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Ep 136 Healing Chronic Illness with Writing Groups with Kristen Hutchison

Kristen Hutchison shares how her personal healing journey with ulcerative colitis inspired her to start a writing group for chronic illness.

Kristen Hutchison is a writer, patient advocate, and a passionate supporter of healthcare reform. She’s received her bachelor’s of science in biology and psychology from Santa Clara University, and recently completed a year-long medical writing program through Harvard Medical School. She has also completed certifications in somatic therapy, and trauma-informed yoga.

Kristen was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was in high school, and has lived with the condition for over 15 years. During one of the lows points in her medical journey, when the UC was flaring severely, Kristen started journaling. She felt isolated as a young woman with an invisible chronic illness, and needed an outlet to express herself. Kristen knows of the healing power of sharing our stories, and gathering in community to be seen and understood.

Kristen’s inaugural writing group starts on February 15th from 6-7:30 pm CST. Virtually or in-person at Sankalpa in Bloomington. We plan to meet monthly!

Resources mentioned in the podcast:

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Ep 136 Healing Chronic Illness with Writing Groups with Kristen Hutchison

Cynthia: [00:00:00] You are listening to the Well Connected Twin Cities podcast. I’m your host, Cynthia Shockley, and I’m here to learn alongside you through meaningful conversations with health and wellness practitioners. This is your time to experience some mindset shifts, learn practical tips, and get excited about what is possible.

We want you to own the power of choice in your personal well being journey. Let’s discover what’s possible right here in our Twin Cities community. 

Hello and welcome to the Well Connected Twin Cities podcast. I’m your host Cynthia Shockley and today I’m speaking with Kristen Hutchinson about the healing power of writing for chronic illness. So Kristen gets to share a bit of her own personal story, moving through chronic illness, experiencing some of the lows, but then being able to.

Reclaim her own power through [00:01:00] writing. And so now she’s on a mission to share this tool with others who are living with chronic illness and even caregivers who are supporting those with chronic illness because she has been able to experience firsthand how important it is to be the main character in your own life to reclaim that agency in making your own choices, being able to define your own story.

So I’m really excited for you to sit back and listen to this amazing story and hear about the upcoming writing group that she is starting. February of 2024. So Kristen Hutchison is a writer, patient advocate, and a passionate supporter of health care reform. She’s received her bachelor’s of science in biology and psychology Clara University, and recently completed a year long medical writing program through Harvard Medical School.

She has also [00:02:00] completed certifications in somatic therapy and trauma informed yoga. Kristen was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was in high school and has lived with the condition for over 15 years. During one of the low points in her medical journey, when her ulcerative colitis was flaring severely, Kristen started journaling. She felt isolated as a young woman with an invisible chronic illness and needed an outlet to express herself.

Kristen knows of the healing power of sharing stories and gathering in community to be seen and understood.

And here we are with Kristen Hutchison. Hello, so glad you can be on the 

Kristen: podcast today. Thank you for having me, Cynthia. I’m really excited to talk to you. 

Cynthia: Yes, and I know we got to have a little pre interview chat before and I was just so Excited to have this conversation because I know writing is something that’s been so helpful to me in my own personal [00:03:00] journey And it’s something that i’ve been able to use as a tool with my own clients and I just know there’s so much power here So i’m excited to dive into some of the science and some of Your own experience and why this is a passion to you.

 But before we dive into your actual work, we just did an episode on vision boarding and just setting intentions for the new year. And so I was curious for you, what is a value of yours that you’ve been prioritizing lately? 

Kristen: Yeah. Oh, I love vision boards. I just did one with a good friend of mine.

Um, and yeah, they’re really great. I think that one value I’m prioritizing is definitely rest. I think that in our hustle culture, I, sometimes get caught up in it and struggle with balancing the rest. And kind of decompression that we all need and, that rebalancing, like we’re speaking, it’s the holiday season and, and you need [00:04:00] that time to restore on your own.

And I think that that’s a very valuable thing to remember as we get back into working and get back into the swing of things. I think rest is, deeply powerful and necessary for all of us. So yeah, focusing on that. Yeah. 

