A young woman from Atlanta is getting a lot of attention for her Instagram posts — but they’re not your typical selfies. Jokiva Bellard has lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, and she uses her account to raise awareness of her condition.
She tells Yahoo Beauty that she was originally misdiagnosed with eczema before she was finally diagnosed with lupus when she was 17. “This disease really impacted my life in ways that I never thought I would even have to experience as a young individual,” she says. “It prevented me from having a normal social life. It has taken my identity at times and also kept me out of school.”
Lupus can damage any part of a person’s body, including their skin, joints, and/or organs, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. The condition causes something to go wrong with a person’s immune system, making it unable to differentiate between bacteria, viruses, germs, and healthy tissue. As a result, a person’s immune system will attack and destroy healthy tissue. People who suffer from lupus typically have “flare-ups,” which causes their symptoms and makes them sick. However, they can also have periods of remission in between flares.
It’s not clear what causes a person’s immune system to begin attacking healthy tissue, but genetics are a factor in some people, Sadia Khan, MD, a rheumatologist with Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells Yahoo Beauty.
About 1.5 million Americans have lupus, says the Lupus Foundation of America, and while anyone can develop the disease, it largely impacts women. Most develop it between the ages of 15 and 44.
Bellard mentioned in one Instagram post that she’s received 17 different health diagnoses, including high blood pressure and arthritis, and Khan says that’s not uncommon for a lupus sufferer. Inflammation in the joints can cause arthritis, and kidney problems or medications used to treat lupus can cause hypertension, she explains.
The condition has made Bellard’s life difficult. She reports that she struggled with self-love for a long time and would set goals that would later have to be put on hold due to health issues stemming from her lupus. “Financially, it has even kept me from being employed,” she says. “I would be doing chemo and my doctors did not feel that I should be working nor going to school because my body needed essential rest.”
She says her skin is “supersensitive,” so she tries to avoid going outside during peak sunlight hours. Lupus has made Bellard feel depressed and mad at times, but she says that she’s learned to accept herself thanks to her family, who “reassured me every day that I was beautiful no matter what.”
Bellard says she decided to focus her Instagram account, which has nearly 93,000 followers, on lupus awareness to “be a voice for those who were scared to speak.” While the feedback is largely positive now, she says that wasn’t always the case. When she started posting, people would say that she was “ugly” or imply that she was a domestic violence victim. But, she says, it didn’t faze her. “I see all these beautiful individuals that look up to me and that is what gets to my heart and soul,” she says.
While she’s raising awareness of lupus, Bellard says she also wants to inspire people who suffer from acne, eczema, and other conditions. “I want to give them a voice — that’s exactly what I do it for,” Bellard says. “And if it takes me to show my life just to do it, then so be it.”
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