All posts by BeingCharis

Fashion, androgynous, and artistic model with Ankylosing Spondylitis Car-free bicycle advocate Episcopalian Vegan Queer

The Doctor Will See You Now

It’s the season of dropping things, hips and elbows knocking door frames, “Will this flare ever end?” weeks, buckling knees on flat ground, brain fog competing with memories of the years when I felt younger than my age.

It’s the season of “But you don’t look sick, you look Great!” and “Have you tried yoga?”

It’s the season when, as soon as the door latches shut, the safety of our homes becomes the hell of letting our guards down, removing the mask. Our yoga is the inching off the bed on our bellies, gripping the prescription bottle to suck down a pill and doze for 30 minutes in half-inchworm-half-human-pose before grasping our walker to pee in the middle of the night with shuffle-steps amid stifling stiffness and the pain of partially fused joints that used to swim in the joint juice of cartilage. Chronic yoga.

“Yes, I already do yoga. Maybe I’ll show you sometime.” Continue reading The Doctor Will See You Now

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The Disease Everyone Loves to Hate

Content note: this post discusses the topics of suicide and death.


I had a pretty good treatment day recently.

I didn’t even get upset that a new nurse tried and failed to get my infusion started. What’s another blown vein, anyway?

The infusion team was excited because they thought they’d seen a picture of me on a Facebook ad (it wasn’t me) – they’d even saved a screenshot to show me. My conversations with the nurses were light-hearted before I transitioned into catching up on emails.

I hid myself in my favorite corner where I can sometimes pretend I’m the only one in the room and I nearly forgot I was in a building with the word “cancer” all over the front of it.

I love the infusion team. And I better love them – these are treatments that I’ll need for the rest of my life unless this drug stops working or a better treatment shows up. I’m what you call incurable.


But as I was leaving my appointment I almost walked into a vendor table being set up for an event. On the table was a sign reserving it for a lingerie business. And then my eyes caught something else: pink.

Pink was everywhere. Rose petal fabric. Pink shirts. Pink everything. Pink was in the air. It smelled pink.

October. Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I can’t explain how crushing it was to leave my better-than-usual treatment, then turn the corner into an explosion of pink for an event that screamed, “You’re in someone else’s space.”

I have Ankylosing Spondylitis. The infusions I receive for my disease happen in a medical complex named Mercy Cancer Center. Every time I enter the building I see the name in big bold letters above the door and behind the check-in desk. While I wait for my appointment I see poster-sized lists of support groups and special events specifically for people with cancer. Continue reading The Disease Everyone Loves to Hate

Raising Awareness on the Runway | I Took Ankylosing Spondylitis to New York Fashion Week

I modeled in New York Fashion Week recently.

Some might say it was a dream come true, but for me it was someone else’s dream I fell into. Alice didn’t expect to fall down a hole into Wonderland, and I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with a lifelong progressive disease when I was 26.

Around the time I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in 2013 I began modeling. Neither the diagnosis nor the modeling were expected. One happened by an invite I almost grudgingly accepted from a friend. The other happened via email from my estranged father. You can figure out which was which – at least I hope you can.

When I began modeling I had just begun hating my body. It had betrayed me by getting sick after decades of playing soccer, running marathons, and being a professional mover; none of which I could continue regularly after I was diagnosed. Being an athlete had been my whole identity. Suddenly I wasn’t anymore, and not by choice.

Being in front of the camera helped rebuild self-esteem and I began to love my body again, which surprised me. But, even more than enjoying being photographed, I uncovered a treasure trove of humanity behind the scenes. When I began sharing my story with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), I found many models, hair and makeup artists, designers, and photographers with their own stories of chronic disease.

We are by and large fed stories of health, ability, and perfection by the polished images we see of models on the runway or in magazines. We tend to believe models are perfect, healthy, able beings with happy lives. And in an industry known for celebrating a very narrow, specific type of beauty and body, nonconformity is ill-advised if you’re in the thick of it.

I learned quickly how easy it is to feign – yet also truly find – confidence and identity when performing for the cameras.

