In about a week, it’ll be a full two years since I started my blog. When I started my blog, I had ambitious goals. I had hopes that I would write weekly pieces, accompanied with videos, photos, and tons of other creative endeavors. I didn’t realize how much work would go into it and how discouraged I would be when my pieces weren’t shared or widely read. I will note that that isn’t why I set out to start blogging and writing consistently, but it felt weird, almost embarrassing, to share pieces that people weren’t reading. Due to this, I ended up posting twenty-one total pieces in 2017 on my blog, half of which were book reviews that I’ve since archived for the time being, and a total significantly lower than my original hopes. The other pieces were written off-the-cuff when I had thoughts on my mind or just felt a spurt of creativity, which is how I viewed my writing “style” at the time. All of this is to say that my pieces weren’t bad, so to speak, but I wasn’t writing consistently or taking it very seriously. The biggest success regarding my writing career that occurred in 2017 was my first piece being posted on the CFF Community Blog in November – an important step in my blossoming writing career, don’t get me wrong. At the end of last year, I decided to take writing more seriously going into this year.
This year, I started the year off by writing a review about 2017. In that post, I reflected on the year before and how I planned to approach 2018. Here’s how I concluded that piece:
We all suffer. To cope with my suffering, I like to create art, something I'm proud of. Whether that's through writing and the beauty of written words, or through speaking and communicating and finding the right words to describe my worldview, or through exercise and the joy of improving my fitness and directly combating the effects of CF, this is my art.
The world can feel like a hellscape or a paradise, sometimes all at once. We're all in this together and the only way I'll ever be happy with myself is if I communicate the lessons I've learned through my life and experience. Writing helps to elicit deep emotions and consolidate the lessons I've learned, all while having the possible benefit of sparking discussion and reaching others.
In 2018, I hope to read voraciously, write constantly, learn endlessly, and create continuously. I have so many ideas that I'm excited to get started on and the New Year provides a great starting point.
In the upcoming year, I hope what I can do best is to embrace life as it comes. I'm going to allow myself to enjoy my experiences. I intend on being a better person than I've ever been by being more understanding, more loving, more open-minded.
I hope I can reach people through my writing.
Even though it was only a year ago and before my writing career was even anything more than a hobby, that conclusions is pretty profound. Two days after posting that piece, I shared a piece titled “Coming to grips with my mortality” a day after I finished reading a memoir – Dying: A Memoir – that would be oddly prescient of the forthcoming couple of months. In that piece, I wrote:
Writing allows me a semblance of control over my reality. Writing is how I cope with my suffering.
A few weeks after writing those two pieces, we would be informed of Alyssa’s situation – her body was rejecting her lungs again and her time was limited. That quote – Writing is how I cope with my suffering – would end up being the defining aspect of my 2018 – the year I finally became a writer.
In April, I wrote a piece for the Kentucky Organ Donor Associates (KODA) blog titled “My Sister Alyssa” where I reflected on Lyss and her advocacy efforts for organ donation. This piece was significant for a couple of reasons. Obviously, I was so excited to write about Alyssa for a cause that is important to my entire family, and using it to push along a message encouraging people to become organ donors while also honoring Lyss was humbling. But it was significant for another reason: the description KODA used at the end of the piece to describe me said “Tré is an up-and-coming writer in the Cincinnati and Lexington areas.” That was the first time somebody else had ever identified me as a writer. This may seem minor, but to me, it was one of the most encouraging signs of my ability to put complex feelings into words, or as I now think of it, my skills as a writer.
As much as I want to encourage how important it is to believe in one’s self and not need the validation of others, I look back at this moment as an important moment of self-discovery. It occurred to me that others, or at least one person, viewed me as a writer. After seeing that – Tré LaRosa is a writer – for the first time, it was a huge paradigm shift for me. Paradoxically, it was that moment that pushed me to stop worrying about what other people thought. I’ve not written too much about this, but one of the biggest roadblocks to calling myself a writer and fully embracing writing was the fact that I’m not classically trained.
Lots of writers study literature or journalism or another similar degree in college. I studied chemistry, where there is a lot of writing, just not the writing that I do now. In some ways, it seems my writing style is the antithesis of the type of writing I did in college. The majority of science writing is technical and jargonistic; to most, it’s boring and unappealing. My writing style now is personal narrative pieces or commentary about science or social issues in a cool way. I wasn’t trained to write in this voice, but I think I’ve blended the skills I learned in college – like breaking down complicated science topics into simpler ideas –with the skills I’ve developed on my own.
