Finding your voice with Crohn’s: How music helps Anna Tope cope

Songwriting has been a coping outlet for 22-year-old Anna Tope, for as long as she can remember. When she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in June 2019, she worried if her aspirations of sharing music with the world would be silenced. COVID-19 hit during her final semester at York College of Pennsylvania. She looked forward to and worked hard for her senior recital all four years. The event was scheduled for March 13th, right when the world started to shut down. IMG_6972

Luckily, the music faculty were able to work things out and held the recital before campus had to be cleared out. Anna gave the best performance she ever had. The whole audience was on their feet, followed by a huge line of people waiting to greet her afterwards. The moment was a dream come true. Check out her recital performance here.

The song inspired by Crohn’s

“My favorite part was being able to end my recital with a song that I wrote about my Crohn’s Disease journey called “Renewed.” This is a song that has moved people to tears, and people have told me how much the song has impacted them, especially during the pandemic,” said Anna.

Anna wrote “Renewed” in January 2020, while sitting at a Barnes & Noble. Click here to listen to the song.

She says quarantine has enabled her to focus more on creating music and writing.

“My songwriting is essentially reflecting through some of the hardest times of my life, such as my illness/diagnosis, but also showing how my hardships have been so eye opening and influential,” says Anna.

Finding joy through the suffering

Anna’s main goal with her music is to bring joy and hope to those suffering from chronic illness. The unpredictability of Crohn’s often leaves Anna feeling worried about whether IBD is going to rob her of her musical dreams, but not only that—like many of us, she worries about her future. Two of her biggest fears are finding love and being able to have kids one day. Ann is incredibly grateful for her amazing support system and how her friends and family have rallied around her since diagnosis.image0 (1)

She wants to use her voice, energy, and the broken parts of her experience to bring comfort to those who feel alone.

“IBD has impacted me in so many ways. It’s turned my life upside down, but at the same time it’s given me even more of a passion to sing and to help others.”

Use quarantine to your advantage

Living with a chronic illness in the middle of the pandemic is complicated and challenging, but Anna hopes others use this time to explore their talents and see beyond their IBD. IMG_6121

“Go write some songs or poetry. If you want to learn an instrument, now is the time! Go write that book you’ve been wanting to start. Do whatever brings you a feeling of accomplishment, joy, and comfort.”

The success of Anna’s senior recital pushed her to continue writing. At a time when many of us feel tapped energy wise—mentally, physically, and emotionally, try and find what motivates you outside of your illness. And like Anna, you’ll see, while IBD may change the course of the path you’re on and re-direct you for a bit, just because you have Crohn’s, doesn’t mean you can’t follow your dreams.

Connect with Anna

Instagram: @myvoice.myjourney

Facebook: Anna Tope Music

Twitter: @annatope_

YouTube: Music and Covers

 

 

IBD mom offers up 5 tips for productively working from home

Twenty years ago, Katy Love, was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. She was a sophomore in college. She could barely make it out of bed some days, due to the enormous amount of pain and overwhelming fatigue. After her diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, she wondered if she’d ever be able to have a “real job” – like many of us in the chronic illness community, she worried about how she would be able to work and manage her illness. Katy didn’t allow her diagnosis to prevent her from following her personal or professional dreams. Now as an IBD mom, running her own PR business from home, in the middle of a pandemic, she has some advice to share about being successful in the face of adversity. Boulder_Headshots_043

After graduating from college, I took a job at an interactive advertising agency. My dream job. Then, reality set in. I needed to ask for accommodations for my Crohn’s disease– I had to ask for a flexible schedule – one where I could work from home when needed.

I was elated when the agency agreed. Since then, I’ve been blessed to work with several teams (for other companies) that understood my illness and trusted me to work remotely when needed. As someone who has worked from home quite often during my career, due to a chronic illness, I’ve learned a few helpful best practices that have helped save me time… and my sanity.

