Why My Chronic Illness Can’t Stop Me from Making a Difference in the World

“We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.” ~Mary Dunbar

What is one eye-opening experience should everyone have?

I stumbled upon this question a few weeks ago and it got me into deep introspection.

The first thing that came to my mind made me feel both happy and sad. The smile faded as soon as it crossed my face.

Let me explain…

My Eye-Opening Experience

One eye-opening experience I had and believe everyone should have is spending time with poor kids.

I love children.

I’m one of those people who gets wowed when kids can count one to three or recite the alphabet by heart. I was a teacher, and the kids were my favorite students. I’ve met and played with a lot of kids, but my experience with poor kids was extra special.

In 2012, my friend invited me to visit some kids in a community that I had never heard of. I wasn’t from an affluent family, but I had never seen real poverty up close.

Tiny and crowded homes made with light materials, no electricity and/or running water for many families, and malnourished, sick, and dirty kids.

We visited them at least once a week to teach family values, spirituality, and hygiene. We fed them, played with them, and most importantly, we loved them. These were fifty to a hundred kids ages two to sixteen.

Our leader tasked me to interview ten kids in a span of ten months. The organization that sponsored our feeding program for two years required us to submit these reports monthly.

I had the privilege to choose which kid to interview per month. I chose kids with different personalities. The shy ones. The playful ones. And the wallflowers.

I will treasure those interviews forever. The one-on-one talks with these children were life-changing for me. They were the intimate encounters I looked forward to every month.

I got the rare chance to know their stories in a deep way.

It was heartbreaking to hear that some kids missed schools because they didn’t have food to eat. Some kids were made fun of because of how they looked. Others had to scavenge and collect recyclables in the streets to sell and help their families earn some money.

Despite the cold meals and floors, lack of basic needs, and other daily struggles, they had a sparkle in their eyes and sweetness in their smiles. Their resilience was so unbelievable that I had no doubt that one day, they will change the world.

Words are not enough to explain my thoughts and feelings through this experience. But this experience has given me a new set of lenses that allowed me to see the world in a different way.

I learned to be more generous, self-giving, loving, and compassionate. The words “gratitude” and “appreciation” became deeper and more meaningful. I learned to view this life beyond me.

This was my weekly routine for three years until…

I Had A Relapse

I stopped going and seeing these kids. Now, this is why the thought of this eye-opening experience gave me mixed emotions. You see, I’ve been fighting chronic Illnesses for about ten years, but in 2016, my health took its turn for the worse.

My dizzy spells became more intense and frequent. I couldn’t stand the outdoors because it was either too hot or too cold for me. I was like a battery that wouldn’t charge up.

I’ve accepted that my doctors couldn’t give me straight answers (yet) on what has been going on with me. But it was frustrating when my world came to a halt. Again.

While my recovery has been consistent (slow and steady), I still don’t know if I can go back and serve these kids again. I don’t know if my body could still handle it.

In a way, I felt my chronic illness robbed my purpose and self-worth once again. I just wanted to serve. What’s wrong with that?

But one day, I thought that service to humanity takes different forms, shapes, and sizes. Nothing is too big or too small. As long as you give with all your heart.

I realized I could get around my chronic illness and still help make a difference one life at a time.

Nothing fancy. Nothing grand. Just me and my warm and sometimes wimpy heart.

Modern Calligraphy

Initially, I did this for myself. It was out of boredom, stress, and frustration.

When I was mostly homebound, I looked for a new hobby that would help me get out of my head and feel the excitement of trying something new again.

Affirmations, verses, quotes, and words of encouragement that spoke to me took me on a whole new level when I see them beautifully written in bouncy and flowy letters. Every stroke helped me focus, meditate, and relax. Even when the strokes were shaky, I was amused by the work of my hands.

When I became a little more confident, I decided to share my creations with the world. I set up a public IG account with the goal to edify women with chronic illness through modern calligraphy.

I also make notes for family and friends extra special with the beautiful and free strokes of modern calligraphy.

World Vision

I may not be able to serve and spend time with dozens of kids all at the same time, and that’s okay. Changing one kid’s life would be more than enough.

Last year, I decided to sponsor one child through World Vision. It was another opportunity for me to have a personal connection with a child from a poor community.

It’s a humbling experience to help the child to pay for school supplies, uniform, and other expenses. Through this program, her community benefits, too.

My eyes and heart well up when I get their regular updates with photos, community reports, child’s progress, and more.


I’m introverted. I’ve kept a lot of my deepest thoughts to myself. Last year, I decided to be a little bolder and vulnerable by sharing my journey through writing.

I’ve realized that every story matters. Every story is special. Every story heals.

Most importantly, we can learn from each other.

What’s Next

You don’t need to do something huge to make a positive difference in the world. Regardless of your time, resources, and individual limitations, you can make an impact.

I encourage you to create a small service project before the year ends. Before that voice of doubt whispers that it’s impossible or it won’t make a dent in the world, let’s sit down and plan for this project.

Below, you will see a list of questions that serve as your starting point.

Skills/Talents/Passion: What can I offer?

