How Being Hospitalized For Ulcerative Colitis Changed My Life

Rest-Days.png

THE STORY

I’ve tried sitting down to write this post for a long time now. I even tried starting it in the hospital, but I needed time. Time to process, to think, to shake the fear and nerves a little more. Time to really, truly reflect on what the hell I had just been through, how it has changed me, reshaped my outlook on life and how my life will change moving forwards.

And it’s difficult because part of me wants to never, ever think about those two weeks of my life ever again. Wants to forget – the pain, discomfort, agony, hopelessness. But another part of me wants, even needs, to get it all out in writing and never, ever forget. Because damn. Those few weeks threw me for a curveball and shook up my entire world and I’ll never be the same.

It still just baffles me. How had I, miss *runs marathons, works out every day at 6am, eats a head of kale for lunch, leads the healthiest life to try and help my body* end up being hospitalized for her body just, quite literally, quitting her? And that’s the craziest thing that I’ve realized. “Health” can look one way, but be something totally different… but I’ll get to that.

Naturally, I follow a lot of crohn’s and ulcerative colitis accounts on Instagram (mainly stemming from the CCFA account) so I had always seen so many stories of individuals with crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis being in the hospital. And I never batted an eyelash because I never thought that would be me in that position. I would always feel so grateful that I had a mild case of UC, that I would never have to lie in a hospital bed wondering “what next?” I would always feel inspired by these autoimmune disease warriors’ stories, but never pictured myself there. Never.

MG_7958.jpg

So a little backstory – (you can read more about how UC shapes my life here), I got an eye infection a few weeks ago which quickly turned into a nasty head cold. About three days into my cold I noticed my stomach really acting up (food just wasn’t working… if you get what I’m saying without going into too much detail LOL) and I kept blaming it on too many new natural, herbal medicines. As it progressed I started thinking it must just be a stomach bug. It wasn’t excruciating yet, but life was becoming difficult. Food still wasn’t digesting and my stomach was always a bit off and hurting, but I could still walk and do some normal day-to-day things.

But then all hell broke loose on that Friday night. We were up at our house on Whidbey Island and went out to dinner where I ate a huge seafood salad and ended up walking home early because my stomach felt so off. I could just tell – something was very wrong and this was going to be very bad. Sure thing, I woke up at around midnight in the most excruciating stomach pain, mixed with unbearable nausea. All I wanted to do was curl into a ball, but even that wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t lie down without me wanting to rip everything out of my body, until I finally ended up sleeping sitting upright on the couch (the only sort of comfortable position) for a few hours.

The next day it got even worse and it’s when I started suspecting it was more a UC deal than a stomach bug like I had thought. There was more blood showing up (a big red flag for UC) and I could just feel it. But I also still hadn’t quite come to terms with it because there was just no way right? I have mild UC. This couldn’t be happening.

After getting home I took a turn for the worse and I spent Monday through Thursday on the couch, unable to walk,eat, move or even sleep. I literally lived Netflix and chill to the max (minus the chill part… more like Netflix and pain) and went through far more episodes of Jane the Virgin, Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars than I want to admit. By Tuesday I was only able to ingest liquids and even taking a sip of water made my stomach writhe in pain. I’m not kidding you when I say I was living in a nightmare. Every day it’s all I could do to merely survive. I wasn’t living ya’ll, I was scraping by, barely keeping my sanity as I wondered why my body was giving up on me. After another sleepless night of tears, pain and exhaustion, my mom finally rushed me to the ER on Thursday morning.

And it’s funny because we had called my doctor earlier in the week asking if I needed to go to the hospital and they didn’t seem to think I needed to go. And doctors always know best right? (insert eye roll) But when you have a preexisting condition, it’s like they downplay what you’re going through. “Well she has UC, this is probably normal.” But we finally listened to our own intuitions and thank God we did. Because this was far from normal.

The almost five days I spent in the hospital rocked my world. Shook it up more than I thought possible. Altered a lot more about me, my mindset and my life than I think I’ve even been able to come to terms with yet.