I felt that I was imposing on the profession when I called myself a writer. I thought to myself, What would Stephen King say if I told him I was a writer? What about classic writers like Orwell or Kerouac? I worried that I’d be laughed at or judged against professional writers, or that I was hijacking their credentials. In my other career as a scientist, I felt comfortable because I had a chemistry degree. I even rationalized that writing was different than other artistic endeavors like music or painting since writing means you have to believe people care about your words, whereas music or painting are different sensory experiences. All of this is twisted logic, I know now. it just goes to show how powerful our minds can be in hindering our own goals and ambitions.
When somebody else identified me as a writer, well then, who cares anymore what other people think? Again, very twisted logic that led to an important lesson. Nearly everybody else is preoccupied with their own lives, so it’s up to us to do what we need to do to achieve what we want to achieve and disregard how other people perceive that (unless of course you want to be a Walter White-esque drug dealer and your friends and family are not very fond of that; in that case, you should definitely not do that type of thing). I began to view myself as a writer; I started telling others I was a writer, because I am a writer and it’s not up to anybody else to decide that. I don’t want this to sound to sound arrogant because it really isn’t; there is a vast difference between arrogance and self-assurance.
This lesson was valuable for me to learn and it’s a lesson that probably anybody that wants to pursue any sort of art has to learn at some point. But it has helped me develop some life wisdom that I can pass along to others that hope to pursue something. If there are any aspiring artists reading this: know that I am here if you want to reach out, but also know that you must persevere in your passion and it will begin to reward you, even when it doesn’t feel like it ever will.
In the eight months since I had that wonderful realization, I have spent countless hours writing. The single most concrete example of how my writing career has prospered this year is that I am currently writing my first ever paid column, titled Mutations & Conversations about CF science and other social issues related to life with CF, on the site CF News Today. I’ve been writing that column for about 3 and a half months now and it’s been a pleasure working with plenty of editors, other columnists, and colleagues. They've given me essentially free rein to write about whatever I want to write about; this allows me to flourish as a writer and as a person and I’m so grateful for that opportunity.
In 2018, I also increased my presence in the CF community more than I expected I would have. With my writing for CF News Today and my part in the plenary at the North American CF Conference, I was able to showcase my voice and ratchet up my advocacy efforts. I won’t digress too much into that, but my current job has given me a breadth of knowledge regarding CF science, medicine, and the overlap of the two. My colleagues have been superb coworkers, mentors, and friends. I am eternally grateful for that as well.
If you’re reading this, you most likely know how hard this year has been for me and my parents. This year, in March, my sister Alyssa died after rejecting her second pair of transplanted lungs. Writing has provided me the outlet needed to grieve my sister, approach my depression and anxiety head on, and hopefully leave a mark on the world, too. Since death is something young people with CF have to spend time thinking about, one of my goals is to normalize death as a topic; how humans view death, how we grieve others, how we should discuss it. But discussing death has another side of the coin: it encourages us to talk about how we should live. It should help us to see how others live their lives, which then helps to develop empathy as a skill and we become more compassionate people in the process. Talking about life and death should help us clarify how we want to live our lives and how we go about our daily lives. Thinking about existential issues allows us to see life from a different lens, which can hopefully reduce our dependence on the things that don’t mean much. In the end, I believe talking about these heavy topics is so important simply because every other topic is under their umbrella.
I’ve always felt older than my age, but I feel significantly older than 24 in most ways. This year, I watched my sister die, wrote her obituary, and eulogized her. I’ve lost grandparents and dogs, but that’s the way we are expected to live; dogs are special, but we know they won’t be around forever and grandparents dying before their grandchildren is the natural way of the world. Those deaths affected me and pushed me, but there is something inherently broken about burying a sibling only a few years older than you at this young of an age. It doesn’t seem right because it isn’t right.
In 2013, I was forced to confront that I would lose my sister at a young age eventually. I watched as she was on her death bed before making a recovery and getting her first double lung transplant. My sister’s eventual death was on my mind frequently, always lurking whenever she’d have some struggle in Houston or when she moved back to Kentucky. I prepared for it, trying to comprehend how this was what would life would be for us, even as I knew how incomprehensible it was for her, my parents, and me. In 2018, that dreaded reality finally happened. CF forced me to grow up young; my sister’s death made me grow old young.
