I am a 30 year old who inherited a lifelong inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS can cause the spine to fuse together from bone spurs and can affect organs and other joints. AS causes significant pain, to put it lightly.
I am also a former college athlete and marathoner. I know what it means to push through pain as an athlete. But I cannot push through the pain caused by my disease. Pushing through it causes the disease to progress and the pain to increase.
My main treatment is a drug made from living cells (the same class of drugs that treats many cancers); it helps slow the progression of my disease. Because this treatment is [finally!] working, it also reduces some of the worst symptoms. But AS is a severe disease with no cure, so even with this specialty drug I still have plenty of pain.
What you don’t see is that I’m faking health to preserve my dignity, energy, and ability to accomplish whatever task it is I have to do before I collapse. Faking it is hard, but it’s easier than displaying my pain and then having to use more energy to defend my body’s permanent sickness.
What you don’t see are the grimaces I make when I’m in a safe place, when I allow myself to actually respond to the pain that is unrelenting, the pain that I do my best to ignore in public.
What you don’t see is the fear underlying my existence. Will I die young? Will I lose healthcare? What if my disability is denied? Will this new treatment work? Will I become homeless? Will I find a forever partner?
I attended Burning Man for the first time in 2016. It was the best thing that could have happened for me at that point in my life. I left feeling invigorated and revived, having reclaimed permission to love my broken self again.
I thought Burning Man had given me a new lease on life, but it had actually prepared me to deal with my dad’s sudden death. It was a blessing disguised by what had initially been a more exciting package.
Every burn is different. For me, 2016 was life-giving even in the face of my father’s death. So when I returned to the default world after the event, Black Rock City remained a beacon of hope. It had been my last hurrah before shit hit the fan, like my innocence had been left there.
I spent the next year slogging through continued trauma and unraveling stability. In many ways, the memory and distraction of Burning Man kept me going. My dad had died. I lost and couldn’t regain weight. Trump was elected. My healthcare was threatened multiple times by Congress. Cross-country travel to manage my dad’s estate was physically taxing. Changes in medications caused my appetite and weight to drop even further. And I entered the verge of homelessness.
I was desperate to return to the place that had saved me. So return I did.
The 2017 Burn could not have come at a better time. I arrived in Black Rock City the most broken I have ever been, with very little self-worth remaining. The three things I had managed to hold onto were hope, a shred of determination, and memories from the previous year. Continue reading The Skeleton I Found at Burning Man→
Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui hosted a press conference in Sacramento in response to the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. I was invited to share my healthcare story as a Chronic Disease Patient Advocate alongside several elected officials in attendance, including the Congresswoman, California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, California State Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and Councilmember Angelique Ashby.