How To Master Grief & Acceptance With Our World IBD Day Ambassador, Natalie Kelley.

Firstly, can you please tell us three things that you’ve been grateful for over the past 24 hours?

In the past 24 hours I’ve felt grateful for so many things as I woke up with determination to make today a happier day than yesterday (so many ebbs and flows in this season of life). My top three things that I have felt grateful for are:

  1. The fact that I get to be safely quarantined with my parents and grandma.
  2. My morning routine full of joyful self-care like reading and mindful movement.
  3. Books! They’ve provided me with such a beautiful escape and moments of personal growth.

Where is your happy place? And why?

I would say I have two places that pop into my mind when I hear “happy place.” The first is Coupeville, Washington, where my parents live and where I am currently quarantined. Coupeville is a tiny, quaint, a beachside town on Whidbey Island that I grew up visiting almost every weekend. The smell of the beach, the old-fashioned nature of the main street, the beautiful stretches of farmland, the sunrises over the water illuminating the mountains… it never fails to take my breath away. This place makes my soul take a deep breath and reminds me that joy and happiness is found in the simplicity of life. It represents family and coming home, not only to my family but also to myself.

The second place that comes to mind is Kauai, Hawaii. I visited Kauai last summer and right away I felt an indescribable, undeniable spiritual connection to it. It’s where I took my first yoga class after almost a year of neglecting my practice, where I finally began meditating regularly and where I finally committed to banishing negative self-talk around my business. I went into that trip with a head full of self-doubt and I found a journal entry the other day from my time there that simply said “It’s time to stop playing it small and doubting yourself. You have big things coming” and it felt like such a turning point in my life. Kauai, to me, represents spiritual and energetic alignment, awakening and self-belief.

What does a healthy routine mean to you?

A healthy routine to me means balance and leaning into intuition. For me, a healthy routine truly relies just as heavily on rest, self-care and self-love, as it does on intuitive eating and exercise. It means having routines that light you up and EXCITE you to live a life that makes you feel your healthiest – mentally, physically and spiritually. A healthy routine truly means showing up as your highest self each day and nurturing your body and mind with immense respect and love.

You were diagnosed with IBD a few years ago, although have experienced stomach problems for most of your life. What was the initial diagnosis like for you? And how did you respond to the news?

I had always been that kid with a “sensitive stomach,” which turned into that friend with “food issues” in college. I was always in pain and bloated; leaving the class or work early, saying no to social plans, and crying as I lay on my bedroom floor. After a month in Europe with my family feeling sicker and in more pain than ever before, my ulcerative colitis diagnosis truly came as a sort of relief because I finally had a clearer path towards feeling better and getting help. I was scared and overwhelmed with the thought of the chronic-ness of chronic illness, but having a mom with Crohn’s disease, I felt supported and understood from the second I heard the news.

Since diagnosis, what encouraged you to understand the value of changing the way you eat and live to help alleviate symptoms?

I feel extremely thankful that I grew up in a family who valued healthy eating; I grew up cooking with my mom, picking fruits and veggies from our garden, and visiting local farms each week to pick up groceries. Food as a healing source had been ingrained in my head since I was born and I think that ultimately has played a huge role in my ability to change my eating habits to best support my diagnosis. The day after I was diagnosed, I committed fully to doing the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (a special diet for individuals with IBD) and, although it required an incredible amount of work and preparation each week, I had so much fun with the change. The more I changed my diet, the better I felt and it made the hours of meal prep so incredibly worth it. I think it really boils down to self-love – you have to love yourself enough and realize you are WORTHY of that love in order to treat your body well and support it with the foods you know make you feel good (while still finding joy in that food).

Once you realised that your journey could inspire others, your blog became a brand to help support others on their journey. Can you please tell us about your brand?

It’s really fun to reflect on the evolution of my brand because I started it after my freshman year of college (in 2015) – before my diagnosis – as a simple wellness blog to share my passions for healthy eating and long-distance running. As my wellness journey progressed and after I got my diagnosis, I shifted my brand into what it is today. Plenty and well represents confidence, acceptance, and joy on a chronic illness journey. My mission is to teach individuals with chronic illness how to accept their diagnoses in an empowered way, love themselves with their diagnosis, and find self-worth, confidence, and happiness on their journey. I do this through my 1:1 coaching, group coaching program, podcast, blog and ultimately by sharing my own journey, life experiences and truth!

And in what ways have you empowered/changed your community’s outlook on life? (please feel free to share a story about a client you’ve worked with.)

