How Aala Marra Overcame Her Autoimmune Disease By Taking Her Healing Into Her Own Hands

"At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically."

BOSS UP

Aala Marra's glow is enough to illuminate an entire room, which makes it easy to spot the autoimmune survivor amid the buzz at lower Manhattan's Ludlow House. Her radiant skin, framed by natural curls, is a testament to her commitment to wellness and a nod to her ability to flip the darkest chapter of her life into light.

It's hard to imagine that nearly four years ago, the vibrant spirit who has amassed and inspired thousands of followers, was at the mercy of a debilitating disease. It started with drastic hair loss. Merely two months before ringing in her 23rd birthday, Aala woke up to half of her waist-length hair on the floor. "I thought I was dreaming at first," she tells xoNecole over lunch. "It was absolutely traumatizing."

The dismal moment prompted an instant trip to the doctor but left her with unanswered questions. As she bounced from one medical professional to the next, Aala's symptoms took a grim turn and her mental health followed suit. Working for an investment bank at the time, she crumbled under the stress of Wall Street and the weight of eczema, migraines, and muscle spasms.

It wasn't until her last doctor visit that she discovered she was battling an autoimmune disease, which heavily mirrored lupus yet had no name of its own. With the revelation also came the reality that the medication proposed to her would put her at risk for additional symptoms and, ultimately, would not address the source of her failing health. "At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically," she stresses. "I respectfully declined the offer to get medicated some more, and I walked out with no plan."

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"At that point in my life, I was in such a dark place. I couldn't afford any more symptoms financially, emotionally, and physically."

Shortly after, a conversation she had with a woman who raved about her journey to wellness with the late herbalist Dr. Sebi earlier in the year sprang to mind. While Aala didn't seek treatment from the Honduran healer, the testimonial swelled her desire to do research on herbs, gut health, and the ancient African diet.

The Brooklyn resident went on to craft a cleanse grounded in what she learned, increasing her water intake and eliminating inflammatory foods from her diet in the process. The results were dramatic. Her symptoms not only reversed within two weeks but were completely erased three months later. "I wasn't even back to normal. I was glowing. I was energetic," she reflects as tears well up in her eyes. "It never gets old."

Though fiercely private at the time, Aala couldn't resist the urge to share her story in hopes that others would find solace in her triumph. "I knew that there were people who could identify with it or it could at least reach people that needed to hear it, and it's just my truth. I wanted to celebrate it and definitely advocate for wellness and health and destigmatize it," she explains.

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"I knew that there were people who could identify with it or it could at least reach people that needed to hear it, and it's just my truth. I wanted to celebrate it and definitely advocate for wellness and health and destigmatize it."

In less than two years, she drew thousands of eyes to her Instagram page. "It was super organic," she points out. "It was all in response to what people wanted." After revisiting her cleanse in November 2017, Aala's followers tagged along. When they asked for recipes she infused into her diet while recovering from her disease, she released Aala Marra's Cleansing Cookbook two months later. As supporters requested an even deeper look into her journey to wellness from start to present day, she granted them access through her September title I Am the Cure...And So Are You.

The health enthusiast, who also teaches an online course on her cleanse, hasn't limited her influence to the virtual world either. While returning to New York from Coachella last spring, she took an impromptu detour to Kansas City to directly work with a follower named Keyonna who couldn't see past her multiple sclerosis. Within three days, the ladies took a trip to the grocery store, revamped her kitchen, and prepared meals together. Once strangers, Aala gushes that the two are now friends and have both marveled at Keyonna's restored energy and dissipating pain since then. That summer, she hit the road once again to connect with three more women whose lives have been impacted by her cleanse. "It's been the gift that keeps on giving," she muses. "I get DMs, emails, and messages every single day."

The Sudan native credits her affinity to uplift others to her father, who dedicated his life to building schools, wells, and clinics in sub-Saharan Africa. "I've always known this, but I just care about people. That's the energy that I grew up in," she says.

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"I've always known this, but I just care about people. That's the energy that I grew up in."

It's in that spirit that the impact entrepreneur has designed her lifestyle healthcare brand aalaCare. Launched this April, the wellness resource strives to support people in their surviving moments and usher them into a thriving reality. It's a movement that starts with a six-week master healing course and will later expand to include a virtual cooking program, live events, and products intended to spark change on a community level.

"I'm very different from people in the wellness industry," Aala emphasizes. "While it's an amazing industry, there's a privileged tone to it, and a lot of people that need wellness don't have access to it."

Her platform aims to combat just that by creating a space for people of color--especially black women--to enhance their lifestyles holistically. "We're not taught to go within," she says. "When I noticed that I wasn't feeling well, everything that I was seeking in order to figure out what was going on was external."

Now on the other side of a disease that once threatened to end her life, Aala has come to know that health is more than the physical. It's also mental and emotional. "There was a traumatic event that happened in a personal relationship of mine in February [2015]. In July [2015], I developed my first symptom. There's absolutely no coincidence," she maintains. "I was eating a certain way since the beginning of time. Why was it then that my body decided to break?"

While she's not one to push her example on others, Aala cautions not to succumb to the idea of waiting for an optimal, or even distressing, time to make better life choices. "The only perfect time is now. You're about it or you're not about it," she says.

Courtesy of Aala Marra / Kofi Dua

"The only perfect time is now. You're about it or you're not about it."

No longer chained to the pain of her past, Aala emits hope to those seeking to reclaim their health simply by owning hers out loud. Humbled by the lives she touched and those she will continue to inspire along the way, she walks in gratitude knowing that what she suffered was not in vain. "I'm never out here to force anyone to do anything. I just share my truth," she closes. "Knowing that my story literally transforms people's lives really shows the power of authenticity."

For more of Aala, follow her on Instagram.

Originally published on April 29, 2019

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