Health-Journey Update: Why My Autoimmune Disease Does Define Me

autoimmune disease

autoimmune disease

I realized it was time for a health update, because it’s been a hot second and, as always, my health journey is ebbing and flowing. As you know, when I got diagnosed with IBD this summer, the doctors first believed it was Crohn’s Disease, but after further testing we have landed on a more conclusive diagnosis for Ulcerative Colitis. The fact that it took my doctor months to tell me we could do another test to truly discern which form of IBD I had shook me… safe to say I switched doctors. Advocate for your health my friends.

So, what is Ulcerative Colitis? UC is a form of IBD that is characterized by inflammation of the large intestine. And IBD is not the same as IBS. IBS is a disorder related to the muscle contractions in the digestive tract, but does not cause inflammation and it is not a chronic illness like IBD. A LOT of people get these confused, and it’s important to distinguish them.

What causes UC? UC can be caused by many factors including heredity, the immune system and environmental factors, such as a bacteria or virus. It can also be heightened or worsened by extreme stress, so that’s why a calm, centered environment is SO crucial for me. I zen out my spaces, try to stay calm in the face of a busy schedule and stick to my schedule because it helps keep my stress levels lower and therefore my symptoms not as bad. As always, I’m continually searching for more answers and experimenting with ways to make me feel my best!

autoimmune disease

autoimmune disease

Some days it’s minor stomach aches or other issues, but some days my stomach is in constant pain and I feel so fatigued I want to cry and let me tell you, it sucks. I hate complaining, especially on this platform that I work so hard to keep positive and inspiring, but I think it’s equally as important to be raw and real with you all. And what’s more raw and real than giving you a real-life snippet into the suckier days?

The thing about Ulcerative Colitis and other autoimmune diseases is that they can be very invisible diseases. You would never know by looking at me that I suffer from an autoimmune disease. And you know what’s silly? Sometimes that makes me feel less validated in how I feel. When I’m having a bad day and I spend the day on the verge of tears from stomach pain and, for example, have to simply lay on my mat during my yoga class on campus (I have to go for credit and I’ve already missed a lot… oops), I feel embarrassed because I’m afraid the other students think I’m faking it. I’m afraid my professors and instructors think I’m lying if I have to miss class or leave early. And that’s ridiculous. Health can’t be judged on looks. It’s just another reminder that you never know what people are struggling with, so be kind to everyone.

And although I spend a lot of days in discomfort, I’m grateful for what it’s taught me. It’s taught me to be so, so grateful for the days that I DO feel like the healthy girl I am. It makes me grateful that I always seem to feel 100% in the mornings, allowing me to do what I love most and workout and run my little heart out. I’m grateful that it pushed me to start eating paleo because I truly believe it’s what fuels my body the best. I’m grateful that it’s fueled my passion and curiosity about all things health and wellness related even further. And I’m grateful that I can be a voice of inspiration and comfort for others living with IBD. I can help start conversations about health issues that many people are too afraid to talk about.

When I was first diagnosed with what we thought to be Crohn’s Disease last August I remember feeling sort of numb. Nothing about my health and physically changed. I was the same girl, dealing with the same symptoms, I simply had a label now. I remember being relieved that I knew what the heck was going on, but also scared because autoimmune diseases don’t go away. I remember thinking… this is my life?

autoimmune disease

autoimmune disease

But it’s been about seven months now and I’ve accepted that yes, this IS my life, and that’s okay. That’s MORE than okay because I truly believe the universe doesn’t put any obstacles in our way that are too big for us to handle. It’s forced me to learn about myself, it’s forced me to give up some of my type A tendencies and go with the flow when I don’t feel well and it’s forced me to truly honor and respect my body.

And something I hear a lot from people trying to make me feel better is that “your diseases doesn’t define you” or “you aren’t your disease” and while on some level that’s true, on others I beg to differ. Part of me IS defined by my disease because it’s shaped my health journey and my health journey has shaped me to my core. So, yeah, my disease does define me, and I’m okay with that.

It has helped define my…

  1. Passions for health and wellness – I am continually reading, researching and diving deeper into this realm in order to learn new ways to help my own health and I absolutely LOVE that. It fuels my fire!!

  2. Grandma lifestyle – Sticking to my schedule of going to bed early and waking up early makes me feel my best, because like I said above my stomach feels best in the morning. I love how I live my life, even if that means having the sleeping habits of a 75-year-old at 22.

  3. Love for recipe development – if I could be carefree like most people and eat anything in the world, would I be motivated to continually create recipes? Heck no! Developing recipes brings me so much joy because I love creating foods that I’m able to eat to help my gut health and that others with stomach issues can also enjoy. I love that having UC has pushed me to eat in such a healthy way that works for my body. Nourishing my body so well every day brings me such JOY.

  4. Time management skills – Okay this may seem like a weird one, but hear me out. Having UC means I know when I usually feel my best. I almost always feel great in the early morning, but as the day goes on I typically start feeling a bit off. Whether it's stomach aches or fatigue, UC gets to me as the day goes on. Because of this I make sure I'm utilizing my best hours earlier in the day - working out, working on homework, etc. I manage my time well so that I can have less to do later in the day when I may not feel my best.

  5. Blog – Blonde Gone Clean wouldn’t be Blonde Gone Clean without all the talk about gut health, the SCD-friendly recipes and the advocating for self-love and self-respect even during difficult times. Having UC has truly pushed me to dive deeper into this platform and I love that.

  6. Compassion – My mom (who also has a form of IBD) always say that having health struggles has made us so much more compassionate towards others. Because we’ve struggled so much with feeling sick and having hard days, we always try our best to show love and understanding to others.

  7. Confidence – Because I’ve had to come to terms with having UC and talking openly about it in order to help advocate for others I’ve gained so much confidence through it. I don’t shy away from talking about difficult topics anymore and I aim to always bring to light topics that aren't typically talked about. UC isn’t glamorous, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to speak up about it!

  8. Mental strength – Having UC has pushed me to be so much more mentally strong. I know that feeling sick and having struggles is part of my life, but that doesn’t mean I let it get to me every day. I don’t have pity parties for myself because what good would that do? Instead I have learned to stay strong, take deep breathes and be resilient in the face of my struggles.

  9. Positive and calm outlook on life – I used to be quite the negative Nelly. Can you believe that? I can hardly believe it anymore myself. The days of pessimism, almost daily stress induced breakdowns and caring so greatly what others think (which almost always leads to negative feelings) seem so foreign to me now. Now, I truly try to see every day through a sunny and positive lens and I let the stress go because I know how horrible it is for my health. I feel SO much more centered in life now.

  10. Self-love – Having an autoimmune disease has showed me how important self-love and self-care are. Giving myself grace on the hard days, instead of getting down on myself for having to take it easy, has been life changing. And creating a more holistic self-care routine has helped so greatly with my health and stomach. It keeps me calm and centered which therefore keeps my stress low.

Having an autoimmune disease isn’t a walk in the park – there are hard days and even harder ones. But it has also helped me create the life I live and love and for that I’m grateful.

So while my autoimmune disease doesn’t define me in every aspect, it sure as hell defines a lot of who I have become and that’s not something I’m afraid to admit. So thank you UC for making me who I am, guiding my health journey and fueling my passions.

XO nat

Related: How Being Hospitalized For Ulcerative Colitis Changed My Life, 10 Tips For Gut-Friendly Traveling, Top Ulcerative Colitis Questions Asked and Answered