Different strokes for different folks: Art Therapy and IBD

Coloring books aren’t just for kids, they can be a helpful calming tool for those who battle chronic illness. The simple act of coloring intricate shapes and patterns allows us to enter a meditative mental space. IMG_1060Once you enter this state of calm amongst the stress surrounding your life, you can take in the positive messages of a coloring book.

I recently connected with an artist named Alia who created a coloring book specifically geared toward those who battle inflammatory bowel disease. It’s called “Crohn’s and Colitis: Color to Cope.” After watching her sister battle Crohn’s disease for more than 20 years, she was inspired to use her talents to make a difference.

Alia says, “Seeing how much my sister suffered, physically and emotionally with Crohn’s inspired me to create a coloring book. The psychological aspect of coming to terms with IBD is very underestimated, especially for young women. I wanted to create something to make her feel better. I noticed there was a limited number of informational books available. Adult coloring is a proven stress reliever and engages the limbic (emotional) brain. It helps you enter a ‘flow’ like state. I thought pairing inspiring/supportive quotes with images would help anyone suffering with IBD process what they are feeling.”IMG_1058

See the support in the palm of your hands

The coloring book is a visual representation of support that many of us in the IBD community yearn for. It validates and honors our experiences—no matter what age you are. Flipping through the pages, you’ll see quotes and images for times of stress, sadness and laughter. The coloring book provides an accessible way to release stress and get motivated to take on the day.

Since the coloring book launched, Alia has received amazing feedback from the IBD community. Here’s an example shared on Instagram:

“Thank you for creating this coloring book. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 17 and am now 33. After four surgeries and two ostomies, as well as a lifetime of stories that no one would truly understand unless you were in my shoes, I think this book is very therapeutic and I appreciate your empathy and support.  Thinking of you & your sister.  Much love.”

The inspiration behind the art

IMG_9039As someone with a creative mind whose passion lies in art, Alia did research within the IBD community to see what types of images might resonate, along with key messages and emotions. Safe to say, the girl did her homework!

Alia went on to explain that coloring calms the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight response. This part of the brain is often on high alert during periods of stress or illness. When we’re fatigued, and our energy is low, coloring isn’t taxing, it can take us back to our childhood. A time of life that was most likely more carefree. Whether you’re at home or in a hospital bed, the coloring book can serve as a helpful tool in your day-to-day management of your illness.

How to get your hands on a copy

The coloring book is available on Amazon in the United States, the UK and Europe. Click here to purchase “Crohn’s and Colitis: Color to Cope.” The coloring book is published under Alia’s author name: “MeMoments Creative”.

Follow Alia on Instagram: @crohns.colitis.color2cope

Along with IBD, Alia has also created coloring books geared towards infertility. Her most recent book targets mental health—depression and anxiety. She plans to create more coloring books in the future that can serve as a support tool for other patient communities as well.

 

 

 

The difference between sympathy and empathy with chronic illness

Sympathy and empathy. Two different words with very different meanings. Especially to those of us in the chronic illness community. The first nine years I battled Crohn’s disease, I kept my diagnosis as private as possible. Only close friends, family and co-workers knew what I was going through behind closed doors. I did this because I didn’t want sympathy.

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Back on the news desk following a bowel obstruction hospitalization, would you ever guess this was my first show back?

I didn’t want people to look at me differently. I didn’t want to be judged or looked down upon. I didn’t want to be viewed as “less than” by my peers. When you choose to suffer in silence you close yourself off to support, you close yourself off to empathy.

Since sharing my patient journey in November 2014 with the public, I’ve realized the power of empathy. How it feels when those close to you and complete strangers reach out to offer support, words of advice and choose to show compassion. By definition, empathy means, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The definition of sympathy is “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone’s misfortune.”

When we choose to share our story, we open ourselves up to not only support, but criticism. People who believe we are advocates as a way of seeking attention. People who try and dumb down our personal experiences because they feel we share to get pity. People who believe we want others to feel sorry for us. This could not be further from the truth.

I share my experiences with Crohn’s disease as a way to inspire and educate.

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I’ll always remember how my cousins and brother rallied around me at the Take Steps Walk in Chicago.

The last thing I want is for someone else to feel sorry for me. There is no reason to act like I have it worse than you or that you feel bad I’m not “healthy.” I am healthy, I just have a chronic disease that makes my life a little more challenging than yours. The challenges Crohn’s has brought into my life have been difficult, emotional and trying—but with each setback, comes a much stronger comeback. I am stronger and better for the trials I have been faced with.

I don’t want your sympathy. I want your empathy. I want you to reach out and see how I’m doing, because you genuinely care. I want you to show interest when I bring up my disease, rather than change the subject…or walk away. The lack of empathy and disinterest hurts more than anything. It shows you who’s a surface friend…and who is a real one.