Though I’m entering 2019 without Lyss, I’m proud of her in 2018. Alyssa didn’t lose her battle with CF; in fact, I don’t even really like using war terms like “battle,” “fight,” or “soldier,” to explain her or her life anymore. My sister didn’t have the choice to be born with CF, but she did have a choice to get a double lung transplant, and then another double lung transplant. She also had a choice in her demeanor and I won’t paint Alyssa as perfect; there were times we got into arguments because of her adherence or demeanor. Alyssa was a flawed person that wanted a decent life. Where she lacked in health, she made up for in her humanity. She was unbelievably good with kids, but at times, could be a bit quick to get frustrated with us. She was brave in her many hospitalizations and other shit she dealt with, but she could get pissy with nurses and doctors if she felt they weren’t listening to her. That’s a lesson I’ll take with me into 2019 – I am a flawed individual that has a lot of room for improvement, and that’s okay. I try too hard to be perfect when I know that won’t happen. My sister was a courageous person, but she never fought CF or rejection (she did use those terms, however), because that implies she “lost” her fight, a fight none of us could have ever won. My sister “beat” CF because she lived her life well, managing to leave a deep footprint on the world of those of us that knew her. There will always be a hole in the heart of all of us that loved my sister. That hole will shrink and morph and never fill, but I will live my life knowing that she was proud of me, she loved me, and continued her life as best as she could to leave positive memories entrenched in my mind forever.
I’m proud of my parents in 2018. Alyssa and I get called strong people often, but that strength was taught to us by our parents. I wrote them a letter for Christmas and in that letter, I was sure to tell them that any imprint on the world left by their children couldn’t possibly exist without their parenting. My parents are truly incredible parents, and even better people. They are authentic, compassionate, and decent, even when we disagree. We may fight, but they hear me out and listen to my side, no matter what. They have had to live for thirty years wondering how my sister and I would fare in life. When we were kids, they had to wonder if they were parenting us well enough to be our own people when we became adults as all parents must, but with the added difficulty level of us having chronic diseases. They don’t want pity and they have never seemed bitter to me. My mom’s compassion combined with my dad’s work ethic is a blend that allows any issue, no matter how immense, to seem accomplishable. I have much to learn from them – and I wouldn’t be myself without saying they have some they can learn from me. This year, they were required to handle a parent’s worst nightmare. They managed it as best as they could have, all while ensuring that my grieve, my physical health, and my mental well-being were managed as well. I’ve never felt that I was treated differently than my sister, which is something I know my mom has worried about endlessly. I wrote in that letter that I can see in their eyes a sorrow that I believe will never leave. They seem more vulnerable than they’ve ever been, and I mean that as a compliment. I adore my parents and I am so grateful that they’ve supported me in life like they have. Nothing I ever achieve would have been possible without my family.
I’m also proud of myself in 2018. I won’t tiptoe around this; in March, shortly after Alyssa died, I didn’t know how long I’d survive, not because of CF, but by my own accord. My suicidal ideation was terrifying; an omnipresent voice in the back of my mind telling me my suffering could be abruptly ended and met with an idyll nonexistence. I won’t say I “beat” depression or anxiety (see my point above), but I manage my depression and anxiety. That voice is still there at times, though much more infrequently. My anxiety isn’t as paralyzing and seems quicker to go. My lungs are healthy. We have better drugs on the horizon. I entered 2018 as a shy wannabe writer; I am leaving 2019 as a young, always learning writer and artist. I grieved openly, publicly, and unapologetically. I feel like I’m more “Tré” than I’ve ever been and I’m proud of that. I’m learning to listen more, speak softly, and chill on judgment and self-righteousness. I’m learning to be more understanding and compassionate every single day.
In previous year review pieces I’ve written, I’ve regarded the year as either a shit year, or “hardest year of my life,” or something like that. 2018 will always be remembered by two things that happened in my world: Alyssa’s death and me becoming a writer. While the pain of one infinitely outweighs the joy of the other, they are inextricably linked. It was through writing about my grief and my mental health that I found a voice that I believed in. It was in writing about Alyssa’s life that my platform expanded, something I know she would’ve been psyched about – in fact, I can hear her voice saying “I’m so fabulous, I taught you everything you know, brah.”
I wouldn’t have made it through 2018 without the endless support from so, so many individuals. I’ve heard nice messages from so many people, kind comments on all of the pieces I’ve written, and just truly heart-warming decency from more people than I could have ever imagined. Alyssa touched a lot of lives, and her goodness was spread throughout so many people, and reciprocated by the support my family has received this year. I am dearly thankful for that support. I have more hope and optimism for the world than I’ve had in a long time due to that support. I believe in myself because of that support. Thank you all, sincerely.
I can’t write this piece without talking a bit to Lyss.