Three years of Lights, Camera, Crohn’s: 10 Tips for Becoming an IBD Blogger

Tomorrow (July 23, 2019) marks three years since Lights, Camera, Crohn’s became a reality. Three years since I closed my eyes and took a major plunge, wondering if my words and effort would make a difference. Three years since I decided it was time to stop living my IBD life in the shadows, and instead bring my personal struggles and triumphs to the forefront. A31AD785-CDF7-43D5-BA1D-BFDDC69B493EI chose to blog and become a patient advocate for several reasons. I was tired of feeling isolated. I wanted to be a voice for the newly diagnosed, as well as the veteran patient. And, as a journalist, I’ve always had a love for the written word. For me—expressing myself through writing comes a lot easier than saying the words out loud.

July 23rd is a big day on the calendar each year for me—it’s the anniversary of my Crohn’s diagnosis (14 this year!), my dog Hamilton’s birthday (He’s turning 11) and it’s the day I met my husband online (6 years ago!). If that’s not a sign that things happen in threes, I don’t know what is! Knowing this, I had to launch my blog on this day. Rather than focus on how many years I’ve been riddled with a chronic illness, it’s a way to celebrate how far I’ve come on my patient journey.

I’m going to do a little humble brag right now. Since launching my blog in 2016, I have never missed a week of posting fresh content. Through two pregnancies and being a stay at home, IBD mama with a now 2-year-old and six-month-old, I found a way to stay true to my own personal deadlines, because this blog, and this community and IBD family are so important to me. 41113C90-2C99-4252-B69B-212DB2295A33In that time, I’ve shared 171 new articles (because some weeks I post on Mondays AND Wednesdays). Over the last three years, more than 105,000 people from around the world have checked out Lights, Camera, Crohn’s. Could the articles be organized better? Yes. Could the design be snazzier? Yes. But, my focus as an IBD blogger and advocate is to give you the nitty gritty. I’d rather spend my time and energy on content vs. design.

One of the most common questions I receive is, “How do you become a patient advocate?” or “How do you become a blogger?” It obviously takes time, passion, and commitment.

Here are my top 10 pieces of advice for you, that I wish I would have known before blogging.

  1. Write for the reader and for yourself. As patient advocates and bloggers, it’s generally our own personal experiences that shape the content we share. That experience and viewpoint is invaluable, but remember—the reader isn’t here to check out your diary. They are here to learn ways to improve their patient journey, to educate themselves. When you write, write to the people reading. Don’t bore them with every.single.detail. of your doctor appointment. Use that experience as the foundation and springboard into a larger discussion that is easy for others to relate to. Think “news people can use”…otherwise, why read your stuff?
  1. Be bold. Be vulnerable. It can be very stressful and overwhelming to put your whole health story out there to the public. If you’re like me, I kept my disease to myself and close family and friends for a decade. Going from that—to sharing my story with thousands, is polar opposite. But, I can tell you, once you open up, you won’t regret it. The moment you break down your own barriers and show your true stripes, you open yourself up to endless support and quickly come to realize how many others understand your reality.
  1. It’s not a competition of the sick. Just because you haven’t started a biologic, just because you haven’t had surgery, just because you don’t have a bag, doesn’t mean your patient journey is any less significant or important. IBD impacts each and every one of us differently, but there are so many parallels along the way. Trust that what you are going through physically, mentally, and emotionally is something many people can relate to. I haven’t been hospitalized for my Crohn’s since August 2015 (before my blog went live!), but in my 14 years living with the disease I’ve experienced so many highs and so many lows, so many flare ups and so many feel good days. It all matters. And it’s all a part of it. People don’t just want to see you in the hospital or struggling, they want to see other aspects of your life, too.
  1. Be patient with yourself through the process. Writing about life with IBD can be emotional. It can be draining to bring up old memories that were the most difficult days of your life. It can also be cathartic. Write stream of consciousness-style. Rather than thinking about each word and constantly hitting the delete button, just let it flow. Edit yourself later, not in the moment.
  1. Have a thick skin. Being a patient advocate and a blogger isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. You are going to receive both public and private messages from naysayers. People may question why you aren’t “healing yourself with food” or “why you need a biologic”. The only person you need to answer to is the person looking back in the mirror, along with your physicians. No matter how much you share online, no one has the FULL story of your own personal experience. Let the judgers, judge…and keep on trucking. Keyboard warriors have a way with words, don’t allow others to bring you down or stress you out. That’s the last thing we need living with IBD. I’ve come across a few instances on Twitter, where banter got pretty heated. When my heart started racing and my stomach started hurting, I knew it was time to block them and move on. Don’t be afraid to block when needed.
  1. Remember you are a patient, not a medical professional (unless you are both!) It gets dangerous when patient advocates spout off medical advice to those desperately looking for answers. When people come to you for support or with questions about how to handle their care—always advise them to talk with their care team, and remind them you are not a doctor, but this is what has worked for you. Yada Yada Yada.
  1. Lean on others in the IBD family for guest posts/sharing your content on social media. Advocacy is not a competition. There is room at the IBD family dinner table for ALL of us. Interact with other people’s blog articles and social posts. Show them the love, chances are, that love will be reciprocated. Oftentimes, it can feel like everything you are doing is falling on deaf ears (thanks so much, Facebook algorithm)…that being said, don’t focus on the “likes” and the “comments”…if your article or your words help one person or one family, you’ve made a huge difference.
  1. Always be on the lookout for content. The former TV news anchor and reporter in me always has my eyes and ears open for the next story. Look at social media and see what’s trending in the IBD community. Ask your followers what topics they’d like to see more on. Set up Google Alerts in your email to see the latest about IBD research and news. Pay attention to people’s stories. When someone reaches out to me with a question, I often dig a little deeper and see if this is something that would make for a good article. Every single person has a story to share, it’s just a matter of discovering what that story is.
  1. Be authentic and true to who you are. Oftentimes businesses and companies will reach out to patient advocates looking for promotion or support. Don’t be a “yes-(wo)man”. Only promote causes and products that you genuinely believe in. Don’t sacrifice your hard-earned credibility for a few bucks, because your credibility is priceless.
  1. Stop selling yourself short. Your IBD life and story is valuable. Gone are the days when big pharma and businesses can tap into us as resources for free. We’ve all gotten smarter about this. Your painful journey hasn’t been easy. But, with that journey, you’ve gained a perspective that businesses are thirsty for. They NEED our insight. They NEED our input and perspective. Unless you live with IBD personally, you can’t fully grasp what it’s like. Sure, volunteer work for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is one thing, but as soon as someone wants you to be an “influencer” or speak at an event, etc. know your worth and don’t ever be afraid to ask what the compensation is.

