In 2012, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (which I will refer to as Hashimoto’s from now on) after years of misdiagnoses. Although the road to diagnosis and management has been complex and difficult, I will reflect on what this disease has taught me and why I believe these lessons make me a better person and student affairs educator.
A deeper level of compassion
Hashimoto’s is often dubbed an “invisible disease.” Most of the symptoms cannot be seen or easily recognized. At its worst, Hashimoto’s made some basic tasks painful—including placing my feet on the floor after waking up in the morning. As I began to manage my symptoms and feel better, I was thrilled. However, I realized many of my friends and family did not quite understand the magnitude of this improvement. That is because they could never fully understand the pain I had felt. This gap helped give me new appreciation and understanding for the invisible burdens we all carry. Just because one cannot see the weight doesn’t mean it’s not there. I now try to consider the hidden challenges people may be experiencing. As student affairs educators, we have a responsibility to challenge our students, while demonstrating compassion.
Want to help others? Start with yourself: Self-Awareness
I have always been an introspective and self-aware person. Having an autoimmune disease forces me to be in touch with all aspects of myself—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—as well as in touch with my relationship to the environment and to others. Knowing oneself is powerful. Understanding, and then sharing, my strengths and challenges allows me to delegate and ask for help when I need it. It also helps me to pitch in and join the conversation when I feel most passionate. And because I often have to check-in with myself regarding my holistic wellness, I am continually evaluating where I am, both personally and professionally —which is necessary for improvement!
Respect for one’s own journey
About 100 identified autoimmune disorders manifest in many diverse ways (AARDA, 2017). Through researching and discovering how to manage my own disease, I realized that what works for me might not work for another person and vice versa. I think we can apply the idea of individuality to nearly everything in life—especially to a student’s journey. Just as student affairs educators have taken unique paths, students have arrived to college on different paths and not all will move forward the same way. Student affairs educators must recognize and understand each unique student journey. Additionally, it is just as important to help students understand and respect their own path.
“You don’t grow in good times, you grow in tough times”
Embracing the positive change I experienced as a result of illness has shown me that almost every situation, even the awful, painful, incredibly challenging ones, contribute to personal or professional growth. One of my goals is to show students that working through challenges helps to build knowledge, confidence, and resilience.
We all encounter challenges in life—maybe a bad day, maybe an awful year. Regardless, I encourage everyone to reflect on how they have evolved as a result of mistakes or misfortune. This exercise has transformed my outlook on life. Instead of hoping to avoid tough times, I anticipate that inevitable challenges will help me grow. And in doing so, I have been able to see how my greatest tribulation contributed to the person I am today and to the student affairs educator I am excited to become.
This post is part of our #SAfit series for May. With the constant hustle and bustle of our profession, we can’t forget to put ourselves at the top of our to-do list sometimes. It is essential that we remember to take time for self care and this series highlights how our colleagues work #SAfit into their lifestyles. This can look different for each of us and your journey is your own. For more info, please see Mandi Stewart’s intro post. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series too!