Cynthia: Uh, I did not do a good job of rest this year. I had it on my vision board.

I had a little hibernating bear and I was like, okay, I’m going to let myself hibernate. I’m going to let myself rest. And I think I did for a little bit, maybe a month or so. And then it was just the floodgates opened. Uh, so yeah, I’ll have to agree. I’ll have to bring that back into my vision board again this year.

Kristen: Yeah, I love the hibernating bear. That’s such a great image of just exactly what I’m also trying to align with this year. 

Cynthia: Yeah, recognizing that rest is productive, that it’s something that we need. [00:05:00] 

Kristen: Yes, there are always more things that we can be doing I feel like there’s that productivity cycle that’s like, Oh, I can always do more, but it’s just to slow down and, um, Tricia Hershey is an amazing author.

She writes about the nap ministry and her entire purpose is like rest is resistance and rest is so critical to, to being embodied and connected with ourselves. And. And I just, I strongly value her work too. So that’s how I found that. 

Cynthia: Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Um, so I know, your career started in patient advocacy and then you’ve been transitioning more into facilitating writing groups.

So tell us a little more about that journey, what brought you into patient advocacy and then what inspired that transition into writing? 

Kristen: Yeah, so I, I have a strong passion for [00:06:00] patient advocacy because I think that especially as a person with a chronic illness, an invisible chronic illness, I think that community is one of the strongest foundations that we need in order to heal.

And I think, , especially with. Chronic illness that, you know, has ebbs and flows and, , having those connections to other patients in the advocacy world and, and supporting one another, whether it be informally, just through connection or formally through, connecting with your legislators and looking into how you can get more, health policy enacted that will support chronic illness patients.

I think that, there’s. There are a lot of different ways to get connected with one another, but I think that the advocacy, I started there through quite a few different non profits, and so they were established to create that community for people with chronic illness, so I’ve connected with them there and then I [00:07:00] transitioned into the question of how can I use my experiences in my health journey, in order to create my own, writing group, because that’s a way that I’ve connected with others in the past through these non profit groups, a support group mixed with an Expressional art group, I would say is the goal here that I’m, creating.

And so I’m really excited to use. My experiences and my stories to bring to the table and share with others as well as create that space for others to come and share their stories too. Hmm. Yeah, that’s amazing. 

Cynthia: And I love. I love the theme again and again of providers showing up, sharing the tools that helped them, 

and so do you mind sharing a little more about your own journey of moving through life with a chronic illness and how writing helped you? 

Kristen: Yeah, definitely. [00:08:00] So I was diagnosed back in 2009. And I was a senior in high school and, , It was very isolating originally and as I was mentioning before, especially with ulcerative colitis, there are a lot of ups and downs.

 A few years after I was diagnosed, I didn’t have a medication that was working. And so I was flaring pretty significantly. I had a lot of symptoms and When I was staying at my mom’s house and I realized, I have all these things I’m going through that are it’s essentially a internal battle against this disease.

And I was like, not many people will understand this. It’s not something you can really. Like bring to the kitchen table and say, Hey, mom, like this is what’s going on and she’d be like, Oh, I understand, so I started writing, I started saying, to myself, I have all these things I’m going through and I just need to get them out somehow, you know, and put them on paper and, and it felt so much better just physically and emotionally to [00:09:00] write down what I was going through.

And. Instead of kind of having that stubborn mindset of like, Oh, I’m just going to push through and, like these stories don’t matter that much. I’ll just get better. I felt like, , what I was going through was really valuable and really challenging. And I wanted to share that in some way, and even if someone wouldn’t understand, like your family member or something, you could still share your story in some capacity.

And I felt like that was very healing for me. 

Cynthia: And I’m sure too for anyone out there with the same condition to be able to hear the story, it validates in a way that other people just can’t, you know? Mm-Hmm, , it’s just not possible. We have such different lived experiences, but having the same condition and being able to be seen in that way is so important.


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Cynthia: I know in your own experience you felt the power of writing and how that really helps to heal you. What do you know about any research or any findings about writing as a therapeutic 

Kristen: tool?