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I’m hopeful that three years from now on July 23, 2022, I’ll still be blogging and will still be a vocal voice for the IBD community. Thank you for sharing in my journey and for pushing me to be better. Thank you for reading and for caring. Thank you for being a listening ear and a watchful eye. Thank you for walking alongside me through pregnancies and motherhood as a woman with IBD. I promise to deliver more content that helps guide you through your journey and show you just how capable you are of being everything you ever hoped for. God bless.

XO,

Natalie

The patient physician dynamic: 5 tips for finding your match

Raise your hand if you’ve considered switching physicians. Raise your hand if you’ve driven more than an hour to seek care. IBDSocialCircle2While attending IBD Social Circle at Digestive Disease Week in San Diego, I listened to a panel with Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, MD, FACP and Dr. Aline Charabaty, MD about the patient and health care practitioner dynamic.

It was an enthralling discussion that opened my eyes to the medical care available to the IBD family. They talked about how physician and patient relationships should not feel like speed dating. Seek a physician who truly cares about how IBD is impacting your life, someone who wants the context behind your symptoms. Rather than a physician wearing a white coat and sitting in front of you, look for one who sits next to you and leaves the white coat off.IMG-2081

If you’re constantly feeling like your GI is being complacent with your care or that you are just a number, you may want to consider finding a physician who’s a better fit. When doing so, it will take some effort on your part. Here are some tips to make the transition a bit less stressful.

  1. Look for a GI who specializes in IBD. Not every GI is passionate about Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, it may not be their specialty. Finding an IBD specialist will put you in the hands of a care provider who knows the ins and outs of your disease.
  2. If you’re making a road trip to attend the appointment, let the office know. Before you drive hours for an appointment, let the nurses in the practice know that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill appointment. Maybe they can allot more time.
  3. Have your records sent over before you go. Provide the new physician with your back story, so they can familiarize themselves with your patient journey before your first face-to-face.
  4. If tests will be needed, see if they can all be arranged in one day. Save yourself a trip (or two) and check with your physician to see about them getting preauthorization for any tests or procedures ahead of time. This way insurance is notified and it’s one less headache to deal with down the road.
  5. Build a rapport with the nurses in the office. Don’t be afraid to lean on nurses for support. They are often the “middleman” between you and the physician. I rely heavily on the nurses in my GI office. Nurse Penny and I are buds!
  6. BONUS TIP: See if a family member or friend can attend the appointment with you. As the patient, sometimes it can feel as though the teacher from Charlie Brown is talking while we’re sitting in an appointment. So much is being thrown at us, so much is being said—but we’re not comprehending what it means for the present and the long term. By having a loved one by your side, they can take notes—so you can focus on asking the questions you need answered. That extra set of ears and eyes works wonders.

