“Five Thoughts from Quarantine” – Reflection

Let’s get real. The COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming and terrifying. Thankfully, I am still able to work on a campus that has banned all visitors and is not allowing girls to fly home. My heart goes out to those who are unable to work or provide for their families. I am currently treading very lightly knowing that my immune system is compromised. Apart from the occasional Walmart trip, I’ve been faithfully practicing social distancing and hand washing.

Despite the toilet paper hoarding, I am encouraged by the world’s response to the pandemic.

Ellen’s Instagram home-videos keep me laughing.

And a close friend is posting daily “Quarantine Karaoke Challenges” with her parents. The videos are something I look forward to during this anxiety ridden time.

However, at the end of the day, when I’m trying to fall asleep, it’s hard to keep the anxiety at bay: How much longer will this isolation/social distancing last? Will someone I love contract the virus? Will I lose my job due to the economy tanking? Is there a “normal” life that will meet us at the end of this tunnel? Will I catch the virus? WHEN CAN I GO SKIING AGAIN?!

Amidst the chaos, there is a constant. That constant is God and His sovereignty is a solid foundation we can rest on. Paul Tripp’s article “Five Thoughts from Quarantine” is an encouraging reminder that points us to this reality.

Tripp reminds us that God is in control and that COVID-19 is not a surprise to Him. This pandemic reminds us that there is a greater virus that infects all of mankind – sin. Tripp encourages his readers to hold fast to the Creator and long for our final destination as Jesus followers. Check it out as I hope it can encourage you like it encouraged me!

If you do not know Jesus as your personal Savior or have questions about the God of the Bible, please reach out to me! I would love to share with you the story of reality and the hope embedded in God’s will for you.

Stay safe and stay home! Click here to learn more about my response to the COVID-19 here.

-Brooke

Thoughts From a “Crohnie” During the COVID-19 Crisis

Hoarding Beef Ramen, face masks, social distancing, and toilet paper! What do all these things have in common? These are a few of my favorite things.

ALSO COVID-19.

Amidst these CRAY times, guess who HAD to go to the hospital to get bloodwork done? Let me tell you, I did, and it was an eerie experience. Keep reading for more details on the apocalyptic adventure coming to a theater near you…just kidding. They are all closed. #socialD

AND

I will also go into why the COVID-19 virus is not only terrifying for the average bear, but why this pandemic is even more terrifying for the average “Crohnie.”

The COVID-19 Effect 

The story begins like this: I found myself starring in the global blockbuster tv show, COVID-19, when I entered the hospital for blood work. Just the walk into the hospital gave me the heebie jeebies (not the clinical term).

Upon entering, the hospital required you to sanitize your hands before entering. Like they had attendants standing at the dispensers with forced smiles to confirm that you had cleaned your hands.

Clean?

Typically this hospital is extremely inviting and packed with people. Beautiful architecture and natural light encourages a comfortable atmosphere. A piano player fills the lobby with etherial music. However, this time around, it was empty.

And silent.

The few people that were at the hospital all wore face masks and had gloves on. It felt like a hybrid between a CSI crime scene and the scene in Monsters Inc. where they are looking for children at the fear factory.

COVID-19! COVID-19!

What do Aliens and Bloodwork Have In Common?

Once I got through the intro to 28 Weeks later, I got into my appointment fairly quickly. The blood work was called a “Prometheus” test. This test determines how well my biologic medication, Stelara, is working in my body. And it immediately made me think of the mediocre Alien prequel: Prometheus.

*WARNING*
Do not watch this movie unless you want the above image embedded in your nightmares.

Now, I am someone who gets woozy when a needle is being plunged into my arm. The last thing I wanted to be thinking about is a disgusting, gut-bursting alien during the bloodletting process. “Needle-ess” to say, the experience was better than the movie Prometheus. Although, Crohn’s still makes you feel like a baby alien is about to burst from your insides.

So why all this bloodwork?

It’s possible for your body to develop an immunity to this type of medication. This means my body has the potential to view the medicine as an attack and seeks to build an immunity to it. Just when you think Crohn’s became simple, think again.

In the era of COVID-19, it is of the utmost importance that one has an Iron Man immune system. The most effective medications out there for Crohn’s, seek to suppress an overactive immune system. So, basically all biologic medications, like Stelara, are Thanos to your Iron Man immune system. You can see the dilemma.

I’m still waiting to hear back with the blood results. But so far, I am encouraged by Stelara. Upon starting the medication, my symptoms have improved tremendously. My symptoms have subsided and my fatigue gets better every day! I’m actually….*looking for some wood to knock on….* starting to feel like a healthy Brooke again. Learn more about how far I have come right here.

One Day at a Time

If you have gotten this far, then it is time for you to take a moment to wash your hands.

Furthermore, It was an encouraging visit to the hospital as I conquered my fear of blood work LIKE A BAWSSS. However, I can’t help but see my joy diminished by the current pandemic. For someone with a compromised immune system, what is the best way to proceed?