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I was hospitalized six months into my relationship with my husband. His support was amazing from the start.

Think about how you’d like to be treated and talked to, if you dealt with an invisible, chronic illness that wreaked havoc on your body without warning. A disease that you do all you can to control with lifestyle and medication. A disease of constant unknowns.

When you conversate with those in the chronic illness community—think before you speak and please choose to be empathetic, rather than sympathetic. Your efforts may seem minimal to you, but they mean more than you know.

Taking on fatigue as a mom with Crohn’s disease

I hear my baby saying “mama” gleefully from the playpen. Anxious for attention and snuggles. I hear this as I’m sitting on the toilet with the door open, paying the price for the cup of coffee I just consumed. It’s one of those days as a mom with inflammatory bowel disease. The all-encompassing fatigue is taking hold. I knew this the minute my eyes opened, and I heard Reid in his crib, despite a restful eight hours of sleep. If you don’t have IBD you may wonder what I’m talking about.

Let me try my bIMG_6729est to paint a picture for you. My legs feel like complete jelly. My brain feels in a fog. I feel so lethargic; the thought of showering seems overwhelming. I’m not in pain. My stomach feels fine. But, there’s something “off” and you feel it with every part of your being.

As my husband helps me unload the dishwasher, I tell him, “I’m so fatigued”…he laughs a little and says, “well, you’re 34…you are getting old.” I explain to him it’s my Crohn’s. Sure, I may be in “deep remission”, I haven’t been hospitalized with a flare since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015 (*knocks on all the wood), but that doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t impact my daily life. My husband is amazing and never says anything malicious, but unless you live it, you simply can’t comprehend it.

I’m going to be vulnerable here. Please no judgement. The clothes I washed more than five days ago, are still in the dryer. Each day I told myself I needed to walk down 13 stairs and bring them up, but it felt like too much. This morning as my husband got ready for work, needing his jeans…I remembered…they were still in the dryer. I felt like a failure. As I rocked my son in his nursery today, it took too much out of my legs to be in motion. All I was doing was sitting, his little body on my chest. But the rocking felt like too much. As I laid him down for a nap, I went back and forth in my mind about whether I could muster up the energy to shower. I chose to. Mid-shower, I had a brainstorm to sit down on the seat and take some deep breaths while the warm water hit my body. When I stood up, I honestly couldn’t remember if I had put shampoo in my hair yet or if I had washed my face. Literally no clue. These are just a few examples. But this is the reality of being a mom with IBD.

I started beating myself up over the fact that the past two days I may have overdone it. IMG_6646Living in the Midwest, I didn’t want two winter days with temps in the 80s to pass without enjoying them. I knew the fresh air and exercise would be a welcome excursion for my little man and me. Did those two walks with the stroller push me to my limits? What is too much? What is not enough? At 34, you feel lazy when you can’t keep up or have to admit you’re just too tired. You look perfectly fine on the outside, you feel like those around you wonder if you try and take advantage of your disease.

Here’s my advice for anyone with chronic illness, specifically IBD, especially the parents out there. remedy-nsmith-stlouis-1204

  1. Try not to beat yourself up over it. This too shall pass. You won’t feel this fatigue every day. As a matter of fact, days ago I had the music playing and I was dancing around with my son as I cleaned the house. I felt SO happy and so energetic. Focus on those times to get you through.
  2. Self-care, self-care, self-care. Whether it’s going to get a massage, exercising, sitting on the couch and enjoying some tea or going to Target to shop by yourself. Do what makes you feel at ease. Do something for yourself every day.
  3. Vocalize your exhaustion. If you don’t communicate your struggles, you won’t receive the comfort and help that you need. You are not admitting failure. You’re not waving a white flag and giving into your disease. Rather, you’re being strong enough to realize, in this moment, on this day, you need a little boost from those around you to get by.
  4. Ask for help. Boy do I struggle with this. But, it’s imperative. Especially for first-time moms. Being a parent is hard work. Being a parent with chronic illness is on a whole different level. Hold your tribe close and call on them when you need them. You won’t regret it.
  5. Rest. It’s ok to lay on the couch if you aren’t feeling up to doing chores. It’s ok to say no to a night out with friends. Give your body what it needs. Listen to it. This fatigue is real and by not listening, you’re only feeding into the problem more. You’ll thank yourself later.

I recently came across a statistic this week on Twitter from the Congress of ECCO (European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization) IMG_6342that stated, “Fatigue in IBD is experienced by up to 86 percent of patients with active disease and 41 percent in remission.” It’s crazy how common this is! For people with IBD, fatigue can be physical, mental or a combination of both.

Fatigue has a significant impact on the quality of life and needs to be talked about. If you’re like me and feeling fatigued, I hope you feel empowered to share and do what you can to combat it. Just know you are not weak, you are not lazy, fatigue impacts everyone on this journey differently. And most importantly, you are not alone.