IBDSocialCircleSwitching physicians and entrusting someone new with your well-being is not easy. Trust your gut (for once!) and advocate for care that makes you feel like you have a voice. Think about how you feel leading up to an appointment, while you’re face to face with the physician and the emotions you may experience on that drive home. If anything makes you feel less than or not heard, connect with fellow patients in your area to see who makes up their care team. Do research about IBD specialists within drivable distance and take the steps you need to feel like you have your best ally against this disease.

Silencing the Stigma: How one man is using his patient journey to empower others

This week—a guest post by IBD patient advocate Ziyad, from The Grumbling Gut. IMG_20181104_220957_401Ziyad shares how his experience taking on Crohn’s inspired his decision to become a radiographer and show fellow patients they are much more than just a number. I’ll let him take it away…

“Don’t let fear keep you quiet. You have a voice so use it. Speak up. Raise your hands. Shout your answers. Make yourself heard. Whatever it takes, just find your voice, and when you do, fill the damn silence.”

Those words were spoken in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy by Meredith Grey and I couldn’t have put it better myself. I was officially diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2007 having spent the previous year experiencing symptoms and not knowing what was going on. My absences from school – and to some extent my social life – didn’t go unnoticed and when asked where I was or if I had to cancel last minute, I’d just give my standard air tight excuse of “something came up last minute”.

Truth be told, I wasn’t ready to tell anyone outside of my family about my diagnosis, so I did the only thing I could – kept it a secret. IMG_20181122_171801_972I was afraid of what people might say, what they might think of me or if they might start treating me differently – I didn’t want to be anything other than the supposedly ‘healthy’ 17-year-old with a ‘normal’ life. As a result, I spent twelve years living with Crohn’s in silence. I was embarrassed, because let’s face it, talking about your bowel habits isn’t the most glamorous topic.

If we fast forward to now and having gone from being so secretive about my IBD to talking about it so openly and sharing my experiences through social media – you may ask “what’s changed?”.

The answer is simple – I’m not afraid anymore. I refuse to let fear keep me quiet.

Using my voice to beat the stigma

It took me a long time to realize that not only do I have voice, but I could use this voice and speak up to beat the stigma that held me back from sharing my story for so long. I also believe there’s no point of speaking up if my actions don’t match what I’m trying to achieve, which is why I started to volunteer for Crohn’s & Colitis UK, the charity giving a voice to people with Crohn’s or Colitis. IMG_20181129_204053_117

Anyone that has IBD knows the impact it can have on your daily life, but my IBD helped shape my career. Having spent a fair share of my time in hospitals being a patient, I got used to the hospital environment and now work as a diagnostic radiographer. My IBD exposed me to the radiography profession early on, having all my x-rays and MRI scans done to diagnose and monitor my disease. Shortly after being diagnosed and referred to a specialist I started the pleasant journey of getting treatment for my Crohn’s.

As everyone and their IBD is different, some medications may work for some and won’t for others so at the time there was a lot of trial and error and it felt like ‘let’s throw what we got at the wall and see what sticks’. Some of these treatments would make me feel even sicker due to the side effects and it really did feel like I was being treated as a list of symptoms and not as a person. Long story short, I changed specialists three times before finding one who treated me like a person.

How being a patient helped guide my career

Having experienced life with Crohn’s first hand has given me incredible insight as to how to provide better care for all the patients that I encounter on a day to day basis. I try to give my patients the opportunity to speak up, use their voice and be heard because of what I went through in the early stages of my IBD diagnosis. It can get busy in hospitals, especially with the increasing patient load and shortage of staff. IMG_20190210_202149_996It can be easy to fall into the ‘conveyor belt’ motion of one in, one out, to try and manage the workload. But it is in these busy moments, where taking a few extra seconds to ask a patient who looks upset, scared or frustrated if they’re OK, that can make all the difference.

It humanizes the experience for patients and gives them a chance to express themselves. I’ve learned it’s the little things that have the greatest impact in patient care.

My advice to anyone reading this—No matter how tough things get, always find the strength to speak up, because keeping all your pain and worry inside won’t do any good. The more you share your story, the more likely you will inspire someone else to share theirs.

Follow Ziyad on Instagram: @thegrumblinggut, Twitter: @thegrumblinggut, and Facebook: The Grumbling Gut.

