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 art of storytelling as a patient advocate

The art of storytelling. How do you narrate your patient journey? How do you build a relationship with others online for the long haul? Are you mindful of how your words benefit your community—and the value they possess?

I recently had the opportunity to attend Health Union’s HU Connexion ’18. IMG_9053It was an awesome event that brought together writers and patient advocates from a variety of chronic illness communities. I was there as one of the inflammatory bowel disease representatives.

There’s something special about getting to meet your online support network in person. One of the speakers at the conference, Laura Hope-Gill, discussed the power of narrative healthcare. Her words and her message were invigorating and empowering. She reminded us that there is no instruction manual or cookie cutter approach to patient advocacy. She discussed how each of our personal stories help to bring our advocacy efforts to life.

Laura said, “We are characters in a wonderful, heartbreaking story. Once you get the diagnosis—Ursula, our inner sea witch, waits to steal our inner voices. IMG_9070Instead of staying silent, remember that humans connect best at points of vulnerability. Illness gives our lives more meaning, we’ve discovered who really loves us and who our genuine relationships are.”

As a patient advocate and a voice for the IBD community, I’ve witnessed firsthand how my efforts and those of my counterparts require bravery. It’s intimidating and scary at times to put something out on the internet and await feedback. Some positive, some negative. It can be disheartening when your words seem to be falling on deaf ears. At the same time, when someone reaches out and lets you know how you’ve helped them or brought them comfort, it’s worth it. It’s that moment—when you feel heard, that you know you matter.

There is room for everyone at the advocacy table. It’s not a competition, it’s not a popularity contest on social media. Sure, “likes”, “shares” and followers may make us feel good—but, they are not a measure of the difference we are making. It’s not a competition of misery.

One of the most helpful recommendations I took away from Laura’s speech was the importance of not abandoning the storyteller. IMG_8619This was really eye-opening to me. You may wonder what I’m referring to. As a patient advocate and within any conversation you have—how quickly are you to relate to someone’s story and respond with your own similar experience? I think we’re all guilty of this. We aren’t malicious in our actions and maybe we’re trying to self-disclose to show we empathize. But, instead of responding with our own personal story—it’s imperative we listen, rather than tell. Let the storyteller guide the conversation.

By bringing a story of trauma to the surface, we are healing. Writing builds self-worth, beyond being sick. Diagnosis of any form, was the end of our normal. We grieved it. And guess what, we’re still here. Understand there is no limitation to our stories. Rather than being broken, you have the ability to be a storyteller and create a self beyond being sick. A special thank you to Laura Hope-Gill for reminding me of this and for opening up my eyes to the importance of being a storyteller in the advocacy space.