EEC965F4-E210-4DA2-ACAF-A7C52409BBAA-e1530541591104.jpeg

(how I went from this *above* to this *below* still feels like a miracle. From barely being able to walk three laps with that IV hooked up to me - with a very chubby face from too much IV liquid lol - to feeling like my happy, healthy self again makes my heart want to explode)

ulcerative colitis

ulcerative colitis

Part of it was so comforting to be in the hospital because I knew I was being monitored, checked on and helped 24/7, but part of it was completely terrifying. I didn’t have my colonoscopy scheduled until Friday afternoon so I had to spend Thursday and Friday still completely unsure of what was happening in my body, but also unsure if I wanted to know. Finally the colonoscopy came and went (always a joyful time LOL) and we got our answer – my mild ulcerative colitis had indeed decided to go haywire and turn into a severe case, almost as if overnight. But the more I thought about it the more I realized this had been manifesting for a few months, but I hadn’t taken the warning signs seriously enough.

Ya’ll might remember me talking about a UC flare I could tell I was having the last few weeks of school, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I was noticing some of the tell tail signs again of my UC, including greater fatigue, but I pretty much just ignored it. I had an appointment scheduled with my gastroenterologist for when I got home and thought I’d be fine until then, so I kept powering forward. And let me tell you – those last two or more months of school were definitely a power-full-steam-ahead kind of months. I was soaking up all that college had to offer before graduating – I was staying up until 2 or 3am more weekends than not (grandma nat was not happy but I wanted to soak up memories), drinking a few more glasses of wine than normal, drinking WAY more coffee than I know I should have been, putting a ton of constant stress on myself as I finished the ebook, studied personal training and finished up my classes, eating an abnormal mass amount of raw veggies (because I thought that was what was best for me) and ultimately was not listening to my body’s cues. It was like the normal, intuitive, centered nat disappeared for awhile and it took a toll… obviously.

So the news of my ulcerative colitis, although was still a bit of a shock, was almost more disappointing. Because I realized “wow, if I had taken my smaller flare more seriously, maybe this could have been avoided.” And sure, maybe that’s true, but I realized that mindset is more destructive than anything else. I couldn’t go back now, all I could do was move forward.

MG_7981.jpg

But how do you move forward when you get news like this? When it kind of finally, actually hits you that you have a really nasty, scary disease that won’t go away (until they find a cure!! I have hope)? When you realize you will forever have this struggle? That you will never be “normal”? That’s a lot to process for a 22-year-old and I’d be lying if I told you I stayed positive through it all. To be completely honest, I was really depressed many of the days. One morning in particular the anxiety and depression was so horrible it was paralyzing. All I could manage to do was lay in my hospital bed and cry, thinking that this was what my life was going to be like forever. That nothing was going to help. That my life was stripped away from me. And that was what I constantly kept feeling like – that my life had been robbed of me and I no longer wanted try. I had thoughts of quitting Blonde Gone Clean (can you imagine!?!??), of giving up on personal training, or just giving in. I didn’t want to fight the fight anymore.

And those thoughts were horrible and scary and I have never felt more scared of my own mentality and emotions, but I also knew it was important to let myself feel through these things. I couldn’t just slap a smile on and pretend I felt okay.

But there were bouts where I would force myself to be positive. To walk (read: hobble) a few laps around the hospital floor I was on, crack a joke with the nurse, read a few pages for personal training, post on Instagram, read a poem – even the littlest things felt like an accomplishment. It was the mixture of letting myself feel sad or scared, but also trying to hold onto any hope I had to get me through.

Every day I would force myself to keep looking at the light at the end of the tunnel, of imaging what it would feel like to get my life back. I would daydream about getting to walk around like a normal human again, getting to work out again, getting to eat solid food again, getting to get back into my kitchen, receiving my personal training certification, seeing my friends, spending time with my family on Whidbey Island, going on dates. All of the things I used to take for granted when I felt more like a normal 22-year-old, I just kept thinking about them. It helped me have a purpose to keep going, something to look forward to and dream about. It was all about keeping my dreams alive even in the darkest times in that hospital room.

