Jokiva Bellard suffers from lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. The condition can cause joint issues, kidney problems and, most visibly, “flare-ups” that result in skin inflammation and lesions among other ailments.
The illness, which Bellard was diagnosed with at 17 after 17 different misdiagnoses – including eczema, high blood pressure and arthritis – has been a constant interruption to her life.
“This disease really impacted my life in ways that I never thought I would even have to experience as a young individual,” she said to Yahoo Beauty. “It prevented me from having a normal social life. It has taken my identity at times and also kept me out of school.”
But now, instead of lamenting her diagnosis, Bellard has chosen to document her lupus on Instagram, sharing revealing photos of what it’s like to live with the disease and giving a voice to those suffering. Her goal is to “be a voice for those who were scared to speak,” she tells Yahoo Beauty.
The message is important to Bellard who, even during times of remission between skin flare-ups, still found life difficult and often struggled with loving herself and completing goals she set for herself.
“Financially, it has even kept me from being employed,” she told Yahoo Beauty. “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.”
Bellard says the disease makes her skin “supersensitive” and avoids going outside during peak sunlight hours, Yahoo Beauty reports.
Though Bellard has said she received mean comments when she first started her Instagram account – some people calling her “ugly” or insinuating she was a victim of domestic abuse – she keeps posting because of the “beautiful individuals that look up to [her] and that is what gets to [her] heart and soul,” she says.
“I want to give them a voice — that’s exactly what I do it for,” she says. “And if it takes me to show my life just to do it, then so be it.”
About 1.5 million Americans suffer with lupus, affecting mostly women who are likely to develop it between ages 15 and 44. For lupus sufferers, the immune system is unable to differentiate between healthy tissue and viruses, and attacks healthy cells and tissue.