It’s been some time since I’ve logged onto Conquering Crohn’s. And because of that, I say “Goodbye for now”. This page has been an excellent outlet for me to share my thoughts, give insight, and learn. But most importantly it has been a space for me to find some fulfillment in being there for others when I myself wasn’t doing great. Either with my Crohn’s disease, mentally, or emotionally. I have found that lately I am in a good space. Which is great! But I don’t want to expend the time to write here. Or for other blogs I have written for in the past. At the end of a workday or on a weekend, I have nothing left to give to this little blog. It served its purpose for me and I hope it helped others along the way as much as it has helped me. I don’t want to be staring at a screen instead of spending time with my 2 dudes or getting anxious about finding time or ideas to write about. It has been a freeing experience not writing a new post since November (so sorry). So, with that, it’s been real IBD warriors. I’ll still be active on my personal instagram. And who knows, with time I may find my way back to Conquering Crohn’s if I need to escape the real world again and find purpose. But for now…I want to be in the present. Kelsey
Originally posted 2/17/2020. Updated 1/11/2022 Change is hard for anyone! But you, can survive change even with IBD. These past few years have been a rollercoaster ride. The rules continue to change, we aren’t sure what the latest safety precautions are, and are probably just sick of the constant runaround. Aside from what is going on in the world, change is inevitable, and at times can be good. Think. You get a new job or you’re moving to a new place. You may be transitioning into a new lifestyle (hello, plant based life!!), and your routine and life take a turn. This turn isn’t necessarily for the worst…but it’s completely different than what you are used to, and more importantly, what your IBD and body are used to. I’m going to let you know how to survive change with IBD…well, at least how I am surviving. A few years back now Back in 2020, I got a new job and had to go through a 4 month training program, away from home, away from my family, away from my doctors, away from my safe foods. It was really freaking hard, and this was before Covid. And it is really hard on your IBD to change up our routines, especially when you have such a good thing going and I had to do just that. But, there are still ways to keep everything in check and make it through a transitioning time (even with a move across the country after you are done!). Change requires you to really have a good understanding of your body and your IBD. Understanding your triggers is going to be your saving grace. What I’ve learned throughout my 10+ year journey with IBD is that you need to take the time and learn what works and doesn’t work for you. Can your body handle a little less sleep, or can you slip up on your diet choices a bit? THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! For me, changing up what I’m eating is my biggest trigger and biggest cause of my flares, after stress of course! So I needed to make adjustments. You need to figure out what the most important things for your body and your IBD so you can get yourself back on track. Also, get your support team on board to help you out along the way! Or like me, meet new awesome people who are willing to help you out too! So what can you do to help balance change with IBD? Here are the steps I have taken to keep my body in an equilibrium (I’m a scientist remember 🙂 ). I do this until I can establish a new routine or incorporate new changes into my life. And you never know, you may have to keep doing things like this in your future so prepare your arsenal so you’re ready when it happens! KEEP THE STRESS LEVEL DOWN. Yes, that is all caps because it is so important. I get stressed out way too easily and higher cortisol levels are not IBD’s friend. Exams, due dates, longer days, and being away from home are driving me nuts! But, it is life and you have to do what you need to do to keep your stress at bay. For me, its exercise (which is another point I’ll mention). I also have been reading non-work material at night, meditating when I find just a quick moment too, and writing in my gratitude journal everyday. Oh and making sure I take my happy pills everyday to chemically keep everything in balance! Easy to forget when you’re not home! Keep it moving! Even if exercising isn’t your thing, that’s fine but don’t think you need to start crossfit or something. Moving your body is a known reliever of stress which can keep our inflammation levels down. Simply go for walks or do quick stretching or yoga when you get a brief moment. Anything that will produce those happy chemicals to calm your insides down. For me, I try to go for quick runs after class/work but if I can’t fit that in, I walk to dinner with my new friends. Walking and fresh air will do a number for you, I promise! Be mindful of what you are putting into your body. I am used to cooking my healthy plant based meals everyday. Sometimes, this isn’t realistic based on what is happening in your life. When I am relying on other people to cook meals for me , I may or may not get carried away. (Hello french fries and onion rings! They’re plant