ve only ever dreamed of.

I am content, but not complacent. I am in a good place in life and a good place within myself. I am happy. I recognize how blessed I am. I am loved. I am valued. I am worthy of good things and good people. Yet, I am also driven to keep using the power God has given me to reach new heights and new levels.

I am taking the lessons, the hardships, and the battles of 2016 and using what they taught me in order to grow. I hope to more regularly capture my growth this year on the pages of this blog so you can see and hopefully be inspired by the progress I am making.

Wishing everyone a prosperous and fulfilled 2017!

we need you

When I originally wrote the blog post “with sincerest thanks to the woman on the bicycle”
it was with the intent of raising awareness. I wanted women of all ages to understand that unfortunately events like the one that occurred are common and that we must band together to protect and assist one another. But as the events of last week sat with me and replayed in my mind, my message shifted from one for women to one for men.
If you are a man who loves a woman; a mother, daughter, sister, wife, fiance, girlfriend or friend, then please take a stand for ALL women when you are a witness to instances of harassment, disrespect, and abuse. Don’t ignore. Don’t assume they can handle it on their own. Don’t take the “it’s not my problem” stance. It is a problem that belongs to us all. These aren’t issues that can solely be combated by women alone. We need to know that the men in our lives and the men in society are willing to protect us, defend us, and intervene for us when we need it. How much sooner could the incident involving me have come to a halt had the 3 men I encountered spoke up or stood up for me?

with sincerest thanks to the woman on the bicyle

 

Initially I couldn’t really find the words to give this post a title because I cannot really find the words to explain the experience I am about to attempt to describe. This is a story of sexual harassment, though not the first, as the few years between the time I legally became an adult and turning 25 have left me with countless stories of disrespect, disregard, and mistreatment at the hands of men. But this experience perhaps is the one that will have the most impact on me because this was the first time ever that someone took a stand for me in a situation like this.

A stranger. A woman. A hero.

The day started off better than most. I got my son off to school, made myself pancakes from scratch and enjoyed them with a fruit salad, and then I decided to go for a walk before my work day began. Barely 9 am, I set out my front door and along my usual quiet route throughout a neighborhood I’ve known since I was 16 years old. I encountered the usual people on their porches or walking their dogs and greeted everyone with a kind hello, gentle nod, or a slight smile. And as I approached a corner I saw a new face. A face I had not before seen. A face that I never hope to see again. But a face I’ll not soon forget.

His stride was slow and sloppy. He was walking without purpose. He was walking without intention. He was looking for an opportunity, and as I turned that corner I became that opportunity. We made eye contact. My brain began processing. He is 4 feet away. His pace quickens. He is 3 feet away. His movements are more purposeful. He is 2 feet away. His gaze has not shifted from me. He is 1 foot away. He is going to approach. 11 inches away. He is a threat. 10 inches away. He speaks. “You know good and damn well you shouldn’t be out here looking as good as that. You’re going to make someone want you.” I walk past giving him a weak smile hoping that will appease him. But I know what he wants. He knows what he wants. He does an about face and begins to follow.

I need to make it to the next block. If I can make it to the next block, the old man on the porch who speaks to me every day will be there. He will see. He will help. I quicken my pace, my pursuer close behind me. He continues to talk. “You know girls like you are just asking for trouble.” I’m panicking now, but I refuse to show it. He needs to see I am not intimidated. He needs to see I am not threatened. Only I am. I know “this guy”. The one who blames the woman for his actions. The one who gives a woman the magical power to force him against his will or better judgement to do something bad to her. The one who will shame her and discredit her afterwards. The one who will claim she wanted it. The one I’ve unfortunately lost to before. The one I need to escape now.

I see the old man. I speak and make it a point to get close to his home. I remove my sunglasses. My eyes are tearing up. My heart is racing. The man behind me curses and tells me not to walk away from him. The old man hears this. He watches this man in the street approach me and grab my arm. He looks at both of us and tells me to be safe and have a good day. He goes in his house. I hear the door lock. I’m defeated. I’m in trouble.

