Managing her family farm helps woman fight lupus

Farming wasn’t love at first sight for 27-year-old Christin-Joy Middleton.

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Three years ago, on the eve of her 24th birthday, Christin-Joy Middleton lost everything. While working as an au pair in Los Angeles in the United States, she was diagnosed with lupus, an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues.

She lost her ability to walk, and her will to live.

A lupus attack caused severe nerve damage in her legs, leaving Middleton wheelchair bound and extremely pessimistic. After spending months in and out of foreign hospitals and two accidental overdoses, she made plans to travel back to Mzansi.

Back home at the age of 24, Middleton had to learn how to walk again.

“It was not easy, but I picked myself up, dusted myself off from the nightmare I called my life for two years. I studied life coaching and trained to qualify to practice coaching.”

After she shared her story in a few public talks and videos on social media, the feedback she received about the impact it had on people’s lives kept her going. Living with lupus made it hard for her to hold a steady job, as her condition was not controlled and she was not stable enough to work consistently.

Middleton (in front) pictured after a TED Talk at the Free State University medical department in 2017.
Middleton (in front) pictured after a TED Talk at the Free State University medical department in 2017.

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In 2017 Middleton found out she was pregnant. She moved to her parents’ farm the following year to raise her daughter. “Being on the farm, which I hated growing up, brought me so much healing. I was able to contribute to something more than myself and that made me sleep with a smile at night,” she adds.

In 2018 Middleton decided to join their family farming business and started managing the farm’s administration, HR services and livestock division in Jacobsdal in the Free State. Her flexible work schedule meant she could tend to her health and still try to make a living and be independent.

Christin-Joy Middleton and her daughter Ekaria-Halo.
Middleton and her daughter Ekaria-Halo.

Before their family started farming in the Free State they moved around quite a bit. They moved between Polokwane and Kwa-Zulu Natal a few times, then to Tzaneen and from there to Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, before coming back to KZN and then finally settling in Kimberley.

As a middle child with an older sister and younger brother she describes herself as “a handful”, admitting that this hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. “I am my father’s child, a little rough around the edges, business-minded, a risk taker, a social person. My siblings are more like my mother: secure, book minded, orderly, scheduled and they simply like their own space,” she says.

Years before their family started farming, Middleton remembers two pictures stuck on the paper thin walls of the two bedroom RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) house their family once lived in.

The images of a farm house and three horses kept their dreams alive and together the family thanked God in advance for the farm they would own one day.

As a child she thought her parents were just pretending, but looking back now she sees they were breathing life into their dreams and goals they set out for themselves.

“My siblings and I never knew hard times, because our parents, Jacqui and Keith, did their best to provide for us and make everything an adventure even when it was a struggle. A lesson I still remind myself of today is that there is always something to be grateful for. First step is to value what money can’t buy, second is building your family on your truth. I remember us praying as a family every morning.”

Christin-Joy, Jacqui, Keith, Kyle-Jones and Ekaria-Halo Middleton.
Christin-Joy, Jacqui, Keith, Kyle-Jones and Ekaria-Halo Middleton on their family farm in Jacobsdal in the Free State.

Middleton says being a black farmer today is still very challenging. She adds that “When people hear farmer, they don’t picture me with my nails done. I enjoy looking pretty when I’m off the farm.”

She describes herself as an extremist, adding that it didn’t change when she started working on their family farm in one of the most closed off Afrikaans communities in South Africa. “I enjoy breaking the norm and I’m definitely doing that by being a farmer here. We were complete outsiders in this community, but there is change we see now and it’s great to be part of this move forward.”

Away from the farm, which Middleton says is more than a job but a way of life, she spends time with her life partner, Tshepiso Pharasi. “I am in a great long distance relationship, so the only time I get off the farm is when my partner is in town. I enjoy singing and used to love going to karaoke nights, but these days I try new things to cook and enjoy spending time with my family.”

Getting out of bed is a daily fight for Middleton. She has to deal with chronic pain, but chooses not to be a victim.

“I choose to show lupus who’s boss and I choose to show my daughter that life is going to throw all kinds of things at you, but you choose how you will come out of it.”

Her health makes it harder to plan for the future, but Middleton hopes to become a successful farmer on her own farm, married and “another baby would be nice”. “I’d like to be known as a public speaker, traveling to a few more countries, but the biggest wish for me in five years’ time is for me to still be alive. To be still be stable and healthy and be able to carry on the legacy my dad has built.”

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