Create a realistic routine and office hours. If you know you can’t start working until 9 a.m., due to family obligations, don’t start your work time until 9 a.m. Then, plan accordingly for your end time each day. Be sure to share your office hours with your family and colleagues. It’s important for everyone to know when you’re working. Also be patient with your new schedule. As with all new things, it will take some time to become a true routine. This is all new territory – working from home is a normal occurrence for me, however, having all my children and my spouse at home, while trying to work from home, is a new challenge.

Get Dressed. Every single day. I know this may sound silly, as you haven’t left the house in weeks. But I find this extremely important. It sets the tone for the day. When you look the part, you’re much more likely to feel the part. Plus, with all the Zoom calls, you want to look like you aren’t wearing yesterday’s PJs for the weekly team meeting.

Establish a defined workspace. You need an area where you know – this is my desk, my work zone. Your family members know that when you are there, you are working. Working from bed sounds delightful…I love my bed. However, it’s easy to be distracted if you’re not in a specific workspace. IMG_0846Also, surround your workspace with all that you may need during the day. Computer, chargers, phone, etc. I like to also put candles or fresh flowers near my workspace – they smell great and elevate my mood. With spring finally here, go outside and pick a few flowers and put them in a mason jar. Anything that makes you smile and motivates you.

Communication is KEY. I learned this early on in my career. Just because you’re not in physical sight of your team, and your employer, you want them to know you’re ON and working. The worst thing you can do is go dark. If they don’t see you, hear from you, it’s easy to assume you aren’t taking working from home seriously. So, over-communicate with your team during this time.

Take breaks throughout the day. When you’re setting up your new routine/office hours, schedule breaks into the day. Personally, I like to work out in the mornings. So, finding 30 minutes to hop on my bike sets my day up for success. In the afternoon, take a walk outside, or bake with your kids. Katy_Vince_Family_138It’s extremely important to incorporate self-care into your routine right now. There’s so much uncertainty and doom/gloom in the news. Make sure you are taking time to appreciate yourself, your team, and your family, while keeping your health as a top a priority.

 

Finding faith through the storm that is IBD

Prior to falling ill two years ago and finally receiving a Crohn’s disease diagnosis in December 2019, 33-year-old Kolby Noble, kolby5 of Maryland, never knew how much her strong faith would help her through the ups and downs of chronic illness. As a wife, mom of three, and an educator, Kolby shares a heartfelt, eye-opening piece that beautifully captures how faith correlates to the daily battles we face as people with IBD. 

Picture it. Jesus had left His disciples in their boat on the sea so that He could spend some time alone. It wasn’t long before a powerful storm developed. Jesus returns to the disciples, walking on the water through the wind and the waves, but they don’t recognize Him and are afraid. Jesus speaks to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”. (Matthew 14:7) kolby

I’ve always been in awe of the ocean. As a child I used to play in the waves of the Atlantic or stare into its horizon and I always felt so small in comparison. I would often wonder how the same God that made the ocean, so vast and wide and deep, would create me, too. How could the same God who told the waves to dance along the shore love and know me so intimately? My life has been much like the ocean. Much of it has been beautiful and calm. But like the disciples and everyone else there have been storms, too. Somehow it’s always through the wind and the waves of those storms that I hear Jesus call to me.

It’s been two years since I first thought something was wrong with my health. For two years the wind and the waves have strengthened until, like the disciples, I found myself in the midst of a powerful storm. kolby4I was as sick as I’d ever been in my life, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting better. In December 2019, I received confirmation that I had Crohn’s Disease.  I was afraid. But through the wind and the waves, I heard Him say “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Back in the boat with Jesus that day was a man named Peter. Peter saw Jesus on the water and when Jesus called to Peter to step out of the boat and come to Him, Peter didn’t hesitate. In the midst of the storm Peter climbed out of the boat and started walking to his Savior. kolby3Soon, though, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and focused instead on the wind and the waves and began to sink. He cried out “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30) and Jesus instantly reached out His hand to catch Peter. When He pulled Peter from the water Jesus simply asked “Why did you doubt?” They returned to the boat and the wind and waves cease.