I snatch my arm away. Loudly, I tell him my mom is waiting at home and if I don’t make it back at my usual time she will worry and call for help. I tell him I’ll call the police right now. I reach for my phone- it’s dead. Please don’t let him call me on my bluff. He tells me to “go the fuck on” before I have to reveal that weakness to him. I think it’s over, but once I am 2 feet away he continues to follow. I cannot go home. He cannot know where I live. I detour.

“Let me love you girl!” “Let me make you feel good girl!” “Let me give you something you have never had before girl!” Only I have had it before. Against my will. When I was not conscious enough to make rational decisions. When I was not conscious enough to walk on my own. When I was not conscious enough to say no. When I was not conscious enough to fight. It happened. I didn’t want it then. I don’t want it now.

I walk towards a convenience store. If I can get to a public place I can ask for help. He is still in pursuit with no intent to stop. I walk past a home with two young men smoking cigarettes. The man’s chants escalate from “let me” to “I’m gonna” and the list of things he was gonna do was vulgar. The men laugh. “Looks like you’ve attracted a buddy” one says as I pass. A buddy? I can’t rely on them. They are part of the problem.

Just a few more feet to the convenience store. The store owners know me well. They will help. The man walks faster until he is an arms length behind me, but he doesn’t reach out. Rather he continues to shout all the profane things he wants to do to me. And then I hear it. Help.

Unknown to me a woman on a bike had been following us. Observing. “I want you to know I have summoned an officer to this location, I have several pictures of you on my phone, and I have recorded virtually your entire exchange with this young lady. What I am going to do next is stand here with her until the officer arrives. What you do next is up to you.”

He looks at her. He looks at me. He has lost his position of power. He has been defeated. And the panic I once felt now transfers to him as he tries to think of what his next move is. He is looking for an escape. “It was a misunderstanding,” he says. “It was a joke,” he explains. “They were song lyrics.” “No harm was intended.” He takes off in the opposite direction.

The woman grabs my hand and we stand there for several minutes until this man is completely out of sight. No words exchanged, just the energy that travels between two women when one woman understands because she has been where you currently are. The energy that makes one woman a defender of other women because no one came to her defense at some point in time.

No officer was en route. As it turns out she had forgotten her phone that day. But I felt safer with her than I had ever felt with any officer. She was in my neighborhood by chance, taking an alternate route as a challenge to herself to see if she could go a longer distance than usual. A sheer matter of happenstance. A divine intervention. After many thanks and a brief hug I watched this woman ride off into the sun like a hero in those old cowboy films.

She is a hero.

She saw. She analyzed. She acted quickly. She stood with me. She stood for me. She was for me what someone failed to be for her. Because of her, I hope to be that for someone else one day.

With sincerest thanks to the woman on the bicycle.

 

 

 

I’m 23, Happy Birthday to Me

Today, on my 23rd birthday, I came to the realization that I do not give myself enough credit. That I downplay my successes. That I minimize my accomplishments. That I keep quiet about the things I’ve overcome. And you know what? I’ve really got to stop doing that. Because at 23, I’ve overcome more challenges (and gracefully so for the most part) than a majority of people face in their entire lives. I’ve struggled through abuse, loss, sexual assault, depression, and physical illness; yet I have risen from those ashes full of wisdom and beauty and true appreciation for the many blessings I have. Am I scarred? Yes. Do I still face challenges relating to my past? Absolutely. However, I have the pride and gratefulness that comes with being able to say. “I made it.” Those nights I cried myself to sleep, those times I wondered if life was worth living, those moments I felt hopeless and in despair, those times I felt alone and isolated, those times I doubted my worth and my value, those times I was physically too ill to function…all of those struggles have truly bettered me. I’ve found myself. I’ve established a stronger relationship with God. I’ve been able to figure out who my true friends are. I’ve become more appreciative. I’ve been able to be a good parent. I’ve found my purpose. And even when my past rears its ugly head from time to time, I still find myself incredibly joyful. I’m so happy to be 23. I’m so grateful to see 23. I only hope that I am able to make the most out of this new year God has graced me with.