Image by Glenn Jones/Ikona Photography ©2014. My first in-studio photo shoot ever. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

But anyone who knows me knows I’m not known for my conformity, so it wasn’t long before I was being myself. Continue reading Raising Awareness on the Runway | I Took Ankylosing Spondylitis to New York Fashion Week

Worth All the Regrets | My Third and Sickest Burn

 

Burning Man saved my life when I desperately needed a reason to keep living with chronic disease and disability. I owe it for reminding me what it means to be a whole human.

I return each year to the event in Black Rock City, a city that rises from the dust and becomes Home to around 80,000 temporary neighbors for 8+ days each summer.

Yet I risk a lot by simply showing up because of my Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).

My medications severely dehydrate me, I’m at greater risk of sunburn and heat stroke, and symptoms can flare without warning especially if I push too hard. I don’t know what it’s like to not have pain; inflamed lungs make breathing difficult even without inhaling fistfuls of dust; debilitating fatigue can suddenly overwhelm me; and my body is weaker every year, making it difficult to explore without a chaperone lest I become unable to make it back to camp.

In a city where survival is part of living, my decision to be there is radically dangerous and bold.

The reality that every Burn could be my last as my body deteriorates is an unsettling feeling. I don’t want to stop going to Burning Man, but I also fear the inflated odds that I could have a health emergency in the middle of a desert with no access to cell reception or internet.

And during my third Burn, those odds almost won. Three times. Continue reading Worth All the Regrets | My Third and Sickest Burn

How a Pair of Heels Gave Me a Reason to Live with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) I decided to buy a pair of heels. I could count on one finger the number of times I’d successfully worn heels in the past: to that dance in college after a knee surgery, using my crutches to help me balance.

I grew up in rural North Carolina and heels did not help me climb trees, catch blue crabs, or sail a boat. I didn’t have a use for them. I didn’t know how to wear something that wasn’t running shoes or soccer cleats. I would only try on heels to make my friends laugh while I stumbled around like Jar Jar Binks.

It seems counter-intuitive that I would purchase a pair of heels right after being diagnosed with a disease that causes extreme joint pain, inflammation, and spinal damage. I should be preserving my body and my joints as much as possible, right?

But when I was diagnosed with AS something clicked inside me, and it wasn’t a desire to follow the Yellow Brick Road back home to Kansas. It was a sudden desire to experience everything life could offer before I couldn’t do it anymore. And that somehow meant learning how to walk in heels even if I was only able to use them for a year, 5 years, or 10 years. Even though it didn’t make any sense.

So I bought heels and kind of learned to walk in them.

And then I became a fashion model. I swear it wasn’t planned. During my first photo shoot the photographer had to teach me how to pose gracefully without falling over. Continue reading How a Pair of Heels Gave Me a Reason to Live with Ankylosing Spondylitis

My Search for Clean Air in a World Blowing Smoke | California on Fire

I don’t usually have an emotional attachment to the appliances in my home. In general I don’t think much about the refrigerator, toilet, or my kitchen table. Unless they break or smell bad. Then I have some emotions, but not good ones.

But I just got an air purifier and I’m definitely emotionally attached.

This isn’t a post about the air purifier though. I figured you’d want to know ahead of time that this is not a post hailing the low-intelligence robot performing air quality CPR in my living room. I’m sorry if you were here for that.

In all seriousness, wildfires and a medical crisis brought a community of people to this impoverished person’s nostrils. My people showed up and breathed life back into me. Literally.

Kind of. Continue reading My Search for Clean Air in a World Blowing Smoke | California on Fire

Ankylosing Spondylitis Eradicated? A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Called GreenEva

February 17th, 2073.

Everything was eerily calm. Aside from a few fiery crashed planes and the last of the human-powered trains derailing, the world was quiet. Too quiet, except for hungry dogs with full bladders barking inside suddenly empty houses.

Traffic lights changed from yellow to red, red to green, then yellow to red again. Clock towers struck 9:00 AM and the Times Square marquee scrolled unchanging stock market shares. Swing sets swung and flags unfurled in the breeze.

This wasn’t the post-apocalypse sci-fi anyone had read as a teenager.

People had simply vanished. Poof.

The dark green fog, Green Evanescence, had taken every human with it.

Almost every human. Continue reading Ankylosing Spondylitis Eradicated? A Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy Called GreenEva