9 life-lessons to learn from an immunocompromised Torontonian right now

The world is collectively experiencing a “break” in their “normal life.” My friend Christa Manouk is no stranger to experiencing “breaks.” She got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease 4 years ago and COVID-19 is almost a déjà-vu for her now.

She didn’t expect to be trapped in her Toronto home with her family years ago, having all her plans put on hold for an unforeseeable timeframe. Can I get an amen? Similar to all of us now, and yet here she is going through it all over again, for a different reason that we can definitely relate to this time.

Here’s how she survived the diagnosis for her rheumatoid arthritis 4 years ago, and how she’s surviving this COVID season now.

P.S. To understand the severity of her disease, according to arthritis.org: “Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Because RA also can affect organs and body systems, such as the cardiovascular or respiratory systems, it is called a systemic disease.”

Christa inspires me when she tells me that we’re all going to be okay. What a soul. Bright. Beautiful. Brave.

Christa standing in front of her painting.

Here’s some of the highlights from our chat:

Hey girl, tell me a little about yourself.

Wow, that’s a good question. Hahaha! 

Hmm, what can I say? Well… I’m 23 years old. I’m a student at U of T and I’m in the Psychology Specialist program. I’m technically in my 3rd year of courses but I’m actually in my 6th year of school because I had to take some years off. Next year will be my 7th. Hmm, what else should I say?

Well I got diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 3 years ago, in October of 2016. Is that 2 years ago? 3 years ago? Wow… almost 4. Wow…

Well yeah I was studying, then I had to take a couple of years off, so I’ve been living with this autoimmune disease for this long.

Lesson #1: 

There is no timeline for you to finish school. Life happens.

So like… when did you realize the coronavirus was more serious than you thought?

I realized it was more serious than I thought when I started seeing how many people were dying from it. Like, the mortality rate, and not even just that; the fact that it was spreading all over the world and uncontrollably. Because it’s not in humans’ hands, like it’s not in our control so that’s when I started realizing it’s more serious.

Lesson #2:

This is more serious for some people. Respect them.

Hey what do you like to do for fun, Christa?

I’ve been recently listening to audiobooks. My brother got this app, Audible. So I’ve been doing that a lot in my free time, listening to books. And I do paint for fun but I don’t really have time now. The last time I painted was like a couple years ago.

I nap for fun!! Hahaha

And oh yeah, I do some home workouts just to relax a bit, and stay focused. Yeah.

Lesson #3:

Immunocompromised people try to get by like anybody else.

And on a scale of 1 to 10, how safe do you feel during this time?

Safe? For me I’d say a 10 because of my faith, not because of the worldly aspect.

Lesson #4: 

The feeling of safety comes from within.

Can you tell us what you’re doing to stay safe?

I haven’t been going out at all. I haven’t let anybody come in the house – just immediate family. We make sure that even whoever needs to leave the house to get groceries or medication… first of all we make sure they’re taking care of themselves because if anybody in the house gets sick then they’re putting me at high risk, and baba too, he’s a senior so he’s high-risk. But yeah we make sure we Lysol everything, sanitize everything. Wash our hands, obviously.

Lesson #5:

But safety can also come from doing our part (a healthy amount).

Now what are you doing to stay healthy? Mentally, physically, spiritually?

Hmm… well I can’t say I eat healthy because I don’t… hahaha! Oh gosh whoever reads this is gonna be like “what!?”

But anyway to stay healthy, like I said I do home workouts because I stay in bed too much, most of my school work I usually do in bed, so I try to do exercises and get my muscles moving in order to not get drained.

To be healthy mentally, I haven’t been sitting in front of the news and watching it all day. I know the most important stuff. My parents tell me. And maybe I see what’s going on from my phone sometimes but it’s toxic to watch the news all day.

Most people that are dying are people like me, whoever has a compromised immune system, so you only get more afraid when you watch the news. All you have to do is stay safe. Fear isn’t going to help. Fear also decreases the immune system so then you won’t be able to fight the virus.

Mentally I’m not getting scared about it, even when I talk to my parents I’m like “everything’s going to be okay.” And I’ve been doing this thing lately where every night late at night (I sleep around 3am) I just spend the last hours in praise and worship.

Like, I’m telling God my faith won’t only protect me but will protect my loved ones. So I’m spending this time in prayer. Praying for the world. For everybody. And I believe there is power in the name of Jesus and it won’t only protect you but those that are closest to you.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Lesson #6:

Stop watching the news. Pray. Sing. Have faith.

What does a day in your life look like? Before this pandemic VS now?

 *giggles* Amanda… it’s gonna be like “it looks the same…” hahaha!