Much like Peter, I knew Jesus before the storm of Crohn’s Disease developed. I had witnessed His miracles in my life, just as Peter had before the storm arose on the sea that day. When I received my Crohn’s disease  diagnosis, I heard Jesus tell me not to be afraid. As I stepped out to meet Him in the storm for comfort it wasn’t long before I took my eyes off of Him and focused instead on the wind and the waves. It’s easy to focus on feeling sick, being in pain, being too exhausted to get up each day, or not having the energy to take care of your family. I was taking medication multiple times a day just to function, to somehow get through each work each day. kolby2 I found myself focusing on all the tests and doctor’s appointments I had to go to, and the infusions I’ll have to take for the rest of my life to maintain any sense of health I used to know. I focused on the unpredictability that is Crohn’s, and not on the predictable, steadfast love that can only be found in our Savior.

God doesn’t promise those that believe smooth seas or calm waters. He never says that life is going to be easy. He actually tells us just the opposite. Isaiah 43:2 says “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” What a comfort to know that in the midst of our storms we can look out and find a Savior. God knew before I ever took a breath I would have to fight this disease. He knew that it would be hard, and painful, and exhausting. But He loves me, and He is with me, and it’s because of Him that I can face the storm. You can, too.

If you have just been diagnosed with a form of IBD, I encourage you not to focus on the wind or the waves. Focus instead on a Savior who is ready to reach out and catch you when you start to sink. Don’t doubt His love for you. Don’t doubt that He will be with you through the storm. Instead, listen for the voice that says “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”. For mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you. (Psalm 93:4)

 

Thrive with IBD: My latest podcast interview

Her name is Natalie. She was diagnosed with IBD at age 21. She has a blog. It may sound like I’m talking about myself, but I’m talking about a friend I’ve connected with online! Natalie Kelley (@plentyandwellwithnat) and I started following one another on Instagram several months back and came to realize how similar our patient journeys have been. Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 1.36.32 PMShe has ulcerative colitis and I have Crohn’s. She is 24 and I’m 36. But, our lookout on life and our interest in bringing comfort and serving as a positive voice for the community is the same.

Being diagnosed at age 21 is a difficult time in life. You’re at a crossroads from being a kid to a young adult. You’re navigating the next chapter of life and looking to start your career. We relate on how IBD stopped us both in our tracks in that pivotal moment and how far we’ve both come since.

Natalie launched her podcast, Thrive with IBD, in 2017. Her hope is to end the stigma around chronic illness and show that you’re never alone in your struggles or experiences. As a wellness blogger and a holistic health coach, Natalie works tirelessly to educate others about navigating life, love, and everything in between, while living with IBD. Today (December 30th) you can check out her latest episode. She interviewed yours truly. When she asked me to be on her show, I was so honored, as I’ve admired her work from afar for a while.

We talked about what dating, marriage and being a mom is like with IBD. I am the first IBD mom she had on the show! Interestingly, Natalie’s mom was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 16. DSC03601So not only does she have her own personal patient experience, but she’s been a part of a family unit who’s dealt with the ups and downs her whole life. It was emotional for me as an IBD mom, to hear firsthand from a 20-something about what it was like to not only grow up with a mom who has Crohn’s, but later be diagnosed with IBD herself.

Click here to check out the episode.

With nearly 40,000 Instagram followers, Natalie has quite the following. What always amazes me is how present and genuine she is. She responds to comments both publicly and privately, her content is well thought out and impactful.

“Each day I get to wake up and get to use my story to help other women with IBD. I get to connect with chronic illness warriors around the world. I get to use the pain and grief I’ve endured to help heal others’ pain and grief, even if just a little bit.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 1.37.22 PMIf you’re looking to follow someone who is sure to lift your spirits and make you feel empowered, she’s your girl. When I chatted with her on the phone, I told her how much I look up to her for her advocacy work, despite being 12 years older!

