There is nothing worse than suffering from debilitating digestive issues and having no one believe you. Or worse yet, having a doctor simply prescribe you medication that causes more problems than it helps.
This is exactly the situation that Vivien found herself in and decided to take a more holistic path by embracing a plant-based vegan diet. She had hit an all-time low after having her kids when her symptoms actually got worse and instead of taking yet another prescription, she took her health and wellbeing into her own hands.
You can learn more about Vivien and her story by connecting with her on Instagram HERE.
Tell me about your story
Hi, my name is Vivien and I have Crohn’s, IBS, and Cyclic Neutropenia, a rare blood disorder. Every 21 days my already abnormally low certain white blood cells ( Neutrophils) drop down to basically nonexistent for a window between 3-6 days, where something like a simple cold could kill me. Neutrophils are instrumental in fighting off infection by surrounding and destroying bacteria that enter the body.
Then I also have Crohn’s disease, which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, IBD not to be confused with IBS. It causes inflammation of the digestive tract which often leads to severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. While IBD and IBS have similar symptoms, these conditions have different causes and therefore different treatments. IBS is a disorder that affects the large intestine, signs include cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or both.
IBD which includes Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis is an autoimmune condition, that causes inflammation of the GI tract, whereas IBS seems to result from digestive problems and increased gut sensitivity. So it’s very much possible to have both, which I have.
When did you first start experiencing symptoms?
I started experiencing symptoms around the age of 18. Until then I was fine eating anything. It started with severe cramps, bloating, gas, and back and forth between diarrhea and constipation. The doctors just dismissed it saying it’s in my head, I should work out more, and offered several different meds to treat it, even though I was told it’s just in my head.
Instead of getting to the root cause, they tried to put a bandaid on it. Then after I had kids it just got worse, but I somehow managed to float along with different lifestyle adjustments, such as yoga, walking, and meditation. I also became a vegetarian, which seemed to help for a while. Then years later I had my first major flare, and again I was offered meds with terrible side effects, which then would have required more meds to keep those in check.
I ended up in and out of hospitals, on antibiotics, steroids, and IVS for nausea and pain. I did this for a while, and I had stretches in-between that were ok. My stomach was always off and it was never normal, but it became my new normal. I learned to live with it and fake it being ok when I wasn’t.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face during your healing journey?
My biggest challenges were raising and homeschooling my kids, and finding a doctor who was willing to try alternatives, and not preach what he was taught in med school to do or say. To keep my mental health in check, as this is a shitty illness, and very isolating, and can be very lonely. It’s a never-ending cycle, it’s like a hamster wheel, because stress, for example, can trigger a flare.
Supplements, meds, doctor’s visits all that cost so much money, so now you are worried about that, you know you aren’t supposed to stress yet you aren’t given a choice because those bills need to paid somehow. So now you start to stress about the fact that you are stressing, and the cycle continues.
When did you decide to seek help?
I decided to seek help after I got worse and worse, losing more and more weight and just feeling very ill. I got a colonoscopy done and it was confirmed that I have Crohn’s. I was on steroids on and off and gave Stelera a chance which is often used for Crohn’s patients.
All of those meds came with terrible side effects and then also are immune suppressants, which is very dangerous for me because of my blood disorder. I then went to see a naturopath with my confirmed diagnosis to seek help and find an alternative to meds.
Did you reach out to anyone to aid you in your healing journey?
I didn’t reach out to anyone in the beginning as I found it super embarrassing and I also was convinced that there aren’t many people out there like me. Besides, let’s face it who wants to talk about their pooping habits with strangers? But once you start it will become as effortless as talking about the weather, I promise 🙂
So I kept quiet but did extensive research on my own about alternative healing or at least methods to keep this in check. I went into this with a very healthy and strong understanding that this is a lifelong journey and there is no quick fix and that this is a lifelong commitment. I don’t judge people who decide to go the medication route but for me, that just wasn’t it.
I also was never big on social media, but a few months ago I decided to talk about this and to raise awareness and to speak up for myself and for those who can’t because there is nothing embarrassing about this.
What was the main source of your holistic healing?
The main source of my holistic healing journey was my lifestyle changes, and my commitment to this being something that my entire life will revolve around at all times. And my neverending desire for learning new things about this illness and what can be done about it.
What is your favorite modality for healing, and why?
My favorite modality for healing is to understand that this is what it is. I am not any braver than anyone else battling some illness, I wasn’t given a choice. I now follow a plant-based diet and it works for me.
I keep my mental health in check, and my stress levels down. But I also understand that there are and always will be bumps in the road and I do my best, that’s all we can do. If something doesn’t work, I don’t beat myself up. I also try to look at all the good. Because there is always a lot of good even when it doesn’t seem like it. When I am sad or anxious I sit with it, acknowledge it, and let it go.
Do you face any challenges now, and if so, how do you handle them?
I do face challenges as everyone else does. The older I get the better I handle them and with more grace. I keep a journal, I meditate, do yoga, eat vegan and I became a minimalist years ago because it just makes life easier. Whatever happens, sadness, pain, happiness, etc. I sit with it and I know it will pass. On really rough days I try even harder to appreciate the small things and the people around me.
What have you found to be the most beneficial in your healing journey?
I found the most beneficial going on a vegan diet and making self-care and mental health a top priority. And to finally speak up for all of us suffering from this.
How do you advise people on overcoming that challenge?
My advice is to people out there, to accept it. The sooner you do this, the better you will be off. Understand that this isn’t a competition who is worse off and never question if you are sick to join a support group. Seek help from a therapist, join a support group, read about it, and always, always seek a second or third opinion. Trust your body, it knows what to do.
Why have you chosen a more holistic path in healing?
I chose a more holistic path in healing because I didn’t feel comfortable taking a million different meds to then have to take more to keep the side effects in check and poison my body.
What resources would you recommend?
Resources that I recommend are to read as much as possible, books or even online, meet with a nutritionist or better yet a dietician, go see a naturopath, don’t settle for the doctor that gives you prescription after prescription. The support on Instagram for the IBD community is wonderful, I’ve met so many brilliant people who are nothing but supportive. I also have a support group I lead once a week on zoom, everyone is welcome.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
YOU ARE ENOUGH, always. Remember that. On days when you can’t get up when you are sad, happy, depressed, tired, and didn’t do anything with your kids. Kids are more resilient than you think. When you can’t work, can’t do your household chores, dinner, groceries, etc. YOU ARE ENOUGH. Because you are fighting a fight most people will never understand.
Sometimes the root cause of an internal ailment is as simple as what we put into our bodies. We are what we eat, right? So it makes sense not to be cheap, processed, and fake. A whole-food, natural, plant-based diet is what Vivien found to work for her when nothing else did and that isn’t something to be ignored here.
You can learn more about Vivien and her story by connecting with her on Instagram HERE.
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