Yeah, so in my bio, you mentioned that I completed a year long medical writing program and we had a lot of seminars there. [00:11:00] We had a woman named Annie Brewster and Jonathan Adler. They were two people that came and gave us a lecture during this program And their work, I actually have their book, it’s The Healing Power of Storytelling.

And so, Annie Brewster is a physician who was diagnosed with MS, and she realized, there’s this big gap , in the patients telling their stories to the physicians and, how impactful it is to share your stories. So, Annie and Jonathan did research on does it change your health to share your stories?

And there are a couple studies that they shared in the book I’m reading, and it was about increasing the agency of the people in the study. So they found that this affected mental health, which is connected to agency. So they said when the patients were sharing their [00:12:00] stories in any capacity, writing them down, speaking them out loud.

They found a greater sense of agency. So it was essentially saying, , I feel like I have a bit more control over what’s going on. And this disease isn’t just running the whole ship. And I think that’s a huge component of people, especially with chronic illness to sometimes feel like I don’t have agency over this.

Disease it kind of is coming at me and we just go with the flow and I felt that many times so I think it was really interesting to see that through their study that increase in agency and control over, your life with the disease, not just the disease leading your life.

Cynthia: Yeah, it’s kind of stepping out of that victim mentality into the protagonist of your story. Like, Hey, I’m the main character here. 

Kristen: Yes, exactly. And even if you are, , disabled or, bed bound, which I’ve been [00:13:00] both, like you can still have a little bit more control over what’s going on. You can feel like, okay, I’m sharing my story.

This story is important, not just, a disease. You know, I’m a person too. Yeah, 

Cynthia: you know, a really powerful concept that was introduced to me through, the master’s program at University of Minnesota in health coaching. We talked about the power of stories and how the who, what, when. Those are just facts.

Those are things that will always be there, but the why and the how are where the writer, the storyteller has so much power to really define what that journey is, the why and the how could change. A character into a villain or into a hero, we see this in how history is written by the victors and who is the hero versus who’s the villain in the history books.

Um, so to have [00:14:00] the power, that agency to say, this is the why, this is the how, and to be in control of that is huge. 

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely agree. I also think sharing our stories brings more meaning making into what’s happening, and you’re trying to find those why and hows and I think, yeah, it’s really valuable.

Cynthia: Mm. And I know you could be doing right one on one work, helping people with their stories, but you chose specifically to do community healing, to do a writing group where everyone can circle up, share stories, talk things through. Why do you feel that community is so important in healing? 

Kristen: Yeah, I think that, especially now, our, our American society is hyper individual, I have, resilience and strength, I can do this by myself, and, we’ve really lost touch with the, power that the community [00:15:00] brings in healing, and as you were mentioning before, I think, Especially finding that validation in, another person that maybe has been like, you know, I’ve been there, like I’ve experienced the same thing you have.

I think, that is just a priceless interaction. And I, loved that as I was going through, these past 15 years with colitis, I reached out to people who had gone through the surgeries I went through and before I went through them and I said, what can I expect? Like what’s coming?

And, and it’s just That was life changing to have people around you and to say, , you’ll be okay like I’ve been through this and I made it through and even more lighthearted, you know, , making jokes about something that’s really challenging and finding some levity in really serious health conditions, I think is incredibly valuable.

So just having people around and creating a space where people can come, As they are is so valuable to me and I [00:16:00] hope to other people to share, to not put on, the facade that everything’s okay, but to just like be with one another in their wholeness. And I’m really excited for that.

Cynthia: yeah, because something you said earlier is coming back to me now about having a chronic condition, something that is invisible, especially. It’s hard to go to a parent or a friend who doesn’t have that experience and just Um, And so, having this group experience where everyone can let down that mask because everyone is on the same boat here.

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. And one example of that. is I am a part of a [00:17:00] group called Girls With Guts, and they are a nonprofit organization for women with inflammatory bowel disease, and they have yearly retreats. So I was kind of inspired by these retreats because all of these people coming together, we’re at different states.