As we gear up for 2020, the start of a new decade, and a new year, it’s our hope that you focus on self-love and embrace who you are, despite your IBD. As Natalie says, “There are ebbs and flows in this journey of mine and I’ve learned to take them as they come. I’ve learned to soak up every second of the good moments and give myself grace during the hard ones. I’ve learned to stand up for myself, be my biggest advocate and put myself first.”

Natalie and I both say that if we were given the option to get rid of our IBD diagnosis that we wouldn’t. We both feel we were put on this path for a reason and that our diseases have shaped us into who we are today. I hope that if you’re reading this, and you’re newly diagnosed, knowing that brings you comfort and peace of mind. IBD is not your identity, it’s a part of you, but it’s not all of you. Natalie and I can assure you of that.

 

The steps one IBD mom and teacher takes to stay healthy, while being immune suppressed

Biologic drugs have the ability to give many of us in the IBD community a chance to live a much fuller, and well-rounded life. But there are trade-offs, especially when it comes to our immunity and the ability to fight off infections. As a mom of a 2-year-old and 6-month-old whose been on Humira for more than 11 years, I’m extremely cognizant of protecting my kids from sickness to not only protect them, but myself. I often feel as though people may think I’m over the top with worrying about illness in my household, but quite honestly, unless you or someone you love is immune compromised, it can be a difficult concept to grasp.

This week–a special feature from a Maryland elementary school teacher with indeterminate colitis. Meet Lisa Lacritz. lisaShe’s a 38-year-old wife and mom who juggles two autoimmune diseases. She also has Hashimoto’s disease. Since she started on Remicade in 2018 following her IBD diagnosis, she’s experienced the difficulty of  warding off illness while being an elementary school teacher and a mom to a young child.

“Shoes off, hands washed!”  My son knows the routine by heart. Every time we come into the house, shoes come off and hands get washed. I like to think that all of my years spent worrying about germs when I didn’t need to be, were fantastic training for when I actually needed to be concerned.

When I was diagnosed with IBD, I was hesitant to get on a biologic because of my fear of being immunosuppressed. I’m an elementary school teacher and when I started on Remicade infusions, my son was only six. I basically spend my day in a Petri dish. fullsizeoutput_269aDealing with the symptoms of IBD was more than enough–how on Earth would I be able to handle that plus avoid picking up viruses at school and in public?

Taking steps to be proactive 

After I got sick on the second day of school last fall, I decided that washing my hands frequently wasn’t going to cut it. I have always been a frequent hand washer, especially at school, but I needed more protection. At first, I was nervous about how others would perceive me. There were a lot of confused looks by coworkers and students when I would politely decline to use someone else’s pen. I started carrying a pen with me everywhere to ensure I wouldn’t have to use a communal pen. Now people know that I always have “my” pen with me and that I don’t share it with others.

Another thing I’m very careful about is touching door handles and knobs, especially the door to the main office. The main office is where you can find the school’s health room, where every sick kid passes through. I either wait for someone else to come and open the door, or I use a barrier such as a paper towel to open it and then wash my hands right away.

I never touch my face and I keep my phone in a plastic bag (quart size bags work great!) so that I keep school germs at school. Kids are definitely puzzled by that last one, but I explain that I need to keep germs away as much as possible, and if I need to touch my phone then my phone gets the germs on it so I protect it with a plastic bag.

Worrying less what others thought and making my needs a priority

fullsizeoutput_3800I really needed to stop caring about what others think and prioritize my health. One of the most surprising things to me was that people really don’t understand what immunosuppression means. Some people think I’m just a paranoid germaphobe even after I’ve explained that I’m immunosuppressed. They don’t understand that a simple cold for them, can mean days of sick leave for me due to a secondary infection. Or a fun day swimming in the bay can mean a bacterial infection for me that lasts for weeks and causes symptoms similar to a bad flare.