I believe one way that I’ve empowered my community is to share their stories and by doing so have empowered them to have a deeper acceptance of their diagnoses and a deeper love and respect for themselves, their bodies and everything they have endured along the way. I have also taught my community that their new life with a chronic illness isn’t “bad,” it’s just “different” and there can be so much beauty in that. With my clients, I see the way that I help them make connections to the roots of their mindset issues within their diagnosis, which empowers them to be kinder to themselves on their journey. For example, one of my past clients used to really struggle to make decisions around food and self-care that she knew would benefit her body with IBD. Together we uncovered that it was all stemming from deeply rooted self-worth issues outside of her IBD. By recognizing that we were able to first work on growing her self-worth in order to retrain her brain to see making healthy decisions as an act of love. It’s moments like that that I live for.

It’s World IBD Day where people unite worldwide in the fight against Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. What does this day personally reflect for you?  

World IBD Day represents the way I’ve fought to become who I am today, and it represents all of the past versions of myself – some who didn’t even know she had IBD yet. The scared, grief-ridden 18-year old. The 20-year-old me who was broken down by an eating disorder. The newly-diagnosed, naive 21-year-old me. The extremely sick, hopeless, hospitalized 22-year-old me. To now – the empowered, entrepreneurial, hard-working, strong 24-year-old me. It represents my journey through these stages, the physical and mental battles I had to overcome, the strength I’ve gained, the community I’ve grown, and the lives I’ve changed. It’s a day to celebrate – not only myself, but my community, my clients, my mom, and all of the other incredibly resilient warriors out there. I wrote a little phrase a few years ago – “she went through hell, but grew from the flames instead of getting burned” – and that’s what this day represents for me – hitting rock bottom and growing into the strongest version of myself I could ever imagine.

How hopeful are you that one day there will be a cure? And how does this thought impact your mental health?

I am very hopeful that one day there will be a cure for IBD! My parents work closely with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation so I see the hard work, money, and time that is going into finding a cure every single day. I’ve learned to not get attached to this idea though because a cure could come after my time here on Earth. I know that, even without a cure, I will still live a beautifully fulfilled life alongside my illness.

Many IBD patients deal with isolating emotions when diagnosed with their disease. The two emotions that aren’t as widely spoken about are ‘acceptance’ (of the disease) and ‘grief’ (from mourning over their old lives).

What are your go-to strategies in helping people deal with acceptance?

Some of my go-to strategies for helping individuals deal with acceptance is discussing and working on topics such as fear around change, the ideas of worthiness and self-love, the feeling of being a burden, victim mindsets and toxic guilt. We also work on mindfulness and being rooted in the present moment as a way to overcome the “what if’s” that inevitably come along with chronic illness. Also, working through grief is a huge aspect of my coaching and how I help my clients with acceptance.

What are your go-to strategies in helping people deal with grief?

When it comes to grief, the first step I help my clients with is simply the recognition of that grief. Because it isn’t always talked about widely in relation to chronic illness, many of my clients don’t even have a conscious awareness of their grief until I walk them through the stages and how each stage may be seen throughout their chronic illness journeys. I always leave room for their grief to be present and remind them that grief is not a negative emotion and the best way to move out of grief is to move THROUGH it – feeling it, discussing it and letting it out (rather than bottling it away). Many individuals deal with this grief over losing their old lives and identities, so we work a lot on finding ways to incorporate their old hobbies, traits, talents, etc. into their new life in a way that is suitable for their diagnosis. We also work on exploring new activities, hobbies, self-care routines, etc. that ignites the same love, joy, and excitement as their old lives did.

Now for some light-hearted stuff! What is one thing that you want to tick off your bucket list, and why?

Living in Hawaii, even if for only a few months, is number one on my bucket list right now and I’m going to try to make it happen in 2021! Ever since my life-changing experience in Kauai, my intuition has been urging me to go back for an extended period of time. I feel as if NOW is the time – I’m single, I don’t have kids and I truly only need a laptop, a camera and my phone to do my job. Why not take advantage of this crazy dream while I have no reason to say no?

Do you have any unique or fascinating hobbies (or traits if you get stuck) that not many people know about?

It’s funny because I feel as if almost all of my hobbies are very publicly known as they all play a role in my business – graphic design, writing, and baking to name a few. I guess the most unknown (albeit not that “unique”) would be writing poetry! I have shared one or two pieces in a blog post years back, but never show my poetry to anyone for the most part. I like to keep it as a private expression of my emotions.

The above content is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. moxie shall not be liable for any claim, loss, or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance upon any content or information in this article.

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