MG_7952-1.jpg

And I have to give the hugest shout-out to my parents because they kept me sane in the hospital. They helped me keep dreaming those dreams. They comforted me when all I could do was cry and they encouraged me to just watch Netflix and sleep when my body truly couldn’t do anything else and they made me feel comfortable when I had to keep getting blood drawn and medication put through my IV, but they also fought with me to keep the dreamer in me alive. They did everything they could – whether it was retail therapy buying workout clothes to help me still feel hopeful about living an active life again, researching the best foods to eat to heal my colon when I was able to eat solids again, brainstorming ways to make those foods more creative since I knew I’d have to change up a few things (bye bye giant kale piles and copious raw nuts – but more on that later), making acupuncture appointments and researching natural healing to help me feel like I was still healing my body holistically even when having to take medications, encouraging me to keep studying for PT any time I felt remotely okay enough to do so, bringing me herbal tea every morning and Pressed Juicery whenever the craving came about to help me try to find some joy in food again. They were, and are, my rocks. I am truly the luckiest girl.

And the day I got to go home? I have never felt that type of immense joy and gratitude. I have never noticed everything around me so greatly. The feeling of sun on my face, the feeling of my legs moving, the smell of fresh air, the shimmer of the lake. It’s like my eyes were seeing this world for the first time and it was amazing and crazy and wild all at once.

And you’re probably wondering how did I go from not being able to walk, eat or barely move, to getting to walk myself out of the hospital with a smile on my face. And here’s the answer, and it may not be what everyone in this community or wellness realm loves to hear – medication. Yup. Good old, big guns, Western medicine. And you know what? I’m at peace with it. Because it saved me. It gave me my life back. And here’s my cue to discuss the many, many ways my mindset changed after this experience.

MG_7977.jpg

MY CHANGED MINDSET

Western medicine: Since I already started on western medicine let’s pick up there. Before now I was your typical wellness guru – no medicine EVER. I refused to take pain meds (except when I would get a very rare migraine like once every 6 months and physically couldn’t deal in college), I don’t take medicine when I’m sick (all hail apple cider vinegar, lemon, elderberry, tea, greens and wholesome foods) and I truly believe diet plays the HUGEST role in so many health issues. And I still think these things. I still hold these beliefs and value holistic healing and it will ALWAYS be my first step. I believe in the power of essential oils, adaptogens, acupuncture, superfoods and everything in between. But since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis last August, I’ve actually been on a medication (that clearly didn’t work), because you can’t mess with a disease like this. As much as I had wished I could have fixed myself just through diet changes and SCD, that’s just a part of this crazy disease. So when I got the news in the hospital of the severe state of my UC, I knew that meant scarier medications to come. And yes, I cried about it, I felt out of control of my destiny, I felt like I had failed as a wellness-lover. I remember crying to my mom asking how I was supposed to be this wellness blogger that still loves and values holistic healing when I was going to have to start giving myself shots in my stomach (glamorous right?) full of medication. She reminded me that I couldn’t be ANY type of wellness blogger if I didn’t get my life back and she was so right. So I came to terms with the fact that although I need medication to keep me thriving, I can also keep taking natural steps to heal and help my body further. Many people just take the medication and call it a day, but I know too much about the power of diet and holistic healing to do that. So although I still won’t use western medicine as my go-to for other situations, I am on a medication and I’m not ashamed of that. So THANK YOU for everyone who has already showed me support through this struggle. But it was a huge wakeup call that western medicine shaming isn’t okay. I’ve done it and now I realize how disrespectful it truly is. Western medicine saves lives and until you need saving it’s easy to disregard it as the enemy. So while yes, I have to give myself shots of a medication few weeks, I am also taking holistic measures (but more on that in the next section). And yes, the shots DO freak me out and I have yet to do it on myself yet. Wish me luck LOL

MG_7941.jpg

Gratitude: I’ve always felt like I’ve been a pretty grateful individual. I never go without noticing the beauty around me and I try to focus on little things each day, but it wasn’t until now that I really realized how much I have to be grateful for. It took being practically paralyzed by pain and sickness in the hospital to open my eyes to all that I had been taking for granted. I had been in quite a slump before getting sick – I was grumpy and annoyed each day at the amount of work I had to do, with how much I had to study, with little things and big things – everything was just bugging me. Now I realize how LUCKY I am to be able to do what I do, to get to work from home, to have parents that support me while I finish studying, to get to follow my dream of being a personal trainer, to get to live in such a beautiful city (even if the traffic and bouijee people are a little too much to handle sometimes). I am just so damn lucky. It’s like a layer of my eyes was peeled away (ew sorry that’s a bad visual) and I’m seeing everything with new eyes. The littlest things now make my heart happy and make me feel so thankful. I sit down to eat a meal and think, damn. How lucky am I that I get to have this healthy food at my fingertips, to get to cook for myself, to get to nourish my body, to get to eat? I drive through town and notice it all – the lake, the people, the storefronts, the sunshine, even the clouds (tbh I like cloudy days better). Even moving my body has become an act of gratitude – I feel grateful that I get to use my legs to walk, I feel grateful that I have a body that can work out. Even though my workouts are different right now as I gain strength and weight back, I feel so grateful with everything I am able to do, to feel the muscles in my body working again. I’m not saying every second has been perfect since getting home, but damn am I more grateful, and I make sure I think of what I’m grateful for every night before I go to bed and as I pop my eyes open in the morning. Because WOW there is so much to be grateful for that I didn’t even realize until I had it all taken away. Like how cool that I get to live this life and follow my dreams and work on myself every day and see what the universe has in store???