Yes, it is mentally exhausting to worry about immunosuppression on top of all the other things chronic illness brings. Plus being a teacher. Plus being a mom.

As much as I hate getting sick, the worst part for me is missing out on doing fun things with my son. IMG_0580Somehow my body knows when we have something fun planned and chooses those times to conk out on me. When I’m lying on the couch at home feeling sorry for myself while my husband and son are at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party or Memorial Day BBQ (both events I missed this year), I try to remind myself that Remicade is what allows me to lead a relatively normal life and be able to do things like go sledding with my son on a snow day and take him Trick or Treating. I couldn’t do those things when I was in a bad flare before treatment and definitely can appreciate them more now. I just make sure shoes come off and hands are washed right when we get home.

 

Why you shouldn’t put ‘self-heal’ and Crohn’s in the same sentence

This article was written earlier this month, while getting my hair done. 

I hear her cry. I glance at the clock that reads 4:55 a.m. I clutch my abdomen. The pain I went to bed with hours earlier is amplified. IMG_4409It feels like a fiery pain inside my rib cage that travels all the way down my stomach. The gnawing makes me feel raw internally and externally. I put my glasses on and as I’m standing up and rocking my daughter in her nursery, I try to think of her warm little body as a heating pad.

I wrestle with my thoughts about how to handle my pain. Last time I took pain medication I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter for 20 hours. I decide to take one 600 mg ibuprofen left over from my C-section recovery, with the understanding that as someone with IBD I shouldn’t be taking that. But I’m desperate. Desperate to get a reprieve from the pain and the inner monologue racing in my head as I lay back down. While at the same time, trying to keep my painful moans quiet so I don’t wake my husband.

I wake up and the pain is still there, but I have no choice but to take on the day. Thanks to my mom being in town, I’m able to head to the hair salon for a much needed hair cut and color. The stylist asks me questions and my Crohn’s comes up fairly quickly in the conversation. Her response—“one of my best friends has Crohn’s and she’s completely self-healed herself by eating very strictly”. She goes on to say her godmother has Crohn’s, too—and constantly posts pics on social media eating and drinking, so it’s no wonder she struggles, acting almost disgusted by her godmother’s lifestyle and patient journey.

I bite my tongue. The pain from the night before and the worries weighing heavily on my mind and heart are still fresh. Self-healing and Crohn’s, if only it were that easy, that simplistic. But I don’t have the energy to get into that discussion. IMG-3099The fact that so many people without IBD are under the assumption that our pain and symptoms are self- imposed upsets me. We already beat ourselves up mentally as it is. My husband and I took our son for ice cream last night, so immediately I wonder if all of my pain is a result of the choice to have ice cream with my 2-year-old.

As a mom who’s battled Crohn’s for nearly 14 years, the background noise and ignorant comments about IBD tend to bounce off me. I have thick skin, now. But, it’s worrisome at the same time. What if the girl getting her hair done wasn’t me? What if she was newly diagnosed and struggling? What if she chose to go off all medications and “self-heal” because someone cutting her hair told her it was possible? This is what we’re up against as patients. Everyone tries to relate and thinks they are offering “words of wisdom” or assurance, when really they’re just contributing to the hurt and feelings of being less than. IMG-4410

Luckily, I’m not that girl. But—if you’re reading this, know that your patient journey is unique to you. What works for one person, will not necessarily work for you. Needing medication to manage symptoms and keep your disease from progressing is not a sign of laziness or weakness. You need to take the steps necessary to improve your quality of life and overall health. Living with IBD is not black and white. There is so much gray area. Trust in your physician. Trust in the support available both online and in your community from fellow patients. Be patient in discovering what works for you, be flexible, and do what you need to do to self-heal.

10 Tips for Ensuring Your Significant Other Can Handle Your IBD For the Long Haul

This article is sponsored by Healthline. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

Dating is complicated. Dating can be stressful. Dating can force you to get out of your comfort zone.

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One of my first photos with my husband, Bobby.