based right!?). Cafeteria food or takeout is not for the easily influenced, like me, but you can still be sure to eat meals that work for you! The good thing about Crohn’s is that it has no problem telling you that you need to cut that shit out. Get creative so that you aren’t eating the same thing everyday and don’t go for the convenience of fried foods and sweets (I’m still working on that one) because it will catch up to you eventually. Rely on your TEAM and gain some new members! Have your support system on standby to help you out when you need it. I am call or text my family and friends daily to keep them in the loop. And they are keeping me in check too. Knowing you have support will keep you in the right mindset while you are working through a transitioning time. If you are in a situation where you can meet new people, find the ones who are willing to be there for you. Adding members to your team is the best feeling. And now you’ll have people going through the same things as you (maybe not with IBD, but at least mentally) who can help you and support you along the way! Changing it up can make our bodies so angry with us, but you can definitely fight back and keep a steady state until you are able to get back to your normal routine. Use this guide to help you through and reach out if you need any help! I’m still working on keeping my IBD happy everyday during this time for me, but I know I will be able to get back to normal with time! Happy times warriors! -Kelsey
Originally published 9/7/2019. Updated 12/12/2021 I just traveled for the first time in a LONG time. Traveling with IBD can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be! After my trip out to the east coast I figured it would be an appropriate time to revamp this post. If you are traveling for the holidays or for your leisure, read on to see what you can do to make it a little easier for you! Back in 2019… I want to take the time to talk about traveling with IBD. My husband and I are going on a week long cruise in the Carribean and Mexico and there are a few things I do to ensure I am prepared for traveling which I want to share with all of you. I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel with my Crohn’s somewhat cooperating, but there were definitely some times where traveling was difficult and uncomfortable for me when I was first diagnosed. Some of this may look familiar A lot of the steps I take are somewhat similar to my previous post about attending special occasions. But, there are other things that can be done to be sure that you are prepared for IBD’s unpredictability. You can still enjoy your time relaxing on vacation, traveling abroad or visiting family and friends! Knowing that some travel may be coming up, some coordination may be necessary. Here are some things to consider before travel! Deciding where to travel and what you want to do is always the fun part. Aside from visiting family, which still needs some preparation, you need to think about where to go and what do you plan on doing. A week long beach vacay would be prepared for differently than backpacking through Europe. What are the accommodations going to be like? What is the accessibility to bathrooms and refrigeration (for those of us who need to bring meds)? If you will be taking a lot of different modes of transportation; are their bathrooms on board? Do I need specific vaccinations? What are the food option going to be? Do I need to inform anyone of any allergies or food sensitivities? These are all questions you should go through while you begin making reservations and begin putting the pieces of your travel together. But first: Make sure you are in a medically stable condition to travel Let’s be honest, if you are in the heat of a bad flare, it is not in your best interest to travel. Just think, you aren’t feeling well to begin with and then you are going to add a multitude of stressors on your body. You simply will not enjoy yourself which won’t make the trip worth it. If this is the case, reschedule for another time, but this brings up another point…travel insurance. Travel insurance is something I used to always blow off. With the uncertainty of our diseases, it is something to consider when booking expensive travel. Look for an insurance that will cover your IBD. You can find out more information about this on the IBD passport website. PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE Now, if you think you are okay to travel, PREPARE PREPARE PREPARE. This part can be fun and will ease a lot of stressors that come with outings, at least for me. I honestly get anxiety as soon as I think about traveling, though I love doing it. So to help ease that travel anxiety, I like making lists of everything I need to book, check out and pack. So to begin, I recommend to go check out IBD passport. This website has a lot of information about traveling with IBD. While domestic travel is slightly easier because we have better knowledge of how things work in our home country, IBD passport also helps with foreign travel. They list a travel guide and have a list of locations for IBD centers and recommended vaccinations for locations around the world. The Crohn’s and Colitis foundation also has great travel tips available, too. One of the things that they stress which I also find extremely important if you are traveling abroad is to know where the location of the U.S. embassy is and check out their information about doctors and specialists in case something were to go ary. Be sure you have enough of your medication with you before you take off. Carry your medication on you or in your carry on luggage in case your checked bags get misplaced. When I used to inject Humira weekly, I had to travel with it to Europe. The pharmaceutical company was able to provide me with a TSA approved travel bag. This helped me travel with my medication safely and allowed me to inject while I was away. IBD passport provides information for people who have to get their medications intravenously. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your options as well! Have a list of your medications and medical conditions from your doctor in case of an emergency. This also helps with airport officials when checking your bags. Airline travel tips: My number 1 tip: request an aisle seat so that you can easily get access to the bathroom if needed. My husband and I always opt for the middle and aisle seats so that I can run to the bathroom if needed! Many airlines will also accommodate those of us with IBD if spoken to beforehand. Talk to a representative from the airline you are flying with; sometimes they allow you to board sooner to ease anxiety and will assure you get a seat close to the bathroom. I know that I get extremely anxious while flying. To help, I have asked my doctor for medication for flying. If you just get slightly anxious, bring some lavender oils or calming spray to help take the edge off and ease the stress. If you have a special diet or dietary restrictions, be sure to let your airline and place you are staying know prior so that they can be prepared for your arrival. I also found it helpful when traveling to another country to know how to say some important terms in the language, like “where is the restroom?” and “are there vegetarian options?”. The Crohn’s and Colitis foundation give other suggestions as well to make communicating a little easier. Be sure to have an IBD emergency kit packed. Be sure you have plenty of travel toilet paper and stock up on that hand sanitizer! I pack my emergency kit for a worst case scenario to be better prepared. If you don’t have one already, get a “I Can’t Wait” bathroom card. You can get these by becoming a member of the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation. I have mine on me AT ALL TIMES, whether I am traveling or not. It is the law, at least in the states, to provide access to a bathroom. Sometimes the card makes it easier for difficult situations or for businesses with signs that say “NO PUBLIC RESTROOM”. Keep everyone informed… Maybe I should have mentioned this sooner but let your travel companions know what is going on and how they can be there to help you. As is the case with preparing for special occasions, at least for me, I like to get people “on my team” and keep them in the loop with how I am feeling, could potentially feel, and how they can help me out to keep me calm and out of the bathroom. If you can, pack ‘safe for you’ snacks and bring/drink plenty of water. If just going away for a long weekend, bring safe foods or if you know where you will be eating call ahead and ask what will be served. Another option is to be the one to suggest some safe food options, like restaurants or meals, in order to alleviate some added stressors during travel. I know this is information overload, but Miss Type A here likes being super prepared for trips and honestly, proper planning typically leads to a much more relaxing and enjoyable time. If you are like me and get instant anxiety from just thinking about that super relaxing vacay you really want to go on, take a deep breath and just go through these much more concise and summarized steps. IBD Travel Tips, A Recap: Make sure you are medically stable to travel. If you are in a flare or just really haven’t been feeling great, reschedule for another time when you will most definitely enjoy it more. Check out the CCFA and IBD passport for travel guides and consider getting travel insurance that would cover your IBD. Choose smart locations, pick safe activities, know your bathroom locations in regards to transportation and accommodations, and food situations. Make sure to refill all of your medications before travel. Keep them in their original bottle and on your person or carry on. If you inject, be sure to have the proper refrigeration and TSA approved bags if flying. If you will need an infusion, check out IBD passport for the ability to receive that type of medication. Ease your transportation stress by booking aisle seats, informing airlines/train companies/cruise lines of your condition, and knowing bathroom locations on your route. Pack your IBD emergency kit with all your essentials and maybe a little extra! Make sure you have your “I CAN’T WAIT” card on hand. Bring safe foods, snacks and bring/drink plenty of water. Keep your travel companions in the know because having people on your team will always make your time more enjoyable knowing they will have your back! What are some other travel tips you guys have? I am always looking for more ways to ease some travel anxiety but still have a great time!