In our disease journey, I guess,, in our health journey, and, and I just remember not even needing to really explain myself. It was like, , you show up, and you’re like, oh, you know, I have to go use the bathroom, or like, I, I have these different food restrictions, and I had this surgery a while ago, and it just seems like this is normal conversation.

And to be able to, talk about that, and to like, make goop jokes, and my people just kind of are all In a similar, vulnerable space of, these are the things I go through as well, instead of, these are just the successes, like, I’ve pushed through the disease and I’ve, , overcome it because I think there’s value there too, but I think you [00:18:00] need to have that balance of, my successes while this is also occurring, that wholeness , the full picture of your experience is valuable.

Cynthia: Yeah, because even though you could be, living this hero’s journey and having conquered so much, there’s still the day to day of, navigating a condition that has these symptoms that you deal with and that other people in these types of groups can resonate with, can understand, can joke about.

 And you’re preaching to the choir here about retreats. I, love, love the power of retreats and bringing people together who have a common mission, a common interest, a common issue, and maybe just are in different stages or have that different perspective to offer. So it’s, really wonderful that you’ve got this group and let’s say someone’s listening and they’re like, gosh, this sounds wonderful.

But , I’m not a writer. I can’t write. What would you say to [00:19:00] those 

Kristen: people? Yeah, I think that there, , is definitely a level of, , perfectionism in the arts and in, expressive arts especially that kind of hinders a lot of people. And, , when I started writing, it was like 2015, I just started journaling and drawing pictures , and it was because I knew, no one’s going to critique this.

Nobody is going to say, you’re not doing this right. Because when you share your story about what you’re going through, there’s no right or wrong. It’s a very objective experience and saying, this is how I felt when I went to this doctor’s appointment and he ignored me the entire time.

Or, this is what the pain felt like when I had to give myself injections once a week, I think that the critique can override our need to share. And I think that there’s no, Oh, now I’m a writer. I don’t think there’s a point where, through my academic experience, through my professional journey, I don’t think there’s a point [00:20:00] where I’m like, Oh, now, , now I’m good at this.

I think that it’s, uh,, it’s really important to give yourself that levity and give yourself the room to, , quote unquote, make mistakes , and , not have correct sentence or complete sentences or, , there’s just all of this that we learned in school that kind of makes it like, Oh, I, I don’t know how to create a full storyline or how the plots and characters all line up.

And I think, this group is more for expressing ourselves, , among one another and sharing. , what our feelings were in, in different circumstances because I found a lot of the time, , through different medical procedures and tests and exams, you disconnect a little bit with how you’re feeling in order to, get through something that’s challenging.

, and so I think for me, it’s been very healing to. To really reconnect to my body and ask myself, how am I feeling through this? In this doctor’s office or when I’m wearing this paper [00:21:00] gown, what am I experiencing here? Because that’s really valuable to, I think we are also experiencing a lot of feelings and , emotions in our body that is very healing to release once we’re able to. 

Cynthia: I love that connection there that knowing that you’re going to write about something even right.

So even getting in that mindset of I want to write about my experiences and about , my experience in the hospital invites a different level of presence and mindfulness you’re actually noticing and like, oh, how do I feel right now? And mm-Hmm, , what is this emotion? Is this fear? What’s, what’s so it helps you almost process because you know that writing about it is something you wanna do in the 

Kristen: future. Mm-Hmm. definitely. Yeah. And I don’t wanna discredit, there is a lot of, medical trauma related to.

, A lot of these procedures and things that I’ve experienced and so [00:22:00] just speaking for myself It has been easier to just disconnect and get through these very challenging things but as I’ve been, you know writing my story and Connecting back in myself and healing through those periods.

I’ve just known that Yeah, expressing it once you’re ready is just, another step forward and, and yeah, that’s what I’m here for. Mm. 

Cynthia: Amazing. So, yeah, to prioritize expression over perfection, it sounds like is a way to be able to move forward, to take advantage of this as a tool and not as a performance, right?

It’s, it’s for 

Kristen: you. Exactly. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Oh, that’s sweet. I love that. Expression over perfectionism. Yes. 