When you live with a chronic illness, dating can be downright daunting. When should you bring up your IBD with a significant other? How can you navigate the ups and downs that come along with your illness? How can you reach a sense of comfort when you need to run to the bathroom or cancel plans?

There’s not only one correct answer to any of those questions. But, as a woman who was diagnosed at age 21, who is now 35 and married with kids, I’m happy to share what worked for me. I recently led a Live Chat on Healthline’s IBD app about this topic. The main areas of concern revolved around significant others failing to grasp the severity of the disease. It’s difficult to fault what can sound like shortcomings, but being a caretaker isn’t easy. Not everyone is cut out for it.

FullSizeRender (37)

Celebratory post- colonoscopy cheesecake!

And that is ok.

Here are my top 10 tips for educating significant others—whether it’s dating or marriage about what your experience as a patient is like.

  1. Bring your loved one along to doctor appointments.

Oftentimes, people have no clue how severe and debilitating IBD is. Let your partner hear it from the horse’s mouth (i.e. the doctor). By sitting in on appointments, not only is it a source of support for you, but a chance for them to ask questions, listen to the discussion, and hear about all that goes into managing your chronic illness.

  1. Have a social worker or counselor speak with you both so that you’re on the same page.

Oftentimes a loved one isn’t acting maliciously; they just don’t know how to cope with what life with IBD entails. Talking with a professional gives you a safe space and an even playing field to ‘air your dirty laundry’ and gather advice about actionable ways you can improve your relationship.

  1. Communicate when you’re in pain—don’t sugarcoat or downplay your symptoms.
    If you’re hurting, say it. IMG_7446If you’re struggling, tell them. The more you keep your mask on and your wall up, the more your partner will think you have everything under control and that your IBD isn’t much of a “big deal” in your life.
  2. If your feelings are hurt—articulate why. Resentment leads to stress and can activate symptoms. Be brutally honest and open. You can’t expect your lover to be a mind reader. By bottling up your frustration you may take out your anger in a big way, when an issue could be solved and nipped in the bud before it becomes bigger than it needs to be.
  1. Connect with fellow IBD patients on Healthline’s IBD app.

Whether it’s a live chat, reading articles, or matching up with fellow patients, Healthline’s new IBD app is a space where we all get you. We’ve all been there. We’re all standing ready. Ready to lift you up. Ready to answer your questions. Ready to listen to you vent and share advice. Advice that can make a major impact in your most personal and important relationships. Because at the end of the day, you want someone who loves you for all of you, and that includes your IBD.

  1. Share blog articles and social media posts from fellow IBD advocates that may be able to articulate what you’re going through.

Sometimes as patients, we’re going through so much but it can be difficult to put into words. While each person’s disease presents uniquely, chances are we’ve gone through similar experiences. If you read an article that resonates or see a post on social media that hits close to home for you—share it. This is an easy way to casually show the person you love that this is what you’re going through. A simple email with a link to an article—works wonders.

  1. If you want your person by your side at procedures and during hospitalizations, say it.

During the live chat, there was some discussion about fiancés and husbands not going to procedures or being by the bedside during the hospitalization. That a put a lot in perspective for me, as my husband has never left my side when I’ve been hospitalized (not even for an hour) and has gone to every colonoscopy.

Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.com

Photo cred: J. Elizabeth Photography

I’ve never had to ask. Bobby just does that because he wants to. If you want your significant other there, tell them. The disease is isolating enough, the last thing you need is to be lying alone in the middle of the night with your racing thoughts and the beeping machines.

  1. Be with someone who you can be vulnerable with.

IBD isn’t pretty. There are days where we’re cooped up in the bathroom. There are times we’re in the fetal position for hours. If you feel at ease at your worst with your person, that’s a good sign. Recognize how you feel when you’re at your lowest point and at your best. Pay attention to how they respond when the going gets tough.