What causes Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis? You just got diagnosed with IBD. It can be scary, overwhelming, and confusing. You aren’t sure what to do or what causes Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis to even develop? Where did it come from? This question isn’t easily answered. The true cause of any form of IBD is still unknown. There are many factors that can contribute to these diseases developing. But, some of those factors can be explained and will hopefully ease your mind. I know when I was first diagnosed, I wanted to learn as much as I could…and now I want to help others learn! Most common factors contributing to the development of IBD: Genetics Environment Immune system issues It was once thought that diet and stress could cause IBD, but those theories have since been “debunked”. Researchers have found that they aren’t the cause but can definitely make symptoms much worse. You know I feel strongly about about how your diet and lifestyle can effect your IBD. They definitely play a role in your quality of life while navigating through your IBD journey. My genetic makeup can cause Crohn’s Disease? It sure can. I recently wrote an article for Autoimmune Sisters about how autoimmune diseases can be genetic or hereditary. I highly recommend you check it out. But genetics can definitely play a role in disease development. Understanding that diseases can be genetic and/or hereditary is confusing. So here is a very quick breakdown of how it works…you know I love my science!! Hereditary vs. Genetic The two terms are used interchangeably which causes some confusion. Something that is hereditary means that it runs in the family. One or both parents pass it down to the child. Whereas genetic is a term which refers to anything that has to do with our gene sequence or DNA. What gets passed to you from your parents are genes. So you can see, it is easy to get everything confused. You also have to understand that there are 2 types of diseases. Genetic diseases, caused by a mutation in someone’s gene sequence. These are not necessarily hereditary. Then there are hereditary diseases. There may be a genetic component that is passed on from one or both parents to the child. It is not uncommon for IBD, or any autoimmune disease (AD), to run in families. And just because one AD is present in a family, another one can develop due to mutated genes. Take my family for example: my maternal grandmother had Multiple Sclerosis, my mother has Crohn’s Disease, and now I have Crohn’s Disease. There is clearly some genetic marker in our family that causes some form of AD. You might have to sit and think about whether or not AD runs in your family. Even a few decades ago, most IBD and AD went undiagnosed. Due to advancements in the medical field, we are able to make these diagnoses easier. Think if grandparents, or even great grandparents suffered from an undiagnosed condition. So what does my Environment got to do with it? There is an interesting article that talks about many different environmental factors that can contribute to the development of IBD. Diet and stress would fall under this category though we are now seeing that they aren’t necessarily causing disease, but can definitely contribute. Other environmental factors include: Decreased exposure to microbial agents in the environment – meaning, we aren’t getting exposed to enough good bacterial and fungi from outdoors because as a society we are more “sanitary”. Typically patients with IBD have lower amounts of good bacteria in their guts or an influx of bad bacteria causing inflammation. Air pollution – this is also irritating out digestive systems therefore increasing our likelihood of disease. Lifestyle factors like smoking, diet, stress, exercise, and lack of sleep. Depending on your lifestyle, you could be creating the perfect storm for disease development. The use of certain medicines known as NSAIDS (think Aleve, Ibuprofen, etc) can also contribute to disease. Viruses and other illness – these tend to be what triggers the disease in many people. It seems that one sole environmental factor is not going to cause disease. But, many of these environmental triggers can contribute to it’s development. Immune System Issues… Autoimmune diseases occur because the immune system attacks itself thinking it is fighting off an invader. That is what is happening in IBD. Our immune cells are mistaking healthy tissue in our digestive tracks as invaders. That leads to inflammation and disease. But how does it just start? One theory is that your immune system is fighting off an actual virus at first, like a norovirus. But once your immune system has prevailed in warding off the virus, it fails to shut off. This causes chronic inflammation due to the heightened immune response. Another theory is that the intestinal lining is abnormal due to excess inflammation from any of the environmental factors listed above. The inflammation can interfere with how our immune systems respond therefore creating disease. The common denominator when it comes to our immune system’s ability to fight is inflammation. The Takeaway Researchers still don’t fully understand the cause of Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Understanding that there are many different factors that play a role in disease development may ease your mind (it did for me). Continuing to learn about IBD and reading the current science is fascinating. And you best believe that once they figure out the cause, I’ll be the first to let you know! -Kelsey