Cynthia: Mm hmm. Yes. Good, good. I mean, I think, I know that’s something I think every, everyone needs to learn eventually because yeah, the education system teaches us [00:23:00] there’s a right and a wrong way to do everything and you’re going to get graded, so watch out.

Kristen: Mm Exactly. We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do for that one. Yep. 

Cynthia: Yeah. Well, I know that you’re leading the writing groups at Sankalpa, which is amazing. Such a beautiful space. Uh, so first of all, you know, when are these writing groups happening? And then who are the people who might benefit from joining the groups?

Kristen: Yeah, definitely. So I’m hosting it. Um, sun called, but I also I’m going to have a virtual option for people that are unable to make it. So I just want to mention, we’re going to have the in person option that I’m going to start. Let’s see the first day. is February 15th and that’s going to be in the evening from 6 to 7 30.

And so that will be at Sunculpa out in Bloomington. [00:24:00] And I’m going to have a Zoom link as well. And like I said, I want it to be as accessible as possible. So I want people to bring whatever they need to write, whether that be, a pen and paper or a laptop or whatever they need. To physically do that, and I’m going to host once a month for hopefully a long time.

So those dates will be on my website, which we will share in the show notes. And that is where, everyone can register. Awesome. 

Cynthia: And for those who would be interested, do you have any advice around, how people might know, this is the right group for them, what might they be dealing with or what might be,

is it specific conditions or is it just in general anyone who has something that they’re dealing with in terms of their health? 

Kristen: Yeah. So [00:25:00] this group is not a support group. So I go to a support group with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and everyone comes together, but they talk about, what they’re going through and people give advice kind of like that.

That’s not what this is. This is more of coming together in a shared space, for any adult. That has a chronic illness, which I know there are different definitions of what a chronic illness is, but something that you’ve had, consistently that you’ll continue having.

And then I also want to spread the invite to caregivers. So also adults that are at home helping, , a spouse that has Alzheimer’s or, , helping their child that has ulcerative colitis or something like that. I think there are not enough spaces for caregivers to come and share their experiences as well.

And I think that’s, a perspective that was really needed when, the patients are healing as [00:26:00] well. We need to have, both groups. Come together.

Cynthia: Oh, I love that. I love that. It’s the caregivers and those who are cared for being able to have space and it’s not necessarily, your person who is giving you care that’s there, but it’s someone else who might be able to give you perspective and vice versa.

 That’s huge. And yeah. Yeah, and what would be happening during these sessions that you’re meeting, whether virtually or in person, is it that there’s homework given and you, you come and share your writing or is it you’re writing during the experience, tell us a little more about the structure.

Kristen: Definitely. So I’ve gone to different, writing groups and I was inspired by one that you come together And I am going to organize a prompt that Is related to different feelings so we’re gonna go through and you each person can choose which one is coming up for them whether that be I have a an experience.

 Where I was [00:27:00] angry or I was feeling grief . And so I want people to bring materials where they can do free writing so at the beginning we’ll come together And I’ll introduce myself and then we can settle into the space and I’ll work on different prompts and then we can do free writing, or we will do free writing for a little while, and then we’ll take a break and then we can share our stories , and be together through that.

Kristen: It’s from 6 to 7 30, but I wanted to say 6 so people can start coming in and then we’ll be writing for about 30 or 40 minutes that starts at 6 30. Another thing is to have people be able to come into the space and get comfortable.

And especially Sun Culpa has a lot of, great, yoga mats and areas where you can lay down and rest for a little while and stretch if you’d like to. So that’s another part of coming into the space and then being able to share our stories with one another. 

Cynthia: [00:28:00] Yeah. Sankalpa is just like this little nest.

Like you just feel so cozy there. You take your shoes off and you have all the little props to support yourself. So I think that’s going to be a perfect space for the writing group and just to feel comfortable sharing. So now if someone is like, yeah, that sounds great. How do they sign up get started?

What’s that process look like? 