  1. When the red flags are waving feverishly in front of your face, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Listen to your gut. You know deep down if you constantly feel like a second thought or if your partner repeatedly lets you down. If they make you feel guilty, less than, or put off by your patient experience, time to say buh-bye. Trust me, you will count your blessings in the future.

  1. Take them along to local Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation events. IMG_8059

By attending local events you’ll be able to connect face-to-face with fellow couples and families living your same reality. You’ll discover how much you have in common right away. This also enables your partner to have someone who “gets” what it’s like to be a caretaker. Set up a double date or a time to hang out outside of public events.

How it feels to be hospitalized as a mom with Crohn’s

It’s my greatest fear, having to be hospitalized with a Crohn’s flare as a mom of two little ones. It’s something I think about all too often. The thought alone scares me. It’s difficult to imagine the reality of the experience. Since becoming a mom, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay out of the hospital. Unfortunately, for a friend of mine in the IBD community—she’s had to face this reality all too often.

Her son, Beckham is two months older than Reid. Our little guys could pass for brothers. This week—a guest post from Brooke Retherford, a fellow IBD mama from Wisconsin. She shares the raw emotions she’s experienced since her diagnosis at age 13.

IMG_2014I’ve had my fair share of surprises and obstacles with Crohn’s disease. My patient journey includes numerous surgeries, multiple doctor appointments a week, sitting in hospitals getting Remicade infusions, switching up medications to tame a flare and my all-time favorite, hospitalizations for days at a time. Please note the sarcasm in that last sentence.

These instances are not by any means convenient or something I or anyone else with Crohn’s looks forward to. Hospitalizations are such an emotional time for someone fighting this disease. The uncertainty, the physical pain, being absent from work and home and causing those around you the inconvenience of throwing off schedules for a week at a time. But, the absolute worst part is adding an infant to the mix.

When my son was just 4 weeks old my Crohn’s reared its ugly head and sent me and my disease packing to the hospital for a week. IMG_2015When the pain presented, I tried everything I could to avoid the trip. I just wanted to stay home and live my life with a newborn, enjoy the snuggles and oddly enough the 3 am feedings. Then, the time came when I couldn’t even get through a feeding without needing to set him down so I could run to the bathroom. I knew it was time.

It was no walk in the park having to be away from a little one. I cried. I was upset and mad at my situation. I felt like a terrible mom for letting the disease consume my life and take me away from my child. Luckily, I have a great support system that understands the emotions behind a hospitalization. My husband always brings our son Beckham to the hospital. I get to FaceTime my family to say goodnight and get pictures of my son throughout the day. Family (1)

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last stint in the hospital for Crohn’s. Now that our son is two, I have officially lost count of my time spent away from him. Hospitalizations never get easier. Especially now when he knows I am physically absent from his life and he asks, ‘where did Mommy go?’ It’s heartbreaking and frustrating.

There are always tears involved, mostly mine, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a better mom for realizing that I need to make myself healthy and not let this disease define what type of parent I am.

A letter to my 21-year-old, newly diagnosed self: From 13 years in the future

This past week I turned 35. Birthdays for me are always a time of reflection on what was and excitement for what the future holds. Each year is so transformative, especially when it comes to how you handle and deal with chronic illness. natalie35bdayWhen I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 21, a month before my 22nd birthday—life had so many unknowns. I bottled up a lot of fears about how my life story would unfold and if I would be able to accomplish the hopes and dreams I had thought were a given.

This week, a letter to my 21-year-old, newly diagnosed self—from my current 35-year-old self. With time and experience, comes perspective. Perspective that I wish I had back when my world came crashing down upon me after learning I would forever have a disease for which there is no cure.

For those embarking on this journey—whether you’re the patient or the parent—you may feel like you are drowning in worry of what is to come with your lives. I hope my words will bring you comfort and the knowingness that you have a lot of life to live, and you will do just that.