1. What did I love to do as a child?
2. What types of things do family or friends usually seek my help for?
3. What are my interests?
4. When do I feel most joyful?
5. What do I do most naturally?
6. What is the idea or vision that keeps me up at night?
7. What am I doing when I feel the most authentic?

Time: When will I do it?

1. How much time can I set aside for this project?
2. How often do I want to do this?
3. How long can I do it?
4. When can I start?

Recipient: Who will I serve?

1. Where do I feel the happiest?
2. Who do I care about?
3. Who are the people going through what I’ve been through? Or going through similar challenges?
4. Who needs my skills and talents?

You may not know the answers to all of these questions right now, and that’s okay. Take all the time you need and go through them again whenever you can.

And remember…

Small things add up. Small things make bigger things. Small things create ripples.

Start where you are with what you have.

About Mary Gutierrez

Mary is a chronic illness thriver and a natural healing advocate. She shares what has worked for her and her spoonie friends on her blog. She also created a safe space for people with chronic illness to share their deepest and darkest secrets anonymously. Check out the first issue here.

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How I Overcame Rejection

One time I was crying and my mom, quite reasonably wanting me to stop, threw a knife at me.

It missed. She had poor aim. But it did stop me crying.

It was a long time ago. I was 12. I don’t remember too many things from when I was 12. But I remember the knife.


I asked a girl out, Nadine Davis. She said “no”.

I was a junior in high school. I forget how I asked her out. But I remember she said “no” and walked away quickly. Disappearing into a crowd of students that were laughing.

That was of one of six girls that said “no” to me while I was in high school. Nobody said “yes”.

My first kiss was when I was a freshman in college.

And because I was so insecure and afraid that nobody would ever like me again, I moved in with that girl until we graduated.


I wrote four novels. I was writing about 3,000 words a day while I was in graduate school.

28 years later I still write 1,000–3,000 words a day every day.

Since I was in graduate school for computer science, the 10 hours a day I was putting into writing novels didn’t really help my grades.

I failed all of my classes and got thrown out. I was rejected from getting a degree.

I then took easy programming jobs so I could work for just a half hour a day and then write for the rest of the day.

After each novel I would send them out to about 30 publishers. Big publishers, small publishers, agents.

I wrote about 40 or 50 short stories. I’d send them to literary journals, hoping that if enough got published I could put together a collection of short stories.

All four novels got rejected by all 30 places I would send them. Zero personal rejections.

Sometimes famous authors look back on that one rejection letter that had a personal touch, like: “I can’t take this but you’re close. Keep trying!”

I got none of those. I wish I got one. All rejections.

Why did I think I had a chance at making writing a career? For years nobody liked anything I did.

It takes a special kind of blind arrogance to keep going.

I spoke with John McGinley, who has been in over 80 movies and 100s of TV shows (He played “Dr. Cox” on Scrubs).

He told me he never gave himself a Plan B. If he didn’t succeed at acting, he would have nothing. And he told me he was rejected about 100 times for every one acceptance.

I was rejected maybe 500 times.


I pitched a TV show to HBO. They liked the idea. It was called “3 AM”.

I would walk around the streets of NYC interviewing prostitutes and drug dealers and homeless people and all the people who lost the ability to live a life during the day. We would all wander at night. Them doing their thing, me interviewing them.

I did it for HBO’s website and then they gave me money to do it for TV. I shot a 45 minute pilot.

They said, “No”. Years later the woman who told me “no” said she made a mistake.

But at the time I cried. I really put my all into that show. I worked on it for three years.

(Screen shot from the 3 AM website)

I ran a hedge fund. I had to raise money from wealthy people and then I would invest it for them.

One time I was at a lunch. The guy had silver white hair. Rich hair. He had a bright red sweater.

He said to me after a few minutes, “Your hair is a mess, you don’t have a business card. You’re dressed in second-hand clothes. Why do you think I should put money with you?”

He was right. At first I was angry at my friend who set up the lunch. But this stranger was right. I was a mess.

Another time I visited the boss of a friend of mine. He gave me a tour of his office and then said, “What can I do for you?”

I told him I wanted to raise money.

He said, “I would be happy to hire you. But I can’t take the risk of investing money with you. I have no idea what you do with the money. It could be illegal.”

He said, “The last thing I need is to see my name on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Reputation is everything.”

His name was Bernie Madoff.

One time I built a company that was a combination of social media and investing.

I was a programmer and an investor and I combined my interests to create a website that a million people were using.

I wanted to sell my company to Google. I visited them.

People were skateboarding in the hallways. There was a chef. Everyone was smiling.

I felt this thing in my heart. Like I was on a first date.

We all met in a big conference room and everyone asked me such smart questions. I felt like I was in graduate school again where everyone was so smart and curious.

At 3 in the morning my heart was pounding. I woke up and wrote them a letter. “It was so nice to meet you…”

Like a love letter.

They rejected buying my company.

Once again I cried. I cried after Bernie Madoff. I cried after Google. I cried after HBO. I cried when my novels were rejected. I cried when girls said “no” to me.


I think I get rejected every day.

