How My Chronic Illness Set Me Free

Judy Lam
Written by
Judy Lam
19 October, 2020
· 4 min read
How My Chronic Illness Set Me Free

Join Wana + Natalie Kelley, founder of Plenty and Well, to learn about how she reframed her life when she got diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

My life before my ulcerative colitis diagnosis, although potentially more “spontaneous” and care-free, was also full of a lot more insecurity and self-hatred. In a nutshell, my life lacked mindfulness, self-care and nurturance. But after my diagnosis, I became hyper-aware of how my mindset had been ruling my life for 21 years.

What I was thinking in my head about myself was projecting into my reality around me.

It was because of my ulcerative colitis that I finally found mindfulness and therefore found freedom from the negativity that used to run through my mind on a daily basis. My life is now based on a foundation of self-care and self-love and my level of self-awareness is astronomically higher. I am able to notice negative self-talk, reframe, and control the ways my mindset reacts to situations around me, including my illness. Ulcerative colitis took away my care-free nature and spontaneity, but it gave me self-love, empathy, self-awareness and mindfulness and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Having ulcerative colitis has taught me to finally slow down.

We live in a society that tells us our worth comes from productivity, hustling harder and constantly pushing for more – more accomplishments, more work opportunities, more money. I used to live my life ruled by this hustle-mindset. I worked nonstop, I only focused on grades and money and I thought success and happiness came from the things I accomplished. Ulcerative colitis was the wake-up call I needed and physically forced me to slow down and reevaluate my life. It made me question what I had been taught by society, redefine success and happiness for myself and find unconditional self-worth that has nothing to do with my accomplishments. It forced me, in a nutshell, to finally go inward and find myself at my core. Being mindful and present in my life was a skill I didn’t think was necessary, but by being forced to slow down I’ve realized how much freedom mindfulness gives me. Staying present and focusing on the now, rather than always pushing for more and falling into destination addiction, has made me realize how much more joyful and rich life is when we stop thinking we need to do, have, or be more in order to be worthy.

I’m beyond thankful that ulcerative colitis showed me the value of rest, relaxation, and letting life flow.

It taught me that none of those things make me lazy or less worthy. They are simply an indication that I value myself and honor my body and mind.

My biggest coping mechanism is finding mindfulness through meditation and other mindfulness practices like practicing mindful pauses throughout the day, as well as journaling. Chronic illness comes with a lot of what if’s and fears that can end up running your life if you aren’t careful. But why spend every waking hour living in a fictional future that we don’t know will even happen the way our brain has convinced us it will? Being mindful helps you find presence and being present helps you let go of the past and the future.

When we live in the past with chronic illness it manifests as constantly asking “why me?” But staying present allows you to ask, “what’s next?”

So, what can you do in the present in order to foster healing and self-love? When we live in the future with chronic illness it causes anxiety and worry which can inevitably exacerbate symptoms. Being present helps you avoid what I call “suffering twice.” We get so caught up worrying that the worst-case scenario will happen that it’s as if we’ve already lived through it. So, you’ll either suffer now as if it’s happened and it does happen and then you’ve suffered twice. OR you’ll suffer now as if it’s happened and it doesn’t happen and you wasted precious emotions and energy on suffering as if it had.

Being present roots you in the now and helps you control your mindset and reactions (all we truly can control).

If you’re someone who’s undiagnosed, you should:

  1. Be aware of medical gaslighting – doctors may try to tell you it’s in your head or that you’re exaggerating which is a form of gaslighting. Know that this is a form of emotional manipulation and shouldn’t be tolerated, especially by your medical team. Stay confident and know that you’re not making it up – you deserve answers!
  2. Keep pushing for answers even if doctors tell you “nothing is wrong.” If you have the energy and ability you can research tests you want done and demand that they are done, or you have every right to continue seeking out other opinions and new doctors.
  3. Remember that being undiagnosed doesn’t make your struggle any lesser than others’ struggles! You are still worthy of care.

Another tip is to try to stay present when your mind runs wild with possibilities. Being undiagnosed is so scary because there are endless what if’s that can take over. Reality check and ask yourself – what am I feeling right now? What are my symptoms right now? Am I surviving right now? Try to just focus on your current reality and not get caught up on the what-if’s because all that does is control your mindset and add stress to your life.

About Natalie Kelley

Natalie Kelley, the founder of Plenty and Well, is a chronic illness mindset and lifestyle coach and host of the Plenty and Well Podcast based near Seattle, Washington. After years of struggling, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2017 at 21-years-old. She had begun her blog and brand a few years prior as a way to share about health and wellness, but after her diagnosis she changed paths to discuss life with chronic illness and provide support for others. After a life-altering flareup in 2018 and a hospital stay, Natalie realized her purpose ran deeper than just sharing wisdom on social media. She obtained her holistic health coaching certification which led her to where she is now. She offers womxn with chronic illnesses 1:1 coaching as well as hosts her group program, The Path to Empowered Acceptance, which aims to help individuals find acceptance, confidence and joy on their journeys through mindset tools and self-awareness.

Wana does not directly support any claims made within this content. These are the views of the individual/organization represented.

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