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Summer in the City: A story about living healthy and happy in NOLA

Summer Suleiman

Summer Suleiman

Last year, I left my dream job with CNN and moved back home with my super conservative and slightly quirky parents in New Orleans, to get healthy. I know what you’re thinking. Why in the world would I do that?

I can explain.

Working at CNN was my life-long dream. It was a constant voice in our home growing up. My parents immigrated to New Orleans more than 35 years ago, and CNN was their connection to the world they left behind. For as long as I can remember, I was enamored with the journalists who were immersed in the cultures of far-off places, and who shared the world’s stories with us. I wanted to write those stories, too, one day.

Can you imagine how excited I was when I graduated from LSU in 2009, and landed my first job with CNN? It was a dream come true. I envisioned my entire career and life there. At 24, things were taking off for me. I had just accepted a big promotion with the network's international division. We were coming off of the news high of the revolution in Egypt. Syria was just beginning to brew. I had plans to move to the Middle East as a freelance journalist. (An even crazier idea than moving home to live with my parents.) I was so excited about my plans.

But you know how those things go. Everything changed when my health took a plunge in October of 2011. After four months of medical tribulations, which are too many to list here, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Familial Mediterranean Fever.

Yup, that’s really the name of it.

It is a disease that primarily affects people of Arab, Jewish and Turkish descent. I had lived most of life afflicted by an elusive illness. It took 20 years and countless doctors to finally receive the right diagnosis. When my doctor told me the name of it, I thought to myself, you gotta be kidding me. Here I am living an identity crisis of a Palestinian, Muslim girl growing up in New Orleans, and now I have a disease to show for it! What a wicked sense of humor. The irony certainly was not lost on me.

Well, after three months, I had recovered and returned to work, but soon realized that I couldn’t just pick up where I had left off. I was struggling to stay afloat in the super fast-paced world of breaking news. It wasn’t right for me anymore.

I loved the excitement of the newsroom, but my body simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. Being in the center of breaking news and, often, history as it happens, is thrilling. But with that comes high stress, long hours and a grueling 24-hour work cycle.

I was learning how to live with a chronic illness, and I had to make a change. While my friends and colleagues were building their careers, and being care-free twentysomethings, I was trying to make sense of an illness that I’d lived with undiagnosed for most of my life. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and afraid. Suddenly, my life had changed and I was trying to figure out how to cope. After months of internal debate,I knew I was facing one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.

I needed to step back, and re-evaluate things. But that meant walking away from a dream.

A year later, I left CNN and left behind amazing leaders, friends, and an exciting career that gave me an interesting look at the world at large. I packed up my things, and came back home to New Orleans to get healthy.

So, the next question I’d expect from you is, How do you live healthy in New Orleans -- a city most known for its delicious (not-so-healthy) food and debauchery?

Let me tell you: It ain’t easy. But it is possible. I’ve never felt better. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m grateful.

Today I start a bi-monthly column for NolaVie called Summer in the City, a personal take on living healthy and happy in the City that Care Forgot. And it is my hope in writing this column that I can share my journey with you, hopefully help you do the same, and make you laugh along the way.

Here’s to being healthy and happy at home!

Summer Suleiman is a health writer and blogger who writes about her experience living healthy (or trying to) in a city best known for its fabulous (unhealthy) food and debauchery. You can read about her journey saying no to po’boys and Sazeracs, and yes to kale and juicing, at www.HealthySummer.me or on Twitter @summersuleiman.