"Wise, thoughtful, the greatest person you will ever meet." This is how Annabeth Larrabee is seen by her three housemates and much of the world around her. A couple of years ago, Annabeth was mis-diagnosed with Lyme disease, which is often mistaken at its initial stages for rheumatoid arthritis. Today, she has been re-diagnosed with a combination of other chronic illnesses. Despite the physical pain and fatigue she's dealt with since her first diagnosis, she initially stayed in school, thinking she could handle academic demands and college life. But two years ago, in the fall, she withdrew from UNC as pressures and daily activities proved too burdensome for someone with so little energy to expend. Today, she's back in school with just 6 credit hours. This is just a fragment of her story.
“I asked him about my pupils, like, ‘Why are my pupils so big? People keep commenting about it.’ The doctor told her that the adrenal cortex regulates blood pressure in the veins. Since it's fatigued, the muscles in her eyes fail to contract. The adrenal cortex also produces vital hormones and chemicals, like cortisol and adrenalin, which are associated with the “flight or fight” response. If her body isn’t producing cortisol, it may not metabolize correctly, meaning she may not get the energy she needs.
Contracted muscles and severe aches are commonplace for Annabeth. As she watches from a distance one of her favorite TV shows, New Girl, her laughter and composure are abruptly interrupted by sharp pains piercing through the muscles in her shoulders and neck. She describes the texture of her neck and shoulders as "leathery" due to how tightly compressed and rough her muscle tissue feels at the surface.
20 in the morning, 20 at noon and 20 at night; Annabeth takes around 60 pills every day. She fills the compartments of a pill box for a seven-day period at the start of every week, which takes roughly an hour. As she sorts through her prescriptions and supplements, she looks up specifications and different vitamins' effects online. "That’s what really bothers me sometimes about this doctor," she said, "He just shoves all this medication at you and you’re like, I don’t even know what any of this does... I’m literally trusting you completely to give me what you feel like I need."
Over the past year, Annabeth has had increasing difficulty with getting a good night's sleep. She considers herself an insomniac, some nights not falling to sleep until 4am. On this Thanksgiving Day morning in 2016, tightened, throbbing muscles and soreness woke Annabeth up at dawn. While many students may view holidays at home as a time to catch up on sleep, Annabeth says that once her body wakes her in the mornings, there's no going back— she just starts her day.
Annabeth once explained her experience with chronic illness through a story that's known by many who deal with autoimmune deficiency. The story involves a handful of spoons, and each spoon represents a unit of energy that is expended with each activity throughout the day. "So you have to think of your day like that and how many spoons you have left," she said. While this metaphor may seem dismal at first glance, her dad helps lighten the mood. "It’s kind of a joke my dad and I play, he asks me ‘How many spoons do you have left?’ and I always say, ‘I always have one more for you.’"
During her time out of school after initially withdrawing, Annabeth still took time to be social. She regularly spent time with her family group, a group of friends who are part of Summit College, a campus ministry. But like any outing, there's a time-cap. Sometimes in these interactions, she'd find herself struggling to engage in conversation. “I get most upset when I know that my brain is tired when it shouldn’t be, and I’m not able to think when I’ve always been a straight-A student, very put-together and top of my class and then to not be able to put a sentence together is super embarrassing.”
Annabeth takes a brief nap after a bit of baking. Even the smallest tasks tend to require a recuperation period for her body. Despite these daily hardships and limitations, Annabeth to this day shows her resilience through her Christian faith. "I know I’m gonna continue to go through trials my whole life. [But] God got me through this and he’s gonna get me through whatever’s in the future." In some ways, chronic illness has made Annabeth more aware of how much she needs God. "Having hope, or weakness, or needing strength, those things are never gonna change in my life, and so having that reminder and grounding, I think that’s just cool."