 

 

 

Merry Everything, from my family to yours

We hope the holiday season has been filled with love, joy, happiness and health for you. Thank you for your endless support and encouragement, kind words and feedback and interest in not only my patient journey, but also the well-being of my family. Whether we’ve connected on social media, through Lights, Camera, Crohn’s, by email or collaborations, I feel so grateful to have this platform to share my experience living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease every week of the year. You inspire me to be vulnerable. You inspire me to be strong.

I write and advocate in hopes of being the voice I so desperately needed when I was given a lifelong chronic illness diagnosis at age 21. Being able to lean on the IBD family virtually and in person is the gift that keeps on giving. We can all serve as a wonderful resource for one another, not only during difficult days, but also when we’re feeling on top of the world.

IMG_4950I hope you take this week to enjoy time with loved ones, relax and find time to care for yourself!

If we haven’t already—let’s connect on social media:

Instagram: @natalieannhayden

Twitter: @nataliesparacio

Facebook: Natalie A. Sparacio

Cheers,

Natalie

Food for thought: What it’s like to get all your nutrition through an IV with IBD

This week–a guest post from an IBD advocate who continually inspires me. Meet Sonya Goins. twibbon-profileShe is a news reporter for a community television station in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area. Sonya is also a Crohn’s patient, diagnosed with the digestive disease in 1985 while she was in college. I’ll let her take it from here:

While fighting the physical pain of Crohn’s is tough, the mental aspect is even harder.

On January 3rd, 2018 my doctor put me on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), which means I was fed through my veins. All of the nutrients I needed to survive were in an IV bag and pumped through my veins throughout the day. My doctor wanted to give my colon a rest so ulcers could heal.  I endured this treatment for eight and half months.  It was one of the most trying times of my life. No food, just water, broth and on occasion, coffee.

Despite my circumstances, I named my IV catheter “hopeful.” 26677835_10155748847937819_1006971807936260031_oHowever, it took me a minute to adapt a positive inner attitude.  You see, in public I put on a good, cheerful attitude. There were times when I wanted to crawl up into a big ball and shut out the world. The first few weeks of constantly wearing a backpack full of IV fluids were very hard.  I did not like what I saw in the mirror. I was angry at my situation.  It wasn’t until I visited a pediatric Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation support group that I changed my way of thinking. Seeing young people living with the digestive diseases, and going about their lives despite their circumstances, motivated me to do better.

I had to live my new normal to the best of my ability.

The mental game of TPN

Mentally, not eating real food was very, very challenging.  Although I could not eat, I still cooked for my youngest child. The smells of the food made my mouth water, tempting me to taste what I know would make me sick. There were a few times I lived on the edge and took a sample. I paid for my mistakes—painful cramps and bloody diarrhea were my punishment.

After the first month on TPN, I knew I needed professional help if I were to survive.  So, I sought the help of a therapist.  I also prayed and meditated—a lot. 35682318_10156164555637819_6627378019424010240_n

First, I needed a distraction for when I was tempted to eat. A friend taught me how to crochet. She even purchased the yarn, hooks and beginner books to get me going.  I still cannot do a granny square, but I learned a new skill.

When times were bad and I wanted to give up, I would mentally go to my happy place—Turks and Caicos. Several years ago, I visited the Caribbean Islands. I imagined myself sitting on the pristine beaches, watching the waves crash.

The social impact

The loss of social invitations also did a number on me.  Some of my friends did not want to hurt my feelings by eating in front of me, so they stopped including me. However, I did have one friend who went out of her way and found a restaurant that served the best broth in town. We sipped on broth and caught up with each other’s lives. This was one of the highlights.

I was determined not to let this situation get the best of me. Instead of going out to eat with friends, I invited friends to go for a walk. I walked with former coworkers, acquaintances and family members.  The fresh air and good conversations did me a lot of good.

Taking steps to heal mentally and physically

Walking became my foundation. I was motivated to walk for another reason.  Before I got sick, I signed up for several half marathons to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I finished the New Orleans half marathon in March, just three months into my treatment. I have never been so proud.  I had to walk the race, but I finished. Several months later, I also completed the Twin Cities 10 mile race, and the Savannah half marathon.

My unexpected journey made me stronger mentally and physically.  I am more outgoing and more self-assured than ever before.  After all, you cannot be shy walking around with an IV bag strapped to your body.

I share my story to give others hope.

Sonya Goins is also a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Board Member/MN Dakota Chapter.  You can find her blog at SonyaStrong.com. She also has a podcast on iTunes and GooglePlay entitled “Conversations about Crohn’s and Colitis.”

