Natalie Kelley’s energy is infectious, which comes in handy in her work as a Chronic Illness Mindset Coach.
“The main pillar of my business is my group coaching program: Path to Empowered Acceptance,” she said. “It’s truly so cool to see people come together to learn about acceptance, mental resilience, confidence, and joy, without that toxic positivity that is so easy to find around the chronically ill community.”
When Natalie first took her business full-time in 2019, she was nervous about choosing a specific niche to focus on. Soon, however, her personal experiences as an Ulcerative Colitis (UC) patient influenced her professional life.
“I knew that I wanted to help people feel less alone because I had felt so alone in the hospital. I earned my certifications in mindset and life coaching in order to make the mindset side of chronic illness more accessible,” she said. “That’s how it all started: I realized that I wanted to create something that past me so badly needed.”
It took Natalie years to receive her UC diagnosis. Doctors tried to say her symptoms were caused by her anxiety or were a result of her previously disordered eating, but she knew that those weren’t the right answers. Although Natalie did finally get her UC diagnosis before her senior year of college, it didn’t immediately change her daily life.
“I refused to accept that my life had to change in any way, that keeping up with hustle culture was really not working for my body,” she said. “I literally ran a marathon two months after being diagnosed. My body was obviously so unhappy, but I refused to listen to it.”
These decisions led to a UC flare that impacted Natalie a few weeks after graduating from college and forced her into the hospital. This is when her perspective began to change.
“When I was in the hospital, it really hit me that chronic illness was so much more than the physical. So after I was released, I went on my own mindset journey,” she said.
Natalie began going to therapy, reading self-help books, journaling, and listening to a variety of mental wellness podcasts. While these resources were helpful to an extent, none of them spoke directly to her experience as a woman in her twenties with a chronic illness.
“I had to play connect the dots while I was reading,” she said. “It almost made me feel more alone because I kept thinking yes, I’m going through this situation because I’m in my twenties, but I also have chronic pain, and I also have ten doctors appointments each week.”
Now 26-years-old, Natalie has carved out space for young people with chronic illnesses, both through her coaching and through her social media presence. She’s regularly interacting with chronic illness patients through each platform, and has noticed two common struggles: comparison and guilt.
“It’s so easy to feel like a past version of yourself that was more able-bodied is still within reach, but you know it’s not. There’s also a feeling of being a burden or feeling guilty for having more needs than your partner, family, or peers,” she said. “But we have to learn to redefine success as people with chronic illnesses and get to know who we are after diagnosis. We also have to learn how to advocate for our needs with confidence and a sense of empowerment.”
Now, in addition to continuing her journaling practice, Natalie is writing a book that blends coaching, memoir, and self-help. She’s hopeful that learning about her journey will help others avoid learning big lessons the hard way.
“Before diagnosis, the way I was living was actually really unhealthy because I was constantly pushing myself,” she said. “That’s one of the lessons I’m most thankful that chronic illness taught me: to release the hustle culture mindset. Being able to rest without guilt, to embrace a slower life, is the best feeling in the world.”