It’s no question that Crohn’s Disease, or any inflammatory bowel disease, can affect your mental health. I’ve been really open about how my mental health ebbs and flows. I think it is important to understand that with Crohn’s Disease, your mental health may take a plunge. But, there are ways to improve your overall health, both physically and emotionally, even with IBD. I’ll share what’s been going on in my life and how I am making changes to improve my well-being. The Gut-Brain Connection First off, it’s important to understand how intertwined the gut and the brain are. It’s no wonder that when we struggle with inflammatory bowel disease that we also struggle with our mental health. I mean, with everything going on in the world, who’s mental health isn’t all over the place? Add on the fact that we have damaged guts…a potential recipe for disaster. There is so much information out there on this. I’m only going to scrape the surface and hope you look more into it! Think of the times that you had butterflies in your stomach or felt nauseated before a test or speech. Those are direct linkages from your gut to your brain. Your brain may start stomach juices flowing before you have even taken a bite of food. It’s a strong connection, and that connection is real. Think of your gut as a second brain. Scientists call this the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is comprised of millions of nerve cells within the lining of your digestive system. No wonder we may struggle mentally when our gut health is poor. The ENS is responsible for our bodies ability to digest food. And all those nerve cells send direct signals to our brain and central nervous system which can have a huge effect on our mood. It is now known that people who have damaged digestive systems (IBD, IBS, and more) struggle with anxiety and depression because of it. Before, they thought that the anxiety and depression caused the problems, not vice versa. How to Improve Your Brain Health and Your IBD A good number of “feel good” chemicals, think serotonin, are produced in the gut. If the gut is damaged, meaning our microbiomes are off, these chemicals are not being produced appropriately. That mean a shortage of these chemicals are making it to our brains and throwing off our moods. But, because scientists better understand this connection we can do many things to help solve the problem. One way to improve your mental health is to try to change your microbiome. That can be done by taking prebiotics and probiotics. If you have healthy gut bacteria, that will reduce overall inflammation and appropriately produce the chemicals needed to keep the brain, and your mood, happy. There are also certain foods that help ensure a positive gut-brain connection. Foods high in Omega-3 fats, high fiber foods, and fermented foods are just a few that help promote the good bacteria…and we know what that good bacteria can do now. Better bacteria = better brain health = better mood/less anxiety. Promoting good bacteria will not only improve your brain health, but it will aid in healing your IBD. What I have found fascinating is how gastroenterologists are using this connection to their advantage in a way. Some IBS patients have been prescribed anti-depressants not for the mental aspect, but because it calms the nerves in the digestive tract. How interesting is that!? What scientists and doctors have learned thus far is helpful to know what we need to do to try and keep this happy environment in our bodies. BUT, there is still so much more research that needs to be done in this area and it’s happening now! So What’s My Deal? My mental health is always up and down. The past year has been a lot of down, BUT it’s mostly internal/self. A few years ago, I couldn’t say that as I was struggling in all aspects of my life (work, self, IBD, etc). I’ve gained about 15lbs in 9 months after removing my IUD. It’s all right around my lower belly and thighs which is extremely annoying. Eating clean, cutting out alcohol, and excessive exercise haven’t even put a dent in the weight…and it’s getting to me. My clothes don’t fit, my anxiety is through the roof (SPOILER ALERT: I stopped my anxiety meds around the same time), acne is out of control, and my doctors don’t agree that any of this is hormonal in nature. 🙂 My Lady Doc told me at my appointment the other day that I just need to eat healthy and exercise 2-3 times a week for 30 days and the weight will come off. If not, I can get some testing done to check and see if it’s a hormone imbalance. I reminded him that I’m vegan and currently workout 6+ times a week. We got that bloodwork done that day 🙂 But, he didn’t even check my female hormones, so…lost cause. So, recently I’ve decided to take charge. I KNOW that my stress and anxiety increases cortisol levels, which leads to hormonal belly right in my problem area. I don’t care that my doctors don’t think it’s hormonal in nature. Anyone who is constantly anxious will have this happen to them, and it can lead to weight gain. I’m training for a half-marathon for F-sake and I’m not losing any pounds even with calorie deficit. That’s when I decided I need to get my anxiety under control. If I can accept my aging body for what it is, and become more familiar with my anxiety triggers, and learn to reason with them…maybe this will all fall into place. How I’m Getting My Crohn’s Disease and Mental Health Under Better Control… I started talking to a therapist. You heard it here first! 🙂 I’m learning about what triggers me. I’m learning not to fixate on my anxiety and how to navigate these triggering situations. All while trying to navigate my body dysmorphia – which ebbs and flows. Some days I’m 100% fine with my IBD warrior bod, other days I feel like a large bloated whale 🙂 She’s also helping me better understand how my young IBD diagnosis has left some unresolved issues that we are now working through. Getting diagnosed during such a pivotal time of adulthood is weird… My weekly routine now consists of some yoga and meditation. Yoga is part of my half marathon training schedule and I am making sure I DO NOT SKIP THESE VERY IMPORTANT WORKOUTS. For both my mind and my body. This is just another way to try and naturally lower my cortisol levels. Especially because running can be a great mental release, but it adds stress to your body that needs to be let go of at some point! I’m also at a point where I may consider going back on my anxiety meds. Even though I don’t like being on numerous medication, there is a time and place for them and I think they will help me overall. I’m trying my hardest to eat clean. It’s hard sometimes, but I know that eating healthy foods will aid in this journey. I’m also starting a prebiotic and probiotic regimen to promote a better environment in my gut and lower my cortisol levels…peep this article that talks about how probiotics can help (it was mentioned further up in this post as well). And last but not least…I’m trying to not care as much. At the end of the day…I’m healthy and my Crohn’s disease is in remission. Maybe I’m 15lbs heavier, but my Crohn’s is happy and letting me train to run this half marathon. As long as I keep working to get into a better mental state, I’ll BE GOOD.