It was my senior year of college, the year I thought I would walk across a stage and accept my diploma. I envisioned this incredible ceremony, surrounded by friends, with a job waiting me. However, reality had a different story to tell.
I clearly remember the day my life changed. I woke up feeling excited. I started with my routine of making tea, which was an important ritual since it connected me to my home country, Jordan. With every sip, I felt closer to home despite being miles away, working on my university degree in Washington, DC.
On that specific day, I was never able to perform my routine. I remember trying to hold my mug and for some reason could not grasp it. I was confused and tried to hold another one; it also slipped from my hands and broke. By the third broken mug, I knew something was deeply wrong. Staring at all the shards of glass, I felt somehow that would be my life, shattered and broken.
Within 48 hours, my body shut down. I could no longer move or walk without extreme pain. I became bedridden. Doctors diagnosed me with severe rheumatoid arthritis. High levels of inflammation in the joints hindered my mobility. Continuous inflammation caused bone erosion and permanent deformity.
I, Aida, the senior student, extremely active in her studies, social and professional life, could no longer get out of bed. After months of this, I had to quit my job that I worked so hard to earn. I declined the job offer that waited for my graduation. I lost most of my friends because I did not want anyone to see me in such a weakened state. Finally, I had to change my major because I could no longer go to classes.
Thankfully, I graduated but with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics rather than Bachelor of Science in Economics. This change traumatized me. Looking back, it does not seem like such a big deal, but at the time, it represented much more than simply art versus science. It symbolized the hard work of my family, who invested in my education to secure a prosperous future.
Fast forward thirteen years, I am a thriving Artist in remission. Healing was not easy; it challenged every bone in my body. There were many moments when I wanted to give up. But I knew I had to commit to success. Giving up was not an option. The journey first involved complete awareness. After being semi-paralyzed for months, I adopted an intense discipline to ensure that my thoughts, words, and actions were aligned with my new future, with being cured and healthy.
I started doing small things, such as choosing the outfit I would wear if I were healthy and able to go out. I would look at it and start to visualize and embody how I would feel twirling in that dress. I stopped telling people, “Sorry, I cannot see you today because I am feeling sick.” Rather, I would say “Sorry, I cannot see you today, but I am excited to see you soon when I am feeling energized.”
On days when I had a bit more strength, instead of taking the elevator one floor down, I would opt for the stairs. This would take a healthy person thirty seconds. It took me thirty minutes. The trick was learning how to enjoy these thirty minutes and not feel broken and weak as people easily passed by. I decided to turn this experience into a glorious adventure. I brought my music and started using my most powerful tool, my imagination.
Slowly, slowly, I started to believe I could be healed. When that belief turned into knowing, solutions started coming to me. It is true: “When the student is ready, the master appears.” I met an acupuncturist, yoga teacher, and a scientist who healed me through plant oils. All of these solutions helped me regain my health.
When I had a second episode with arthritis, doctors told me at the rate my disease is progressing, I will eventually be unable to use my hands. Interviewing for jobs, people asked why they should hire me. I said, “I have no idea.” I had no clue what was unique about me and found myself in a depressed and defeated state once again.
Then, I remembered that I have a unique fingerprint, so there must be something exceptional about me. I decided to paint with my fingers, hoping that the repeated motion would somehow unlock the mystery. Remarkably, I discovered that my uniqueness is art.
Thankfully, today I am a thriving Artist. I have had over thirty exhibitions globally and sold out ten complete collections, painting everything with my fingers and body. I turned my worst experience into the best. Even though I do not wish to relive it, I would not change a thing. It led me to my purpose, helping people feel seen, heard and loved through art. I live happily in LA where I paint and create art experiences for use in a spectrum of topics, including healing, and celebrating love and innovation.
There is plenty I wish I could have told myself during this struggle, but that is not possible. So I hope See Beyond readers can learn from my experience. If you are still here, there is something here for you. Keep trusting your journey even in the grayest of times. As a good friend once told me, “The darker the shadow, the brighter the light.” Trust your times of shadow. We all have a unique fingerprint and a special gift. I am so excited for you to discover yours and share it with the world!