I got rejected yesterday. I’m not ready to say what it was about but it was something important to me.

I got rejected the day before. Someone I really admired didn’t want to go on my podcast.

I got rejected the day before that. I was doing stand-up comedy and I didn’t get as many laughs as I would’ve liked.

I got rejected the day before that. I wanted my daughter to go with me to Paris and she said, “no” because of school work.

I got rejected the day before that.

I’m not sure what happened to me. Because I still get disappointed after a rejection.

But I know that after a rejection I can ask “why” and I can improve.

After a rejection I can figure out if there’s a “backdoor” that can still get through to the people who say “you can’t”.

After a rejection I can ask experts and mentors (or read about them) and learn from their successes.

After a rejection I can take a walk and look at the beautiful rooftops with gargoyles and gardens and the intimate secret etchings of architects and take a deep breath and appreciate the moments we are allowed to breathe.

(I relax by staring at the rooftops instead of the ground.)

After a rejection I can come up with 10 more ideas of ideas I want to work on and use the experiences of failure to become a better person, to have a better chance at success, to work with better people who will contribute to my success (and I to theirs) and to increase my odds of doing what I love.

I say to myself, “If only she had said ‘yes’ yesterday to this project I really wanted. My life would be different!”

I could say that yesterday and still feel the sting. But in a day or two that sting will be over.

And I will be “on to the next one” as Jay-Z says. A billionaire rapper rejected more than anyone.

It’s a 100 to 1 ratio John McGinley told me.

“My dad would ask us, ‘what did you fail at this week?’”, billionaire Sara Blakely told me about her Friday night dinners growing up.

When Richard Branson’s flight to Puerto Rico was cancelled one time when he was 27 years old he created an entire airline as a result of that rejection.

When “50 Shades of Grey” was rejected by every publisher, EL James self-published it first (finding the backdoor), then after selling 250,000 copies she was traditionally published and now has sold 40 million copies.

When Barack Obama was told to “wait his turn” by every establishment figure he admired in 2008, he had the audacity to hope and became president.

When Mike Massimino, the astronaut who fixed the Hubble Telescope, failed the test (for the fifth time) to join NASA “because of his eyesight”, he did eye exercises for a year to actually get his eyesight to 20–20.

(Fixing the Hubble after being rejected five times when he applied to be an astronaut.)

The above people are lucky.

The above people are curious.

The above people are arrogant.

The above people ask “What if…?”

The above people learn from their mistakes and don’t blame others.

The above people learn new skills to enhance their old skills.

The above people don’t listen to what society tells them they should do.

The above people are threats to the establishment, to their friends, and to the most toxic people of all – their frenemies.

The above people over prepare and make sure their needs fit the agendas of the people they are asking from.

I’ve been rejected a million times. And it’s never pleasant. And I always want to give up. And I’m often depressed. And I’m often lonely.

But I’m free.

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Doran Erickson.

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Put Your Clothes On: A Word on Body Shaming

“Put more clothes on” she said.

Because yogis who show their bodies treat yoga like a fashion show, and men can’t control themselves and probably pleasure themselves to my image. That’s what she said.

I replied:

As someone who was once in rehab for anorexia, I think it’s rather amazing how far I’ve come.

I love my body and hope to display that, because I believe people (primarily women) are constantly shamed for exploring, enjoying, and yes showing their body particularly women who are not stick thin.

I am well aware that I am a strong and curvy woman, and I hope to normalize that in a culture that prospers and proliferates off of us feeling like we need to be thinner.


I think the issue isn’t what people are wearing as much as the shame that we associate with it.

The judgment. The ridicule.

If what you wear makes you feel good… then wear whatever you want.

I associate baggy clothes with anorexia, and times of my life when I have been depressed, reclusive, and sad. Hiding out. I think this issue isn’t the clothing. It’s the stigma that perhaps people have labeled them with.

This type of thinking is the stuff that blames women when they are sexually assaulted. “She was wearing skanky clothing, she was asking for it”.

Fuck to the NO.

It’s an intention issue.

I think this person, not knowing my truth assumed that I show my body because I want attention. When really that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I show my body because my body is not the norm.

Fit with a side of curve is not exactly covering magazines. But it should be. Health should be. Vitality should be. Intelligence should be.

I know what she’s talking about.

There are people out there posting basic shit on social media with no substance, and the intention is validation.

“Please accept me” the intention is “tell me I’m attractive and maybe one day I’ll believe it”.


I feel sexy when I move this way. I feel good when I wear little things.

It’s about the feeling it evokes in me, and hopefully in you.

It’s important to feel sexy in your own skin and express that in a healthy way.

It’s important to show up as ourselves and when people throw shade to not shrink, not puff up, but stand our sacred ground.

It’s important to show up as ourselves because what other people think of us, is none of our business.

None of our business at all.

Alexa Silvaggio is a wellness entrepreneur based in New York City, and Los Angeles. She is a yoga instructor, writer, speaker, podcast host, social media influencer, retreat leader, life coach, mover, and shaker. She would love to connect with you! @alexasilvaggio or www.alexasilvaggio.com

Image courtesy of Andrew Rice.

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