My Life As Shrek

by A.J.
I stood alone on the stage, the sound of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor filling the elegant concert hall. As the song continued, my hands became too weak to grasp the delicate bow of the violin. One creaky note after another echoed off the curved walls. Humiliated and confused, I fought back tears of embarrassment. “What’s happening?” I wondered.

A few weeks passed and I felt like I aged six decades. I was only 15. On a sunny spring day, my mom awoke to find me passed out on the bathroom floor, and I was rushed to the emergency room. The bright hospital lights showed a green tint to my skin. After consulting with more doctors than I can remember, their explanation of why I was the color of Shrek was that my liver was not functioning properly. A final diagnosis was made: I have Lupus, which they believe was likely induced by a long course of antibiotics. An autoimmune disease, Lupus attacks many different tissues and organs—joints, liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs. I lost the ability to complete simple everyday tasks, stay awake throughout the day, and move with ease. I lost my independence.

At first, I fought for my independence and resisted help from others. Although it was occasionally frustrating and embarrassing, I eventually adapted to accepting help. My mom zipped my pants in the morning because my hands were too swollen. My brother helped me open the car door. Friends carried my books for me in school. I learned that accepting help from others is humbling and rewarding. By relying on my friends and family on my bad days, my relationship with them grew stronger.

After nearly six months, my symptoms showed signs of improvement. Though physical therapy helped ease the pain and increase my flexibility, music was what truly brought me joy. Before my illness I was always focused on personal achievement—getting to the next level and next song—instead of appreciating the music. Lupus made me realize that playing the violin is a privilege. Since music positively impacted me at such a difficult time, I hoped it could have the same impact on others. I started sharing my love of music by volunteering at a nursing home and playing for the residents. Before my illness I could not relate to how older people feel, but that changed with Lupus because my symptoms matched the pain that the elderly feel every day. I longed to lift their spirits.

Now my favorite place to perform is not in a gilded concert hall, but a room covered in flowered wallpaper. Instead of looking out and seeing the audience in its finest attire sitting in red velvet seats, I am surrounded by residents wearing their pajamas sitting in wheelchairs. I am not being blinded by spotlights; I can look beyond the fluorescent lights and look into my audience’s eyes and see them smile. I play song after song, not always flawlessly, but with passion and joy.

Life holds unexpected situations. The struggles I have faced while dealing with Lupus have taught me many of the most important lessons of my life. One has to live in the moment. I aggressively pursued happiness, and I found happiness—I found it in places I once would not have thought to look. I will not let this disease control me; I control this disease. I believe the next time I play Vivaldi’s Concerto, it will be my best performance yet. In the words of Shrek, “I’m a believer.”