Celebrating a major patient victory: Citrate-free Humira

I still remember the first time I felt the pain. Sitting in my GI’s office with the nurse and my mom. Fresh out of the hospital after having an abscess the size of a tennis ball in my small intestine. Knowing I had to inject myself with a painful biologic drug, four times in a row, for the loading dose. The feeling when the medication entered my body was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was an unthinkable amount of pain. It was overwhelming knowing that for the rest of my life, I would endure this same pain, multiple times a month…with no end in sight.

Fast forward more than ten years later. A total of 122 months, hundreds of injections. My reality as a Crohn’s patient just changed. IMG_2966It changed in a way that I never knew was possible. I have so many flashbacks of my journey with Humira. The tears as I felt sickly in my 20s sitting alone in my apartment and wondering why me. The dread, anxiety and anticipation every other Monday and the strength I had to muster up within myself to once again receive my medication. Holding the injection in my hand, getting in the zone and focusing my thoughts on brave family members and friends as I held down the plum colored button and felt the burn. The sad look on my son’s face as he looked in my eyes and witnessed his mama hurting.

Now, all this is a distant memory. Thanks to the Citrate-free formula developed by AbbVie and approved for adults and pediatric patients in the United States, this reality is over. A matter of days ago, I experienced my first pain free Humira injection. I had heard all the hype and excitement around it, but it was so difficult to fathom such a change in my patient experience. Here’s a video of me experiencing my first Citrate-free injection:

I’m here to tell you it’s completely painless. Less pain than a blood draw. Less than a flu shot. You feel nothing. The process, effectiveness and outcome are the same, but you don’t feel anything. It’s emotional and overwhelming in the best way. I cried for a good half hour after my first one, happy tears. Tears of joy from a woman who now knows her children will never see their mom struggle in pain. Tears of joy from someone whose eternally grateful for a medication that keeps a painful and debilitating chronic illness at bay. Tears of joy knowing that I will never have to feel that awful pain again. A pain that’s too much to put into words, that was part of my life for so long.

The sun is shining a bit brighter today. I feel a load has been lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize had been there for more than 10 years. When I heard about the Citrate-free formula being approved and available in the States, I was excited—but, didn’t realize the true extent of what a difference it would make in my life. joy-2483926_1920

If you’re on Humira and living in the States, make sure you talk with your GI and specialty pharmacy to ensure your script is changed to “Citrate-free”. The extra leg work will be so worth it. It brings me so much happiness to know that young children on Humira will never have to feel the pain. It gives me peace of mind as a chronic illness patient to know that developments like this in treatment are possible and happening right now.

My call of action to doctors, specialists, healthcare teams and specialty pharmacies—please communicate this with patients. I’ve heard from countless people around the United States who heard about this for the first time from me. That’s not the way it should be. My GI gave me a heads up three months ago.

Fellow patient advocates, please feel empowered to share what this means to you and reach out to your individual communities and support networks, so people can get the ball rolling and experience this for themselves. Our voices are strong, and word of mouth is powerful.

Humira was approved for Crohn’s in 2006. I started taking the injections in 2008. Now, it’s 2018 and patients in the United States have access to the Citrate-free (pain free) formula. What’s next? Now, we can truly continue to dream.

6 ways to get involved in the IBD community: Advice from a fellow Crohn’s advocate

Social media often gets a bad rap. But, oftentimes in the advocacy and chronic illness space, it’s an incredible connector. A few years back over Facebook, I came to know Linde Parcelslinde Linde graduated from my high school and later moved to St. Louis. She currently resides in Atlanta, where she works for the CDC and does Policy work for the division of lab sciences.

We’re 11 years apart by age, but share many of the same experiences as women who battle Crohn’s disease. We’re both passionate about using our voice to show others they are not alone in their IBD journey. This week—Linde talks about the importance of standing tall, owning your illness and getting involved in your community to make a difference.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of six. Eighteen years ago, diagnosis was difficult for pediatric patients. After more than a year of tests and declining health, my family was given an answer and a lifelong commitment to caring for my Crohn’s Disease.

I’m 24 now. I just moved to a new city for my first full-time job. One of the first things I did when I moved was plug into the regional chapter of The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and see how I could get involved. Linde's story

I wasn’t always an advocate for Crohn’s and Colitis though. In fact, I never attended Camp Oasis because I wanted to go to “normal” camp where I wouldn’t be surrounded by reminders of my disease. I regret not experiencing Camp Oasis and making friends who “got me” when I was that age.

It took years to realize that sharing my story and spending time with people with inflammatory bowel disease (and their caregivers) could bring me so much peace, confidence, and ownership of every part of who I am, including how I was made.

