Bree Hogan is a certified holistic health coach and the founder of Starbrite Warrior , an online resource and support community for women living with invisible illness who want to do more than just simply cope.
Through her unique mix of realism, positivity, humour and a whole lotta heart, Bree shares her personal, oftentimes confronting (no sugar-coating here!), insights and experiences to help women shine brite and live ah-mazing, possibility-fuelled lives in spite of chronic health-related limitations.
When she isn’t Starbrite-ing it up, Bree can be found doing wheelies around her Hubby in her mobility scooter; playing personal chef and butler to Master Horus (fur-baby); or indulging her love of all things mint and chocolatey.
Be sure to checkout Bree at http://www.starbritewarrior.com/
At the inception of chronic illness there is a lot of fear and confusion. Can you describe the time you felt the most scared?
When I was 24-years-old, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of Guillain-Barrè Syndrome, an autoimmune system disorder that attacks the peripheral nervous system.
Within 3 days of initial onset, I was lying in a bed in the hospital’s critical care unit, my body systematically shutting down.
I was essentially a working brain trapped in a non-working body. I was not in the driver’s seat of my own vehicle. I had lost complete and total control over what was happening to me.
I experienced full body paralysis. My eyes were taped shut at night as my blink reflex had stopped working. I was fed using a nasogastric tube. I slurred my speech, making it very difficult to understand me. I was in an incredible amount of pain, barely able to stand a sheet covering my body.
There were days, which morphed into weeks, of uncertainty. Guillain-Barrè isn’t diagnosed based on a blood test, it’s done on symptoms. In the first couple of days of diagnosis, the doctors were pretty sure I had Guillain-Barrè but they weren’t 100% certain.
They decided to treat me for it anyway, knowing that if they didn’t then there was a very real possibility that I may not survive.
I had to trust that these doctors, these people whom I had only just met and yet essentially held my life in their hands, knew what they were doing.
I had to trust that this would all play out as they said (hoped!) it would.
I had to trust that I would eventually regain function in my body, to move again, to speak properly again.
That kind of trust, that level of reliance on another person(s) with your own life…that’s one of the scariest things you can ever experience.
Anyone living with a chronic illness can attest that there are good days and bad days. How do you embrace the good days?
With both arms wide open in a gigantic hug!
Seriously, you take the good days and you make the absolute best of them. Because you don’t know if tomorrow, or the next day or the next day, will be an absolute sh!t storm. Life isn’t promised so get busy living!
Is there a particular poem, song or book that offers you inspiration and courage during bad days?
I like to bop along to songs that bring out my inner warrior and superhero. Songs like “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down, “Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down)” by Chumbawamba and “It’s My Life,” by Bon Jovi.
Sometimes I like to switch it up with more mellow songs, but they are songs with lyrics really strike a chord with me. For example, “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran with lyrics like, “When your legs don’t work like they used to before.” Kind of appropriate to my situation and in a weird way helps to make me feel better.
But mostly it’s power songs on repeat. Oh yeah!
On your website you have discussed that getting sick was a good thing. How do people react to that idea?
Most of the people who come to my website are facing medical challenges of their own, so they tend to get where I am coming from.
I wrote a piece just a couple of weeks ago about how I never would have thought I’d feel grateful for living with chronic illness. I was prepared that it might generate a lot of “WT!” comments, but the response was overwhelmingly supportive with comments like “I know exactly what you mean!” pouring in.
I need to make one thing very clear: It’s not my intention to downplay or sugar coat anything to do with chronic illness because living with it can really, really suck.
If I were given a choice not to have this illness, I’d gladly take it. I’d hit ‘return to sender’ in a heartbeat. I’m sure anyone in a similar position would do the same.
But I can hand-on-heart say that I have come to a point in my life where I can acknowledge that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if chronic illness and disability hadn’t been part of my journey. It’s led me on an expedition of self-awareness and improvement, survival, love.
I have grown so much more, become so much more, because of the challenges I have faced and I am stronger because of it.
I’ve found a way to be happy, engaged with life, and to keep working towards my dreams, even with illness and limitation.
Life is good and I am so grateful to still be here!
Can you describe how writing has helped you cope?
I’ve always had a bit of a flair for the written word.
I wrote a lot as a young child and teenager. Then this thing called adult life took over – career, social life, etc. – and I drifted away from my writing.
Then two years ago I decided to start a blog called Starbrite Warrior.
We all have methods of coping with what we don’t understand or dealing with painful situations in our lives.
Rediscovering my love of writing has been that for me. It’s been the cathartic release that I’ve needed to move ahead in my healing journey.
Human connection is a powerful and inspiring thing. Can you explain how connecting with people from all over the world through your website has helped you cope?
Living with a chronic illness has the potential to be very isolating.
I’m fortunate enough to have a loving husband, family and a great circle of friends, but I still find it incredibly comforting to connect with other people through Starbrite Warrior and be able to say “That’s exactly how I feel, you really get it!”
Their illness may not be the same as mine but their direct experience means they have the ability to be empathetic, encouraging and supportive in a way that others can’t.
Where else can we find you?
You can connect with me through my website…