I am learning that it comes down to a few simple chores:

-Use Common sense. Or should I say, “Uncommon sense.” Don’t panic!

 -Take this seriously. Listen to our governing authorities for instructions regarding social distancing. Don’t use this time to go on a vacation and put others at risk. 

-Pray. Draw closer to our Creator. The COVID-19 is not outside God’s control.

Colossians 1:16-17.

-And last but not least…

Check out this great article that answers a lot of important questions regarding COVID-19 and Crohn’s.

For those with compromised immune systems, take heart! This is only temporary. If the anxiety is crippling, some of my favorite coping skills involve staying busy. I love cleaning, cooking, baking, painting my nails, and watching Impractical Jokers.

Sal Vulcano from Impractical Jokers

What are some of your coping skills? Please feel free to reach out with any comments and questions you might have. Let us rise to the occasion in this time where the world needs encouragement!

-Brooke

The Magic Pill Myth and Importance of Holistic Living

magic pill myth and importance of holistic living

Have you ever heard of the magic pill? It is the pill your primary care physician prescribes to heal all ailments super fast. However, just like the cure-all tonics of old, the magic pill doesn’t solve the problem, especially an incurable one like Crohn’s.

Hear me out, I don’t want to blame the field of medicine or doctors for this. Sadly, it is our culture that begs for the painless, “easy” route. However, with Crohn’s disease, there is no magic pill and so far I have found the most success in holistic living. Let’s begin with discussing the holistic living.

What is Holistic Living?

When I first heard the phrase, “holistic living”, I had an image of a hippie/yogi, who only relies on the “vibes of nature” to maintain a healthy life. However, holistic living really is a simple term: treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.

For example, do you have an upset stomach? Instead of just downing the pepto, holistic living considers additional factors to solve the problem long term. What did you eat that day? Are you deficient in any vitamins or minerals? Was your day more stressful than usual? Or consider anxiety. Sure, antidepressants come in handy for chemical imbalances in the brain. But holistic living also considers the following: are your living conditions triggering your symptoms? Besides medication, anxiety can also be combated with exercise, herbal supplements, counseling and sleep patterns. Boom! Holistic living!

Lack of holistic treatment is not entirely the doctors fault, but more so our culture – who is screaming for a magic pill. Our culture is lazy. I am lazy. We crave a quick fix. There are pills that quickly aid a burning gut: Anything to ease the pain and allow us to continue our binge of the Mandalorian. 

After months of my doctors just pushing pill bottles in my face, I began to wonder…what does a healthy gut look like? Feel like? And how do I nurture a healthy digestive system? 

How To Live Holistically

Surely what we put in our bodies greatly impacts our health. Every time I went to the doctor, they would gently nudge a healthy diet with the statement, “You should eat greens and healthy foods.” This is what I grew up listening to. Other than celiac, there was never a curiosity of food sensitivities. Once again, I believe this is due to the laziness in our culture. Everybody wants to eat what they want to eat and they don’t want to hear a doctor say otherwise.

It wasn’t until I met Dr. Holly in July 2019 where I began to open my eyes. She was painted as more of a holistic doctor.  At that point in my dark season, I would have settled for Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove.

Being a llama sounded a lot less painful.

I was desperate for answers and relief. Dr. Holly immediately wanted to discuss my diet and get me on the supplements/vitamins my body desperately needed, while also encouraging long term medication. She asked questions about my entire digestive health history AND my stress levels. She did blood work and stool samples to gather an accurate picture of what my body was going through. Dr. Holly addressed the issue at its root and did not just prescribe temporary relief. Finally, someone who was speaking my language! She was proactive, genuine, and she listened to me intently. 

After meeting with her, I began to note a difference in care from my GI. From my GI, I sensed an ambivalence to the power of a healthy diet and proper vitamin supplementation. I noticed a general lack of concern for my overall health.

Finally – A “Diet” Trend I Agree With!

Your entire life is made up of experiences. In this experience, I learned to listen to my body. You are the only person that knows you best!

For example, I kept a food journal for several months and researched foods to both include and avoid. I evaluated the stressors in my life and created healthier boundaries. I have created daily habits that focus on combating my Crohn’s. Holistic living with Crohn’s is possible! Learn more about how to get started here.

NOTE: My intention with this post is not to undermine the power and effect of modern medicine. I believe science has come so far in the treatment of irritable bowel disease. I don’t know where I would be without my long term medication, Stelara. However, I do believe there should be an active participation from the patient, regardless of medication given. With Crohn’s you MUST gain a deeper understanding of your body and what you are putting in it! 

I will conclude with this: my diet and lifestyle choices are a work in progress and I plan to post more about it in the future. Please add any thoughts, ideas, or llama jokes in the comment section below.

Behind Closed Doors

life with an invisible illness

Irritable Bowel Disease, like Crohn’s, is only one of numerous invisible illnesses. I would venture to say that most, if not all people, are living with an invisible illness. In 2019, NBA star Kevin Love opened up regarding his struggle with severe anxiety with his article, “Everyone is Going Through Something” One of my favorite actresses, Sarah Hyland, often shares information regarding her experience with kidney displasia and endometriosis.