Some people receive their diagnosis and jump into headfirst. They advocate fiercely for a cure any way they can. I’ve seen others resolve to live “normally” and spend many years outside of the IBD community, attempting to absorb the struggle and live their life without leaving a trace of disease.

With over 1.6 million people in the United States with IBD, and as one of the estimated 1 in 200 who have IBD, I would argue that with this diagnosis comes with a responsibility to advocate. For everyone with IBD, and selfishly for myself, I want better research. Better treatments. Better services. Better health.

And it’s not a lost cause.

Here are 6 things I’ve done to get involved that you can do too!

  1. Take Steps

These uplifting Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation charity walks happen throughout the year, all over the country. It’s a great way to rally your friends and family to take steps by your side to raise awareness and drive research.

2. Volunteer for fundraiser events through your regional Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

I helped gather raffle baskets, advertise, and organize volunteers for the themed Trivia Night in St. Louis three years in a row with a great planning committee. I attended with my family and friends for the past three years!

3. Follow influencers on social media and leverage your own profiles to raise awareness!

Here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow:

@CrohnsColitisFoundation (stay in the know)

@rockswithsass (crystals/mental wellness and proceeds go to The Foundation!)

@Natalieannhayden (of course!)–Thanks, Linde! 😉

@CrohnsCooking (recipes for IBD)

@ileostomy_crohn_princess (model and mom with an ileostomy)

4. You can be a listening ear or a venting pal –make your availability known if you’re comfortable with someone sharing your name with others who might want to talk. 

Some parents have referred me to their high school aged children with IBD or a friend of a friend. You can sit with someone during their Remicade treatment or Humira injection. A lot of college students and young professionals may not have family in town and it’s more tolerable with company. Try to be vulnerable. I openly talk about the realities of office life, dating, and farting, (yes, I just said all three of those things in one sentence).

5. Team Challenge! 

linde runI’m training for a half marathon and taking on the biggest fitness and fundraising goal of my life! I run every Saturday with Team Challenge ATL, they are the best!

You don’t have to raise thousands of dollars for research or share your most traumatic digestive adventure on social media…but for the sake of this community and for yourself, please own it. Own your patient journey in a way that furthers science and connects people. Because as much as I want to be your Crohn’s friend, I’d rather just be your friend 10 years from now.

You can connect with Linde on Instagram here: @thelindecity.

Linde is running the 2018 Savannah Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon November 3, for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. She’s looking to raise $2,800. Click here to help her reach her goal!

The power of assuming positive intent with chronic illness

When someone questions how you manage your illness, or seems to belittle your patient experience, it’s easy to get combative and think the worst. But, recently—while on Twitter, I saw a fellow patient advocate and friend of mine respond to a tweet by saying “Assume Positive Intent” (API). This is the first time I had ever heard of the concept. It intrigued me immediately. Like most people, sometimes when words are said or actions are made—I immediately jump to conclusions and internalize what I think the person meant. Part of this is being sensitive and part of this is life with a chronic illness. office-620822_1920There aren’t a whole lot of “safe spaces” for those of us to feel understood and connected with.

Social media allows complete strangers and even those close to us to be keyboard warriors. People often feel like they can hide behind a screen and be hurtful. At the same time, just like with texting—posts on social media can be interpreted incorrectly. Rather than lash out or get defensive, take a moment to pause, gather your thoughts and remind yourself that most people wake up each day with a desire to live life in a positive way and do good in this world.

By not getting caught up in others’ actions and intent—we’re freeing ourselves of the stress that can be a key trigger to our inflammatory bowel disease and that has detrimental effects on our mental health. You will feel empowered simply by taking a moment to think about how you’re going to respond to someone else. You can’t control others, but you can control how you feel and how you react. say-yes-to-the-live-2121044_1920

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. At the end of the day, by giving others the benefit of the doubt—you’re able to change the way you approach conflict and you’re able to rid some negativity from your life. I’m not saying never stick up for yourself and let everyone treat you how they want, but use this strategy as a way to handle your personal relationships and how you respond to others. It will say a lot about your character and make you feel in the driver’s seat, at a time you normally may feel out of control.

So, here’s my challenge to you. The next time you feel a guard go up or when you feel disappointed by another person’s words or actions—assume positive intent. bob_natalie_proposal_6615-107As someone who’s battled Crohn’s disease for over 13 years, I constantly find myself needing to take a step back and remember that the only person who’s lived my journey is me. It’s up for me to tell my story. It’s up for me to share it. It’s up to me to communicate to those when my feelings are hurt or I’m disappointed. But before I jump to conclusions, I need to assume the other person is trying to help me or learn more about my experience—rather than ruin my day or hurt my feelings. API all day, baby. Try it. Trust it. Live it.

