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Just as life is a journey, so is living with chronic illnesses like pemphigus or pemphigoid. In the last newsletter, I emphasized transitions along my personal journey. Chronic illness is an adventure no one signs up for, but once the diseases are triggered, life is never again exactly the same.

For those newly diagnosed, or their family, friends or caregivers, it can all seem unreal at first. There is a vague beginning to the new normal, as it takes time to get educated and to process the diagnosis and information. Even after there is an acceptance of the situation, it is overwhelming.

Everyday life becomes uncharted territory. One thing is for sure: now challenges seem to pop up a lot more. How the challenges are met will make the difference between function and dysfunction.

The pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) community is not a static one. Everyone goes through different stages in different ways, but with more similarities than differences. This is why the community continues to grow. People who have had very similar situations – and have made it through to the other side – are there to help you. Eventually, once your own life and illness have stabilized, you will have the opportunity to be there for others.

Some people will get more ill than others, and some people will respond more quickly to treatment. For everyone this is an adjustment — and again the degree of difficulty differs between people. Having an IPPF community, with a discussion group, a social media presence, award-winning newsletter and website, peer health coaches and volunteers (and more!), has helped many people along this journey in so many positive ways. Maybe YOU have been helped by one or more of our resources?

The IPPF works hard to ensure that no one has to go through this alone; this is not just helpful, but a bond, and one that strengthens everyone involved. It is a lifelong bond – one that keeps gaining strength. No one has to navigate this road alone any more.

This is the time of the year to give; but in our community, there is a need 365 days a year – not just one “giving” season. If you are not currently participating in some way – ANY way – there are many who would love to see you get involved.

ou do not have to dive into the deep end.

Start small, get your feet wet and move forward at a pace that is comfortable for you. Ask for help, guidance and advice along the way.

Consider sharing part of your journey with others in the P/P community. Maybe you…

  • know of an informative article we can use in the Quarterly?
  • would like to contribute a personal story that inspires others?
  • are available for an interview for an article?
  • can reach out to a newly diagnosed patient to lend an ear and encouragement?
  • have advice for the newly diagnosed we can share on a broader scale?

Because of the support in our growing community, health coaches, webinars and annual patient meetings, you will meet people who can help you learn new positive coping strategies. These new tools will allow you to continue your own movement, becoming more and more resilient along the way. You will internalize the newer and more positive coping mechanisms, and hopefully leave behind older, strategies that are no longer working.

The point is that you WILL find yourself feeling and presenting yourself differently in this world. When you calmly and rationally respond to someone in a new way (rather than reacting), your response may even change how the other person responds to you – and others – in the future. You will gain momentum and move forward in your personal journey.

As I write this column, it is a typical colorful Pittsburgh Fall. Some trees are still green, some have lost their leaves and are bare, and others are continuing to change colors and are absolutely glorious.

Practicing mindfulness and being “in the moment” allows one to just watch and enjoy nature with a combination of awe and appreciation. I’m not a personal fan of cold weather and bare trees, I know we will have winter wonderlands soon, with freshly fallen glistening snow – on the ground and on the trees. Everyone’s personal journey moves forward and changes just as the seasons change and cycle.

During your life journeys there are choices to make and different roads which can be taken. You can take the road most often taken or take the one not usually taken — neither is correct or incorrect. Just remember that there are always choices. Also try to remember that road that seems most “safe” may not be and may not help move you forward. Everyone makes mistakes, because humans are not perfect. Mistakes help people learn. Moving out of your comfort zone is not easy; it is a choice, and if you choose to stay on the same seemingly “safe” road, that is also a choice. Please let this last point sink in. DOING NOTHING IS A CHOICE.

Yes, life is a journey, but as you travel through, remember this quote: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). If you are reading this article and have gotten this far, look within yourself for that extra strength that may seem to be eluding you; it doesn’t always come from others. Maybe you just need to look a bit harder within. And, do not be afraid to ask for help.

Happy holidays. Try to start a new tradition this year. Tis the season to give – not just money, but of yourself. It will make your own personal journey more interesting and also sweeter, and by reaching out to others you will be making a far more important and satisfying contribution.