Dear Natalie (age 21),

I can still see you looking at yourself in the mirror—feeling like a skeleton of who you used to be. Cheeks sunken in, eyes tired, arms covered with bright purple bruises from all the IV sticks, pokes and prods. You’re sitting up in bed, popping big bubbles with your chewing gum, trying to deal with the insomnia and ravenous appetite that comes along with taking 60 mg of prednisone. You’re thinking about how easy and simplistic life was a matter of weeks ago, graduating from college—hoping to land your first television gig as a news reporter.

Everything feels like it’s in shambles. You are perplexed about why you were dealt this hand of cards and why the rug was completely pulled out from under you, when just a matter of months ago you had the world by the tail.

Here’s what I want you to know. Nothing comes before your health. No job, no relationship, no friendship. There are going to be difficult times ahead as you figure out which people in your life genuinely want to be by your side, and which are only around for the fun, healthy times. feb13blogmainphotoIt’s a path that will bring you heartache. Significant others will let you down—you’ll be disheartened when they fail to show up when you need them most…but, then it will happen. You will meet the person who was meant to fight this fight beside you. You’ll know. You’ll see how that person loves you unconditionally and even more so, because of your illness. They will see you as so much more—see yourself the way they see you. Not some sick person. A person who has a sickness that is part of them, but far from all of them.

Professionally—you may need to take a different path that better suits your needs. natalienews2Don’t allow this illness to make you think you aren’t capable—because you are. You will surprise yourself, if you continue to be positive and find alternative ways to make your dreams become your reality. I know you’re sitting there with your huge spreadsheet of 200 U.S. cities, wondering which TV station you’ll be able to work at…and if your journalism career will ever happen. Looking back—I’m so proud of you for continuing that job search amidst your very first flare. Looking for jobs across the country, as you swallowed 22 pills a day, grappled with a chronic illness diagnosis and dealt with all the side effects and pain that is Crohn’s. Work ethic and attitude will take you far with this disease. IMG_4248You will shine under those bright studio lights.

Stop with the timelines and deadlines in your mind. You don’t need to be married and have kids by age 30. I know you think you want that, but trust in God’s plan for you and know that your future will fall into place the way it is meant to. Don’t rush yourself. Don’t feel less than just because all your friends seem to be checking off those boxes. Your time will come.

When you attend doctor appointments and when you are hospitalized be vocal. Be your own best advocate. Don’t be intimidated by the people in white coats. You know your body better than anybody else. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to lash out. Have patience with yourself as you navigate your new normal and trust that the temporary hardships and hurt are just that, scary. The first of anything can be scary. FullSizeRenderThat first CT scan, that first colonoscopy, that first surgery, that first injection…it’s a lot to deal with. You’ll shake like a leaf and then as time goes on—you won’t bat an eye. You will find a strength within yourself that you never knew was there. You’ll be a seasoned warrior in no time.

What seems so foreign to you now, will soon be something you understand and can decipher immediately. Those symptoms—the pain, it’s all new now. In the future, you’ll have a good idea of what’s happening. What triggered it. How to help yourself. You won’t be as alarmed. You’ll know exactly what you need to do and when a hospital visit is a must.

I want you to know that everything is going to be alright. It’s going to be more than alright. You will thrive. You’ll beat the odds. You’ll land multiple TV gigs. You’ll fall in love. You’ll meet the one. You’ll be a mommy. IMG_6401You’ll do all these things. All with your sidekick—your enemy, but also your ally, Crohn’s. The one thing that really sets you apart. In the future you won’t keep your disease a secret, rather it will come up in conversations almost immediately, with a sense of confidence. A badge of honor. Yes, I have Crohn’s. Yes, it’s not ideal. But, yes…it’s made me sort of a bad ass. I’ve been through a lot. I haven’t backed down. And there’s so much life left to live.

You are not broken. You are not less than. This disease will take you on a journey you never imagined. Hold on tight, hang in there through all the scares and celebrate all the wonderful feel good days when your quality of life feels untouchable. And smile. Smile on the good days, smile through the bad days. Trust me. You got this. _F6B6137

Love yourself—everything that makes you, you—

Natalie, age 35