 

 

 

Addressing compassion fatigue as a patient advocate

Every hour of every day we live with inflammatory bowel disease. Once you hear the diagnosis, it’s a part of you… every. single. moment. of. your. life. That alone—feels isolating and scary. When you decide to share your personal patient story publicly, you open yourself up to a world of support. Natalie-7As a patient advocate, you also become somewhat of a confidante and voice of reason for your peers in the community.

While it’s incredible to be able to connect with those who live your reality, there are times it can feel overwhelming. Personally, as a patient advocate, who’s battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 13 years, I consider myself well-versed on the topic—but, all I know, are my own experiences. IBD presents differently in every person. Part of being a patient advocate is showing support for others living your same reality. The girl in the UK who was recently diagnosed and nervous about heading off to college. The young man in Nebraska going through a bowel resection surgery. The kindergartner receiving her Remicade treatment.

Since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015, I’ve been able to manage my disease with daily medication and a biologic injection. Luckily, I’ve felt well most of the time since then, and haven’t been hospitalized since my surgery. That being said—when friends (many who I’ve never met) and strangers reach out—through email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, texting…you name it…round the clock…desperately asking for advice and support…my heart sometimes starts to ache with stress.

I want to be sensitive with how I word this article, because the LAST thing I want is for people to stop reaching out when they need advice or support. Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.comWhat I do want—is for people to recognize what compassion fatigue is…and how as chronic illness advocates and caretakers we need to be mindful of how we’re feeling and internalizing the struggles of those around us.

The overwhelming nature of compassion fatigue

When people ask me about my diagnosis, my bowel obstructions, my surgery… it draws a great deal of emotional energy, and at times, can open up proverbial wounds. I’m happy to share my patient journey with transparency and honesty. But, day after day, year after year, these conversations can be a burden. A burden because I truly worry and care about each person I talk with. Even if I’m feeling well and in remission—the disease stays top of mind and I start to question my own well-being and health.

Like everything in life, finding balance and making time for self-care is paramount. The IBD family is a fantastic community of support. I am just one piece of the advocacy puzzle. It’s all about maintaining that balance in a healthy way, recognizing when the fatigue is taking over—and knowing when to take a breath and step away. I’m much better able to connect with people when I’m recharged and energized. If I’m at the end of the rope all the time, I simply don’t have anything to give, and everyone loses.

blog photoI offer support from the bottom of my heart, but as a mom and a wife, I do need to recognize when it’s time to unplug and take time for myself. When my baby naps each morning—I spend that “break” on my computer writing articles about IBD, participating in Twitter Chats, and talking on the phone with those who want to hear about my patient experience.

Recently, my husband said we should start a new rule in our household, no phones after 8 p.m. I was thrilled with the idea. So often when we put our son to bed we resort to hanging out on the couch, with the TV on and phones in our hands. Much of that “free” time I used to spend responding to messages from those seeking IBD support. Sometimes you just need to put down the phone and recognize how important those right in front of you are. The people who are by your side every single day. Your family. Your caretakers. Show them the love and the attention they deserve. Nurture the relationships that matter most to you. Be present in the moment.

Compassion fatigue ebbs and flows. Like anyone who battles fatigue from IBD, some days I feel like I can take on the world and spend all my free moments on the phone or responding to emails. Other days it takes A LOT of effort for me to email back someone who I’ve never met and discuss why I chose Humira, how my pregnancy was with Crohn’s, etc. Time is precious. I absolutely hate not responding almost immediately to everyone who reaches out, but please be patient with me.

IMG_0535As part of my self-care and disease management I need to de-stress, so I don’t put my own health at risk. This article is painful for me to write—I can’t stand admitting that I am struggling to do it all. But, compassion fatigue has been something I’ve been feeling for a few months. I want to be the best advocate for others and do all I can to make a difference and show there’s so much life to be lived outside of your disease. I want you to see how much you can thrive with this disease and all that you can accomplish. I want to be the person I needed the day my world turned upside down when I was diagnosed. I want to be all the things. But it’s not possible. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to you.

My call of action to you

When you reach out, if it takes a few days for me to respond—don’t think it’s because I don’t care or won’t reply. I will. If you have questions about why your prednisone is making you feel a certain way or how to do a colonoscopy prep—check with your GI first. Oftentimes many questions and concerns are covered extensively on blogs and in articles—a simple Google search may give you all the information you need. Lastly, know my concern and wish to help is genuine, but there’s only so much of me to go around.

