‘I don’t know who I am.’ I struggled with feeling depressed and hopeless. All my dreams died.’: Man diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia raises awareness, ‘I want to encourage people’

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“Growing up, I loved to play sports. I played baseball, hockey, and football competitively but also enjoyed water sports, downhill skiing, tennis, and pretty much anything else with a ball and competition.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson
Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

Towards the end of high school, I began having trouble performing athletically at a high level. My max lifts went down, my 40-yard dash got slower, and it was difficult for me to track fly balls in the outfield and make accurate throws. I had always been one of the strongest and fastest kids in my school. As a junior in high school, I even placed first in my weight class in a tri-school lift/run/jump competition.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

As I started struggling to perform, I also struggled in my identity. I didn’t know who I was, since I had always just identified as an athlete.

My dreams of playing a college sport became just that: dreams. I went off to college and wasn’t good enough to play on any of the teams. It turned out God had other plans for me. In high school, I was part of a ministry called Young Life that made a big impact on me. My leaders had been my freshman football and baseball coaches. By my sophomore year in college, the doors had opened for me to lead Young Life and coach high school football. I also began making music and doing spoken word poetry to bring hope and light to people who were in a dark place. Little did I know, my music and poems would soon be speaking to me.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

Through college, I had more and more difficulties performing physical functions that had been easy for me in the past. I couldn’t skate or rollerblade. I couldn’t slalom ski. I didn’t know what was going on but I also didn’t think too much about it because I was still playing pickup football, basketball, and tennis.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

The final straw came when I was 24 and trying to paddleboard in the ocean. I tried again and again but couldn’t keep my balance. I decided to see a physical therapist, wondering if maybe I had too many undiagnosed concussions that were now impacting my balance. This led to several appointments with a neurologist, a CT scan, and many blood tests, which eventually confirmed a diagnosis of Friedreich’s Ataxia.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

After being diagnosed, I struggled with feeling depressed and hopeless. I felt like no one could relate to my experience. I felt like all my dreams, goals, and aspirations had died. I felt defeated thinking about all the things I won’t be able to do with my wife and kids.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson
Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

What I came to realize is I had two choices: I could sit around and feel sorry for myself about what I don’t have, or I could make the most of what I do have.

Through all of this, my faith in Christ has shown me no matter what happens, God has a purpose for my life. This purpose is what I aim to fulfill. I have since put my experience with Ataxia into a hip-hop album called Pressure Makes Diamonds. I am also working on several new creative projects in which the songs, poems, and videos have a two-fold intention. On one hand, they are meant to encourage those who are facing trials, especially involving Ataxia and other rare diseases.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

I know my experience of feeling hopeless is common among those with such a diagnosis. I want to encourage people to make the most of their situation and pursue their passion and purpose, even if it looks different than what they may have imagined. On the other hand, I hope I can raise awareness for Friedreich’s Ataxia and other rare diseases, leading to concrete ways to better the lives of those impacted.

Courtesy of Jacob Thompson

I’m not sure what this will all lead to, but my ultimate vision is to run a company that uses poetry, music, speaking, writing, and multimedia to both encourage people and to raise awareness and take action against rare disorders. Recently, I have begun to see some of the fruits of my labor. I have been releasing video content that has gotten an overwhelming response in the Ataxia community. I also created a spoken word poetry video that won first place in the 2020 NCATS Rare Disease Creative Contest. Beyond that, I am working on several creative projects and writing a book that dives into my story in greater detail. I can’t wait to share this content with the world and hope that through my struggles, I can be a blessing to someone else.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my story.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jacob Thompson. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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