MG_7955.jpg

Exercise: Okay so exercising. I’ve had a lot of people ask what my workout schedule will be looking like now and honestly, I’m just trying to workout intuitively right now and it feels so good. I did lose strength when I was sick and I kind of got fixated on that at first and obsessed over it, but I’ve realized I just have to except it. So what if I lost some strength? I will get it back because I’m dedicated to fitness and I’m determined to fuel my body well to get me back there. And you know what? It’s kind of become a fun challenge. Before this I feel like I was sort of at a workout plateau. I was just moving through the motions, which, for someone whose passion is fitness, felt weird (and boring LOL). Now? I have more of a fire and purpose when I go into the gym. So yes, I am still working out, which may seem counter-intuitive for someone who is trying to gain weight back too and who just got out of the hospital, but it’s been fueling my soul so well. I’ve been doing very minimal, lower-intensity cardio (the stair master has been my BFF because #bootygains need to happen again – and cardio is still healthy because yay healthy hearts) and focusing more just on lifting to grow my muscles again. And it’s been such a humbling experience. Things that used to be so easy are harder, but all I can do is laugh about it. And I’m still amazed at how quickly I’ve bounced back and been able to progress back to my regular weights. I’m just so excited to see myself get stronger each week and reach new goals. Before this I wasn’t even really loving running but was still making myself run for cardio with each workout and this made me realize that my exercise passions can eb and flow more than I’ve let them in the past. I don’t need to get so fixated on being a runner if that isn’t what my body is loving or craving. So exercise from now on is going to be more intuitive, more concise, more muscle-growth-focused and I’m so excited for it. I’m also going to be trying some new forms of exercise like barre because why not!? I’d always thought anything other than crazy running and heavy lifting would be “easy,” but I realized how silly I’ve been being. It’s time for me to expand my horizons ya’ll and I can’t wait! Not that I’ll never run again (I’m sure I will in a few weeks), but for now my body doesn’t need that much taxing and it feels good to finally realize that.

MG_7963.jpg

Being “healthy”:   This one is a biggie. Before this flare and hospital scare I had a very narrow vision of “health.” Health was massive kale piles at every meal, raw veggies all day long (like literally ALL day long), absolutely no grains, constantly pushing my body, etc. etc. Being in the hospital made me realize even more-so how unique health is and how NOT one-size-fits-all it is. For someone with ulcerative colitis, mass amounts of raw greens, veggies, full nuts, etc. (everything I was pretty much living off of) can be extremely harsh on the colon and the ulcers in it, and I think it actually played a really big role in my flare (along with the insane amount of caffeine, lack of sleep and stress). So just because everyone else is all hale kale, doesn’t mean that’s healthy for ME (or you!). Just because a certain diet works for someone doesn’t mean it has to work for you. Just because some people can live off of fruit-packed smoothies and other thrive off of meat for breakfast, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. I’m redefining my version of healthy and it’s been really eye-opening and interesting.

