“Byrd’s” of a feather fly together: Advice from a fellow IBD advocate

Feelings of isolation, fear and embarrassment. Chances are, if you battle inflammatory bowel disease you’ve experienced all of these feelings upon your diagnosis. That was the case for Byrd Vihlen, a 31-year-old from Georgia, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 26. IMG_8145Fast forward three years and her diagnosis changed to Crohn’s Colitis.

Byrd recently won the first-ever Lights, Camera, Crohn’s Instagram giveaway. The connections we make along our patient journey empower us to be stronger and face our illness head on. Check out this interview that sheds light onto Byrd’s brave battle against IBD.

NH: What symptoms did you have that led you to know something was wrong?

BV: “For about a year, I was having digestive problems (seeing occasional blood in my stool, chronic constipation, and bloating). I thought it might have been a milk/diet sensitivity, so I scheduled an appointment with a GI, and he immediately advised me to get a colonoscopy. I was really scared and didn’t have enough information, so I cancelled a few days before the scheduled procedure. It wasn’t until almost a year later (after a few weeks of antibiotics for sinus problems) that I realized something was horribly wrong. I started to bleed a lot, was in severe pain unlike anything I had experienced before, and had extreme urgency.”

NH: How has your disease changed your perspective on life?                                       

BV: “Before I got diagnosed, I would easily get caught up in the plans for what I thought my future would and should look like. Being chronically ill makes you slow down, loosen the control of your life that you thought you had in the first place, and focus more on what’s going on today–because most of the time, you’re fighting just to get through the day. It makes you aware of the little things that you may have been too busy to see before, like people trying to hide their suffering and struggles. byrdI’m thankful IBD has opened my eyes and given me the gift of true empathy. That empathy has led me to crave a deeper understanding and genuine connection with friends and loved ones. It has also shown me the true strength in others, and I am constantly humbled by the selflessness of my sweet husband and forever soulmate.”

NH: What advice do you have for those who are newly diagnosed with IBD?

BV: “Finding the right team of doctors, get referrals and read online reviews. When you do find a doctor you trust, you still need to be your own biggest advocate and use your voice. Don’t be scared of asking questions and calling them too much–only you know when something isn’t right with your body. Connect with more seasoned patients and ask for advice, there’s a lot of overwhelming information on the internet, so it’s nice to receive firsthand experience from people you know. IMG_5428Your new “normal” is going to look a little or a lot different; it will take some time to adjust to that. Try not to compare your new energy level to your old, your body is fighting a hard battle and you’re doing the best you can. If your energy/activity level is more limited, plan accordingly. Choose wisely who you want to spend your time with and what you want to do – soak in and cherish these times.”

NH: What inspired you to share your patient journey with IBD on social media?

BV: “After diagnosis I was feeling isolated, scared, and embarrassed–like I was alone in the pain. I wanted to tell others about this huge life-changing battle I was beginning to fight, but realized that most people are uncomfortable talking about chronic illness in person. I had a desire to be seen, understood, and wanted to connect with others going through a similar journey. I then discovered the incredible Instagram community waiting for me and loved that as an artist I could creatively tell my story in a visual way.”

NH: How does support from others in the IBD community on social media help you push through the difficult days?

BV: “Connecting to others who are fighting gives me strength in knowing that I’m not alone. People sharing their vulnerability is beautiful and it warms my heart. IMG_5326Whenever I am having a really difficult day and see a fellow warrior saying they can relate, offering words of kindness, or that they are having a hard day as well, you can feel that genuine connection and know that they truly mean it.”

You can connect with Byrd on Instagram and follow her patient journey by following her here: @byrdvihlen. Stay tuned to my Instagram page (@natalieannhayden) for future Light’s, Camera, Crohn’s giveaways!

 

 

First EVER Lights, Camera, Crohn’s Instagram giveaway

Hey guys! Big news to share. I just launched the first Lights, Camera, Crohn’s giveaway on Instagram. As someone who’s battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 13 years, I’m well-aware of how far a simple act of kindness can go, whether it’s from a friend or a stranger. That’s why—I’ve teamed up with other positive forces for this special giveaway. Here are the prizes:

instagramgive2A cozy, lightweight hoodie from @thegreatbm that reads “IBD Can’t Stop Me” on the front and “Ask me about my resilience and determination—where I find my strength—what motivates me to keep going and reminds me I can handle this pain—why I refuse to quit and what I’m doing to overcome my IBD” on the back. I own this hoodie, it’s comfy and so empowering.

-Pretty earrings that go with any outfit from @rockswithsass. instagramgive3The store owner battles Crohn’s disease herself and donates a portion of all proceeds to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation!

-Stoke quotes from a childhood friend who’s dedicated her life to motivating others through messages of positivity. @marliwilliams instagramgive4has donated 100 uniquely designed quotes geared towards helping you find and live your purpose everyday.

 

 

 

Here’s how you enter the contest on Instagram:

  1. Like the post on my Instagram (natalieannhayden).
  2. Make sure you’re following me @natalieannhayden, as well as the following pages:

@thegreatbm

@rockswithsass

@marliwilliams

  1. Tag your besties or some fellow IBD’ers in separate comments. Each person you tag counts as an additional entry. Good luck!

instagramgiveThe giveaway ends Saturday, April 21st at 11:59 PM MST. Winner will be announced on Instagram Sunday, April 22.

This is my way of saying “thank you” for all your love and support through the years. Simple acts of kindness (especially on days when we aren’t feeling our best)…can make all the difference. If you’re interested in donating to a future Instagram giveaway, shoot me an email: natalieannhayden@gmail.com. I’d love to collaborate with you to make someone’s day!