Sarah Hyland on Chronic Health Issues and Suicidal Thoughts

 Whether it is mental, physical, or spiritual, most people experience a daily struggle that others can not see with the naked eye. 

Chronic pain, worry, fatigue often go unnoticed to others. But to the person struggling, it can be like a voice in your head that won’t stop screaming. Living with an invisible illness affects every part of your life and can cause major frustration in interpersonal relationships. However, there is hope to achieving a healthy quality of life!

Living with an Invisible Illness

When I set my mind to something, you best believe I am going to achieve it. Back in 2017, I dove into a new career and I thought nothing could stop me. I was achieving my quarterly goals and kicking names and taking ass! The dark side of the force could not stop me.

Avengers: Infinity War

Then I started getting sick and it made every aspect of my life a challenge. For example, I was encouraged to suck it up at work. I was a young girl that  had to learn to roll with the punches in order to build a thick skin. During the busy season, we know everyone struggles with fatigue and stress.

“Just survive until the slow season” was my mantra.

I lived in the Washington DC area, the hustle and bustle capital of America. The city rewards sleepless nights and sacrificed family time. Go-getters surround you. It’s an area ripe with a move it or lose it mentality. One misstep and a hundred millennials would pile in to take your place. The wedding industry is a beast of its own, but add environmental hustle and you got Godzilla. 

The Devil Wears Prada

Environment and work struggles were just the beginning. Creating and maintaining relationships proved to be another beast altogether. Malabsorption and no food left me with zero energy to give to my friendships. All I wanted to do in my spare time was be alone. This was unlike me. In college, I was hardly an introvert. I began to wonder what was wrong with me. The friends I did have did not fully understand what was going on and could not accept the explanation I was giving them. I couldn’t accept my own explanation. Living with an invisible illness “came in like a wrecking ball.”

This lifeless disconnection with others trickled down into my marriage. My husband confessed that he missed my former self. He claimed that I was just a shell of the former Brooke he had married. At first, these statements were harder pills to swallow than any of the horse pill supplements I was taking. After awhile, I didn’t blame him. He was right. My value as his wife was shot and I felt paralyzed to change anything.

God, Where Are Ya Bro?

I would ask God for relief. I would ask God to alleviate the symptoms. I asked God to heal me. I asked God to complete a supernatural work in my body. After about a year of what seemed like silence, I began to grow bitter. I began to entertain the idea that I was being Catfished by God. Nev, the host of the show, would look up “God’s” address and find a little man dwelling in his mother’s basement making promises He couldn’t keep.

Catfish: The TV Show.
One of my favorite things to watch!

If God “worked all things for good for those who love Him,” how was any of this good? (Romans 8:28) How was my condition helping anyone? It strained my marriage, stunted my advancement in work, and frustrated the literal crap out of me. 

I can now look back and say God was working. I may not have seen it in the moment, but looking back, He never left me. He taught me some valuable lessons, as shown below.

Hope for the Future

Coming to grips with the reality you are living with an invisible illness can be daunting. However, there is hope to improve your relationships and achieve a healthier quality of life. IN 3 EASY STEPS…jk none of this is easy. Keep reading.

  • Not everyone will understand. And that’s okay! I struggled with this truth for awhile. It often created tension in my marriage because I felt like my own husband “didn’t understand me.” At the end of the day, he doesn’t have Crohn’s disease. He will never understand. And that’s okay. But the one thing that matters to me? Empathy. He desires to understand my struggle and help the best way he can. This requires communication and patience from both of us. With that said, take time to have this transparent conversation with your loved ones. Learn to accept that they may not fully understand. Work to communicate healthy expectations from one another. 

  • Be realistic with your personal goals. At one point in my life, I was capable of running a half marathon and averaging 10,000 steps a day. I. WAS. FIT. Nowadays? I’m lucky to go on a short walk with my corgi, Scarlett, without getting winded. My body  just went through a battle scene worthy of the Oscar nominated war movie, 1917. Starting small, like adding yoga to your weekly routine, or increasing the length of a daily walk are baby steps if you are interested in having a more active lifestyle. Or not. Since my diagnosis and weight loss, being active isn’t at the top of my priority list. And that’s okay too!
Actual footage of food going through my colon
  • Remember that everyone struggles. It’s easy to enter a “woe is me” mindset, especially living with an invisible illness. However, we are all struggling with something. I’ve found it soothing to my soul to find opportunities to serve others around me. It gets me out of my head and focused on God’s work. Any act of kindness, no matter how small, can make a lasting impact! 

(Bonus: Find your support group – more to come on this topic when I discuss my first time attending a Crohn’s support group!)

Just starting out on your invisible illness journey? To get started, Click here. What is your invisible struggle? Please feel free to share your experience in the comment section below!