Good morning! Today I’m sharing one of us – a Gutsy Girl’s story with severe ulcerative colitis.
Listen, sharing your stories is one of my fave things to do on this platform I’ve built because it allows me to introduce you to so many other incredible women.
Natalie is incredible and adorable. You’re going to fall in love with her quickly, and I hope you’ll take the time to also follow her on Instagram and check out her blog. With that, here is Natalie’s ‘A Gutsy Girl’s Story with Severe Ulcerative Colitis,’ direct from her.
A Gutsy Girl’s Story with Severe Ulcerative Colitis
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I am a Gutsy Girl because I don’t let ulcerative colitis stand in the way of my dreams.
I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in august of 2017 at the age of 21, smack dab in the middle of training for my first marathon and right before my senior year of college. It was probably the least ideal time in my life to be told “hey, so, you have an autoimmune disease,” but life has a funny way of catching you off guard like that.
I remember being half awake after my colonoscopy, munching on the post-procedure snack my mom had packed me and my doctor saying “it’s definitely ulcerative colitis” as if it was no big deal.
It didn’t register until I was in the car on the way home. I remember staring out the window thinking, “I have a disease, am sick, and will always be sick.”
I knew I felt sick for quite some time. But feeling sick and being sick seemed so much different all of a sudden.
I had experienced gut health issues for as long as I could remember. From simply having a sensitive stomach growing up to slowly feeling worse and worse throughout college.
I started noticing trigger foods and cutting them out, but I could still tell – something wasn’t right.
I finally knew it was time to get answers when I was traveling with my family in Europe in July of 2017. My bloating was getting more severe. Food was going right through me, and I would always have to map out public restrooms on my long runs. When I started noticing blood in my stool I knew I couldn’t blame it on IBS any longer.
Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis
Although getting told I had ulcerative colitis was like a stinging slap to the face, it was also the biggest relief after so many weeks and months of fear and wondering.
Getting a diagnosis didn’t just mean I was sick, it also meant I was on the path to feeling better.
Because without answers there can be no steps taken.
I spent a long time beating myself up, thinking I “did” something wrong to have gotten ulcerative colitis, but I realized the guilt eating me inside wasn’t worth the stress it was causing my body. Maybe it was in my genes since my mom has Crohn’s disease. Or maybe it was triggered by the trauma of losing a friend in college. Or maybe even it was struggling with an eating disorder in college as well that did something to my gut.
I realized I needed to stop living in the past and instead focus on my future – a future full of healing and lifestyle changes.
Although I’m a huge proponent of holistic forms of healing, I also knew I needed to get my disease under control, so I swallowed my pride and began taking a medication. But, being the holistic health junkie and coach that I am, I also took as many lifestyle measures as I could as well, including going all in with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet the day after my diagnosis. This girl doesn’t waste time when it comes to working on her health.
For those first nine months after my diagnosis it was pretty smooth sailing. I managed to stick to SCD even while in college. My friends, professors and bosses were all very accommodating and compassionate when I needed to change plans, miss class or leave work early when I felt sick. I successfully ran my first marathon. I kept up my good grades, I made memories with friends and I finished up my leadership positions within my sorority. It was almost as if I could just eat my special food, pop my pills and simply ignore ulcerative colitis.
Wake Up Call
That is, until it decided to give me a wakeup call. About two months before my college graduation my symptoms started coming back. The stomach pain, the bloat, the blood, the fatigue. But with graduation so close on the horizon and a colonoscopy already scheduled for that summer, I ignored it.
I wanted to soak up the last eight weeks of college with my best friends and squeeze every last ounce out of it, and didn’t want to worry about doctors or new medications or more medications or an even stricter diet. I was 22 with my life ahead of me, and didn’t want how sick I felt to become my reality, so I naively thought pushing it aside would be the answer.
The week of graduation, after little sleep, high stress and a lot of running to cope with my emotions about graduating, I could tell things were getting worse. My family came to visit a few days before the ceremony and I could barely get up off of the couch my fatigue was so severe. I tried to rally the best I could and join in on the fun, but each day felt like I was walking with legs that weighed ten times their actual weight.
Fast forward a few weeks of being home – my symptoms were still very present, but I kept pushing. I was studying for my personal training certification, dedicating all of my time to building my own business and, ultimately, trying to figure out how to adult.
I was finally forced to slow down when I got a nasty cold, but it simply wouldn’t let up. No amount of sleep, liquids or elderberry syrup was doing the trick. I remember the moment I felt it in my stomach. I was sitting by the lake trying to distract myself from how sick I felt, and it was like someone punched me in the gut. Out of the blue a solid, never-ending pain just struck. When I got home I told my mom, “I think I have the stomach flu,” because I was still trying to pretend my ulcerative colitis wasn’t getting worse.
But then it did get worse. Far worse. I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of days later with the most horrifyingly intense pain and nausea. I remember crying in a ball wishing I could just rip my insides out of my body. As the days turned into almost two weeks of being bedridden, unable to even drink water without writhing in pain and crying, my mom finally rushed me to the ER and after a colonoscopy we found out my mild ulcerative colitis had indeed progressed to a severe case. My entire colon was inflamed and covered in ulcers. I remember being told the news and feeling like I would never get my life back.
A New Journey Begins
I spent five long nights in the hospital, fighting to get better, fighting to keep hope, fighting to stay positive.
But it was hard. Disheartening. Scary. Crying less than ten times a day was a success. Walking one lap around the hospital wing was a success. Brushing my hair was a success.
Those five nights changed my life. They pushed my greatest limits and made me stronger than I could have ever imagined. They made me realize that I needed to embrace my diagnosis and I needed to change my lifestyle beyond simply what I was eating. I needed to respect my body more, rest more and realize that yes, I was sick, but I would be able to feel healthier if I simply changed my mindset about my sickness.
So, the moment I was let out of that hospital room I stopped avoiding my diagnosis and instead started speaking out about it. I shared my story, I got vulnerable and I began committing to my own healing, so I could help heal others.
Looking back at the last (almost) year since being out of the hospital it makes me almost cry happy tears. There were moments in that hospital bed I thought I would never be where I am at today – running my own business, helping other women with IBD as a holistic health coach, connecting with the most AMAZING IBD community on Instagram and thinking of running my fourth half marathon.
Where I Am Today
Of course, there are ups and downs, good days and bad days. There are days where the anxiety and fear still hits me and days where I feel like my old healthy self. But what I’ve learned through it all is to take these ebbs and flows as they come. I’ve learned to soak up every second of the good moments and give myself grace during the hard ones. I’ve learned to stand up for myself, be my biggest advocate and put myself first.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that an autoimmune disease doesn’t make it harder to reach my dreams, it adds TO my dreams, because without ulcerative colitis I wouldn’t have found my passions for health and wellness, I wouldn’t be a holistic health coach and I wouldn’t have the amazing community that I now have.
So, thank you, ulcerative colitis, for shaping me into the woman I am today.
Thank YOU for sharing, Natalie! And remember, if you’d like to submit your OWN A Gutsy Girl story to share here, please contact me HERE (or email me direct at sarahkay at agutsygirl.com).
You will heal. I will help.