I’ve been in the hospital bed. I’ve been too weak to walk up a few stairs. I’ve been on 22 pills a day. I’ve sat on a news desk and anchored countless shows while dealing with my disease in silence. I’ve woke up on my wedding day unsure of what my disease would do. I’ve been pregnant and dealt with the fear of flaring while creating a life. I’ve done a lot as a patient and a person. So, when I’m feeling well and trying to enjoy the feel-good days that I have…that can be taken away in the blink of an eye, please understand that I’m here for you, but need to also take time for me.

I’m going to leave you with this quote from Daniel Garza, an AIDS, Cancer and Ostomy advocate. Daniel shared this eloquent description of patient advocacy during the HealtheVoices conference I recently attended in Chicago.

“We all have this fire. We’ve been in quick sand and high tides and made it to the end. Despite the doubts, after everything, we don’t want other people to go through it. We’re the coat we put on the puddle, so people don’t get their feet wet. We don’t care if we get dirty again.”

In closing, allow me to continue to be that coat on the puddle for you, but please have a little patience with me.

APPLY NOW: Lyfebulb & UnitedHealth Group launch first-ever Innovation Challenge in IBD

As patients, we have power. We have the ability to use our experiences to shed light on the constant uphill battles we face in all facets of life as we take on inflammatory bowel disease. LyfebulbXUnitedHG Summit&Award YellowWe have the opportunity to serve as patient advocates and leaders in our respective health communities and be a voice for those who suffer in silence. As advocates, we can share the challenges and the triumphs. We can articulate where the roadblocks are, where we struggle and come up with lifechanging solutions—not only for ourselves, but countless others.

This is where Lyfebulb and United Health Group come in. They recently launched the first-ever Innovation Challenge for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The Challenge will recognize and award top patient entrepreneurs developing innovative ideas for better management of IBD using healthcare information technology, medical devices, consumer products or services. Get this—the top three winners receive $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000 respectively!

I had a chance to chat with Lyfebulb’s, CEO and Founder, Karin Hehenberger, M.D., Ph.D. about the Innovation Challenge for IBD. Karin says, her main mission is, “to reduce the burden of IBD, by accelerating the pace and adoption of innovation in the disease state, while raising awareness for the conditions.” Karin Standing -2

Karin is a chronic illness patient and advocate herself. Quite simply—she gets it. She lived with Type 1 Diabetes for nearly 20 years before she decided to share her story. Complications of her diabetes led her to need a kidney and pancreas transplant. Through these challenging life experiences, she found her passion for making a difference.

“My intense personal experiences enabled me to realize key insights. I started thinking about how many daily issues I had lived with as a person with T1D and came to the realization about how my own patient journey and professional expertise, could help drive research and innovation.”

In years past, Lyfebulb has held these types of challenges for diabetes and cancer. Past winners invented everything from a clever solution to ensure injected insulin was still potent and had not gone bad due to storage issues to creating a natural and better bone replacement device for those battling cancer who have experienced bone deterioration.

Much like those diseases, IBD impacts all areas of life. Karin believes there is still much we can do in the IBD space when it comes to awareness and education. It’s her hope this Innovation Challenge for IBD will help raise the level of attention on the complexities and challenges facing those of us in the patient community.

How to apply

You are eligible if:

  • You work on innovative ideas and concepts for better care and management of IBD using healthcare information technology, medical devices, consumer products or services; and
  • You, or a family member of loved one, live with IBD; and
  • Your idea is something other than a pharmaceutical or diagnostic innovation.

Click here to apply. The deadline to apply is Thursday, June 7 at 11:59 P.M. ET.

Judging criteria

Lyfebulb and UnitedHealth Group will gather all submissions and will review them for eligibility.

The judging panel will look for evidence in the following categories:

  • Patient Entrepreneur story
  • Degree of innovation
  • Impact on patient needs
  • Feasibility of development and implementation

Lyfebulb_April_2018_rb_0172lyfebulb_april_2018_rb_0172From the submissions, 10 finalists are selected to present at the Innovation Challenge in late July. All finalists are flown to the summit in Minnetonka, Minnesota and treated to two days of interactions with other finalists, the jury and with Lyfebulb and UnitedHealth Group employees during one on one meetings, group meetings, presentations and meal gatherings.

If you are chosen to attend the Innovation Challenge summit, you will pitch your idea in front of the jury and audience composed of Lyfebulb, UnitedHealth Group members and invited guests. Best of luck to all the applicants. As a Crohn’s patient of nearly 13 years—thank you for going above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of others!