Whenever people ask me who I am, I get super nervous. That question has always been a nerve wrecking question for me because I feel like I am a lot of things. From the outside, you would probably see me as someone who grew up pretty well off (some might say spoiled), athletic with good grades, and continued school until the postgraduate level. While for many people, these are all very high points of life, they were just things that were expected to happen for me. Yes, I was thrilled, thankful and blessed by my life, but as I got older I realized there were more important things that I would treasure.
When I was 3 years old I was diagnosed with a blood cancer known as Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. It’s not exactly a conversation starter, so I tend not to bring it up to new people I meet, but it is something that helped define the person I am today. My very first high point was beating cancer at 7 years old. Those are days, months, and years of experiences I will never ever forget. I have the scars to prove it! This part of my life helped form me into the person I was going to become.
After I beat cancer, I was absolutely positive I’d be a normal kid again! I would like to say I was, until I was about 15 years old. That’s when I had my first seizure. It came out of nowhere, right after Christmas in 2007. In some ways, it was worse than cancer. When I was older, I understood more of what was happening to me, but it was so unpredictable. There’s no direct reason why people would start having seizures and there is no cure for epilepsy right now. It is just one of the mysterious diseases. Long story short, I went on to have many seizures through the rest of my high school and college experiences, which caused me to not remember days or weeks at a time. As you can imagine, this took a huge toll onto my life. I finally became stable on my medication and I reached my second milestone which is being seizure free since April 2015. *knocks on wood*
In 2015, I moved to California to pursue my Master’s in Public Health at Loma Linda University. I won’t get into all the details because there’s a lot that transpired over the 2 year program, but it was a deeply stressful time in my life.
After I graduated, I was promised a job that kept me hanging for a while. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I accepted a position at a non-profit. It seemed like the perfect fit! I was super excited because it was my first paid experience in the field of public health! At first, it went well, then there were a few red flags. It ended up being the most toxic environment I have ever been in. I was treated horribly along with many other colleagues. It made me so stressed that I began getting sick every few weeks. I experienced chronic laryngitis, daily migraines, I got mystery rashes, teeth grinding, depression, anxiety (with frequent panic attacks). For some of my symptoms, I would go to the doctor to see if there was something bigger wrong with me due to my medical history. There was never an explanation for my chronic laryngitis, migraines and rashes. So I was usually given something to treat the symptoms. I was highly frustrated and each day I would just go to work, and go home in misery. It was the same thing for 2 years. The last few months at this particular job I was in speech therapy and physical therapy on a weekly basis due to the physical demands of my job. I even started making my own soap to help combat the random rashes. My body was literally giving up on me.
So I prayed and prayed about what to do. In January 2020, after my lease ended, I packed up my apartment, couch hopped at a few friend’s houses and eventually on March 2, 2020, (my next milestone) I turned in my letter of resignation. I couldn’t stop smiling. This was a huge relief due to my long term stress levels. Ironically, the week I moved in with my sisters in Washington D.C the world shut down, so I barely made it on a flight. Thank God, I had come so far, I was not going to let three cancelled flights stop me.
After a few days of being back east, My chronic laryngitis went away along with my other ailments. Just two weeks after living there, I got offered my current position as a Wellness Coach for one of the largest health systems in the country. I get to do what I love everyday and still make time for myself.
Since moving from that toxic environment, my body has been happy. I made my hobby a side hustle and started my own skincare business called Erekè Skin Therapy on July 18, 2021 (my last milestone). Through my skincare business, I started to raise awareness for mental health and the importance of self-care. Just a few years ago my stress, anxiety, and depression almost got the best of me, but I made it! I was lucky to have an awesome support system to help me get through this season in my life. I know I’ve thanked them before, but it will never be enough. I will forever cherish what each and everyone of them has done for me. (You all know who you are!)
For the readers who have made it this far, I encourage you all to listen to your instincts, listen to your body, and most of all, don’t let stress take control of your life. It takes a toll on your body like any other disease. I encourage you to take care of yourself in all forms, not just physical… but mental as well.
So to answer the question of who I am:
My name is Erica, I am a Cancer Survivor, Epilepsy Warrior, Mental Health Advocate, and Business owner. Thank you.
- Erica Thomas