NEXT STEPS

So on that note, you’re probably wondering my next steps. And since we were just talking about food, let’s start there. I’m still avoiding the foods I’m intolerant to and mainly following SCD/paleo (no legumes, added flavors/gums, sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, gluten, dairy, soy, etc. etc.) because it’s what makes me feel GOOD. But I say “mainly” because I am making a few tweaks. I am adding some rice and rice products back in, as well as dabbling with a little sweet potato here and there because honestly my body was screaming at me to incorporate more carbs. I was noticing very little muscle growth for the amount I lift and I wasn’t feeling as good as I should have on SCD, and you know what? I’ve been feeling amazing. My body is thriving off of it. I was nervous at first to share on here and on Instagram this little change, but I realized how silly that is. Because like I said above. Health is SO unique and this is my health journey. I don’t need a label to know what kind of “eater” I am. I’m #paleoish, I’m “mainly SCD,” and I’m intuitive af. I’m a real fooder and I believe in counting ingredients not calories. And that’s truly all that I care about. I’m also focusing on eating more protein, because I noticed on my blood work my protein levels were a little lower than I would like. I’ve been feeling so much more energized and balanced in my diet and I love it.

Now onto what “treatments” I’m doing. Like I discussed above, YES I’m on medications and I’m so thankful for how well I’ve responded to them. But although I’m accepting and embracing western medicine, I’m also taking holistic steps to heal my body. I’m doing weekly acupuncture (to also help with hormone balance), incorporating all the tinctures and adaptogens into my diet, eating nourishing foods, ingesting ALL the turmeric I can get (obsessed with the Numi organic turmeric lattes I just found and of course my trusty Live24k golden fuel), practicing more mindfulness and overall trying to live a more stress-free life. And for someone like me that’s used to a go-go-go mentality, that can be hard. But I’m working on and every baby step counts. I’ve mastered a morning and nightly self-care routine that I’m obsessed with, I don’t put so much pressure on myself when it comes to things like Instagram, I steam and sauna almost daily to detox my body and have a few minutes to truly zen out, I give myself time in the morning to journal and choose my daily affirmation card and I simply try to let the stress go. Because I realized, most of the time, the stress I was feeling was so unnecessary. Everything WILL get done that I need to get done, but it’s up to me what mindset I’m in when I’m doing it. Now I’m truly trying to just enjoy the process of everything I have to do instead of working myself up over my long to-do lists. It feels like I’ve taken a huge deep breath and finally let it out and that feels so good ya’ll.

MG_7924.jpg

But the biggest thing moving forward has been my mindset. I experienced a lot of fear and anxiety coming out of the hospital that left me in tears almost every night. Scared of another flare, scared to feel that pain again, scared for the future, scared about how to talk about my disease with a future significant other, just scared. But I realized fear would only hold me back. Fear would only stop me from reaching my potential and living the full, happy, inspired life I’m meant to live. I realized I need to trust – in myself and in the universe. Trust that my disease will stay at bay and that I will get to do everything I’ve always wanted to do – become a personal trainer, have a family, live my dreams, travel more, continuing inspiring all of you. Trust that the universe has a plan for me, because it does and that plan always works out exactly how it’s supposed to. Trust in my body and trust in my strength. I also have to trust in my journey going forward without looking backwards. It’s easy to think back to the past, when my UC was mild, when I didn’t really have to give it a ton of thought, when I didn’t have to get shots every other week, when I didn’t have to think twice about a cup of coffee or a leaf of kale. But thinking back is no way to move forward and that’s all I’m focused on doing now. Moving forward, progressing, growing, learning and changing for the better. Because yeah, this flare rocked my whole damn world, but my life has been more full, vibrant and meaningful ever since because I now know how lucky I am and how much I have to be grateful for.

So thank you UC, for showing me how much this life means, for proving to me my strength, for forcing me to slow down and love myself more, for giving me a new, deeper perspective on life. Thank you.

CLOSING NOTE

If you struggle with ulcerative colitis or other autoimmune diseases, if you’re curious about other details I spared for the sake of how public this post is but think knowing more may help YOU be able to heal, if you need support or advice – PLEASE reach out. Message me on Instagram or Facebook and let’s chat. UC has changed my life and I want to be someone to help others who struggle. Because I know all too well how it feels. I’m here for you, I understand you and I stand with you. Ulcerative colitis may have taken my life away for a few weeks, but I’m determined to never have that happen again. I’m determined to see the day where a cure is found. I’m determined to live my best, happiest, most inspired, love-filled life despite this obstacle. I’m determined to remind myself every day of how LUCKY I am to get to live this life.

XO nat

Related: 10 Tips For Holiday Gut Health, 10 Tips For Gut-Friendly Traveling, 5 Things To Never Say to Someone With IBD