Kristen: Yeah, so I have a sign up link on my website, and, we’ll put the link in the show notes, but my, the main page for my website is k hutchison. com. So it’s the first letter of my first name, Kristen, and then my last name Hutchison. H U T C H U I s o n and then dot com.

So k Hutchison dot com has a couple of different tabs that explain, some of my medical writing experience and a little bit more about myself and my patient [00:29:00] advocacy journey and in some of the certificates I hold and things like that. So there is one tab that has the link to our class and that is the sign up link and you’ll be able to put in your contact information and the classes on a sliding scale.

It’s like pay as you feel comfortable. So I’m starting the class at 15, and then whatever you feel is appropriate from there. So you’ll be able to input that and your information on the website, so that will come to me. 

Cynthia: I love how it’s accessible, you can pay what makes sense for you and still find that community.

That’s wonderful. 

Kristen: Yeah. Definitely. Thank you. 

Cynthia: Well, Kristen, I know we’ve talked about, some of your journey and your passion around creating a space for people to connect, to [00:30:00] really cultivate their story, to take that power and agency, , back into their own hands. If takeaway that listeners left this conversation with, what would you hope that it would 

Kristen: be?

Yeah, I think that The main takeaway is that your story is important and your story can help a lot of other people, whether you think, Oh, no, I’m just, trying to get through this on my own and have that kind of individual mindset, which I had for a really long time. I started realizing, actually I think what I’ve gone through is unique, and I think that everyone has a story, no matter who you meet, everyone has gone through something that you would never know, and there’s, there’s so much value in our individual and unique experiences, so I think taking away that your story is also very important, is what 

Cynthia: I’d say.[00:31:00] 

Yes, it is. Yes, it is. Yeah. Thank you so much, Kristen, for joining me today and sharing just this amazing offering. And so yes, all the links will be in the show notes so so that you can keep up with Kristen, reach out if you have questions and then sign up for the series if you can, I mean,, and if that’s really.

Speaking to you. I think it’s something worth trusting if you have that tug at your heart and you’re like, Oh, this would be really good for me because it probably will. 

Kristen: Uh, yeah. 

Cynthia: Yeah. Well, thank you again. I’m so appreciative and grateful that you are creating the space for people to connect and heal.

Kristen: Yeah, and thank you for your time, Cynthia. I really appreciate and value your platform and well connected. I think it’s really nice. And [00:32:00] it also connects with my, community healing value as well. So thank you so much. 

Cynthia: Yes, we are well matched. Yay. Yes, 

Kristen: I’m thankful.

Cynthia: Thank you so much for listening to the Well Connected Twin Cities podcast. Did you learn something new? Did you feel that spark of hope and excitement for what is possible? Because so much is possible. Tell us about it in a review on Apple podcast. Not only would we absolutely love hearing from you, but these reviews help our ratings and help other curious minds like you find this resource.

We are always better together. Thank you again and see you next time.

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Cynthia Shockley Podcast

Ep 135 Vision Boarding Effectively with Cynthia Shockley

Enjoy some guided meditation, guided imagery, writing prompts and vision board strategy to support crafting an effective vision board....

Ep 133 Float Therapy for Physical & Mental Health with Ari Clark

Conversation with Ari Clark from Northeast Wellness about float therapy and the health benefits of experiencing sensory deprivation....

Ep 132 The Science + Spirituality of Conscious Cannabis Use with Katie Gross

Conversation with Katie Gross who works as a cannabis nurse to create a connection between spiritual and physical health through conscious cannabis use....

Ep 131 Neurostructural Correction: Where Hope and Healing Happens with Dr. Chad Kobs

Interview with Dr. Chad Kobs about discovering and treating patients’ primary symptoms using neurostructural correction chiropractic to optimize the body’s operating system....

Ep 130 Sound Healing to Deeply Connect with Caty Brown

Interview with Caty Brown about the science and intuition behind sound healing and her belief that all people are healers....

Ep 129 The Webster Technique for Prenatal Chiropractic Care with Hannah Steinmetz

Conversation with Hannah Steinmetz about the diverse use of chiropractic care to relieve pain and her experiences treating prenatal symptoms using the Webster Technique....

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