The only thing that’s changed about my life is… Okay my autoimmune disease has been around for 4 years and I’ve only been back to school for a year or two. So, I’ve only been going out this past year mostly. The years before I’d been bedridden or at home the whole time, so this has been my norm. I know it sounds crazy but this is my norm.

So it’s like I took a break, went to school for a bit, and now I’m back to how it used to be where I don’t go out. But the only thing that changed from this past year now is how I’d been going out, seeing friends and going to appointments and all but now everything is being done remotely… so yeah. The main difference is that I used to see friends and go to school and now I don’t, I’m back to how I used to be.

Lesson #7:

Getting through a season of isolation has been done before, and it can be done again.

What do you think the world should do to protect people like you? Vulnerable people, seniors?

 I think if everybody just cared about their own health first. When everyone’s saying “wash your hands, don’t go out” people are like “Oh I’m gonna be fine” but it’s not just about you. When you take care of yourself, you’re being self-LESS because you’re actually doing what’s right to not spread the virus. I think it’s so selfish for you to say “Whatever, screw this virus, I’m gonna go out and do whatever I want.”

So I think staying home, staying safe, not going out unless you really need to because when I know people care about their own health, and numbers are going down and all, then I become less anxious.

Lesson #8: 

When you take care of your own health, you take care of the world.

Last but not least, what do you hope this season is trying to teach you, or the world even?

I imagine this as like God saw everybody with his birds-eye view where they’re all caring about so much, like busy, busy, busy, so he’s like “Okay, time out. Pause. Pause.”

He put a pause on the world and timing. You know what, I think when time is paused it’s teaching us to pay attention to what we didn’t notice before because we were so busy with daily things. Things as simple as staying home and saying, “Wow I didn’t realize I was missing this family bond.” I think God has brought the family closer. Loved ones closer. Well hmm, maybe that’s not true because some people are living in isolation, apart from each other.

But I feel like he’s just making us realize that life is short.

We need to care about what really matters. I think that’s the main key, and it brings things to our awareness. Like, you know when something is taken away from you? You start to appreciate it so much more. So, everything that got taken away from people, whether it’s financial, emotional (people who can’t see their loved ones), people start appreciating that so much more.

And I realize it’s the same thing with my sickness. Like when I got sick I realized I lost all my health and I started appreciating it so much. And since I’ve gotten back on my feet now I’m like “Thank you for my joints, the fact that they don’t hurt in this hour.” You know? Like thanking him when there’s no pain – I never used to thank him for that.

Now when God releases everyone back into the world, when this virus is under control, everyone’s gonna be like, “Wow I really appreciate this fresh air. I really appreciate just being able to go out.” And like, “live my life.”

So I really think it helps people appreciate the time they have.

Lesson #9:

We can look forward to a day where we will be thankful more than we’ve ever been before, and it will bring us joy. What a time to be alive.

Any final thoughts, Christa?

I just wanna add something. I don’t know if this would help anybody but you know when people say, “Oh I don’t have time to do it.” I feel like this time will help you do whatever you didn’t have time to do.

Whether it was that you said: “I never had time to pray, or chat with with God.” I feel like now’s your time, and it’s never too late.

And whether you want to have a relationship with God for your own benefit or you just wanna go to God to ask him to help someone get better, He doesn’t care about the reason you go to him. He just cares that you go to him – he misses you so much that he just wants you to chat with him.

So I feel like that’s my main thing. He could be like your therapist. So say whatever you want to say; be sincere and say whatever’s on your heart. As long as you just talk to your Dad who’s been missing you for so long and who’s been telling you “I’ve been knocking on your door for so long, just open it for a second.” I feel like it’s time to open the door. That’s all I’m saying. It’s definitely a good time.

What an honour it was to chat with Christa. A woman of immense faith. So light-hearted, yet wild, and different in every good sense of the word. Follow her journey through life at @beautyofmyashes on Instagram and on Facebook! She’s got the wisdom of an 80 year old and the heart of a 12 year old – it’s a mix like no other – you definitely want to keep up with it!

P.S. I love you Christa Manouk. Your diagnosis 4 years ago challenged me and my faith. I questioned life a whole lot but after following your walk in life, seeing your strength now and how He’s used you… it simply makes sense.

Thanks again for agreeing to chat with me on this level – I wish it would’ve been in person but until then, stay safe. Stay healthy. I’ll see you when the day comes ❤

And thank YOU readers. As always, you wonderful humans who are so curious, compassionate, and kind. Never stop searching for truth. And never stop practicing empathy.

Much love from the East coast!

Je vous aime,



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