Finding your co-pilot when navigating illness with Natalie and Will Fleming

Ep. 134 Finding your Clinical Co-pilot when Navigating Illness with Natalie Sayre + Will Fleming

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In this episode, we discuss:

  • Loving yourself and your body when you have a chronic illness
  • Choosing the term Co-pilot versus Caregiver
  • What Natalie has learned about herself & life through her chronic illness journey
  • The experience of living with an invisible illness & communicating it to your partner
  • How Natalie and Will keep the energy light when things are heavy

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Episode Transcript:

Welcome to the Uncensored Empath, a place for us to discuss highly sensitive energy, illness, healing, and transformation. My name is Sarah Small and I am a life and success coach for empaths who want to create a thriving body, business, and life. Think of this podcast as your no-BS guide to navigating life, health, and entrepreneurship. You will get straight to the point, totally holistic tips from me, in real-time, as I navigate this healing and growth journey right beside you. This is a Soul Fire production.

Sarah: Welcome to today’s episode. I am so excited to share this couple with you today. Their names are Natalie Sayre and Will Fleming, and they are the creators of the Instagram account @clinicalcopilot, where they share the ups and downs of mindfully navigating life with chronic illness as a team. And I have had the honor of working with Natalie for several years now and being able to just see her immense growth and evolution. And the building and honing in, of the resilience that is within her, and within their relationship as well.

And I think you are going to see that, so obviously today. In their account, ‘Clinical Copilot’, they take you behind the scenes of their relationship, and the sometimes, turbulent journey when you are struggling with a chronic illness. And teach and inspire on how to create a strong foundation of love and support during those challenging times.

In today’s interview, I am going to be talking with both Will and Natalie about how to come back home to self-love in the hardest of situations. How to reframe the internal dialogue that goes on in our mind when you are struggling with illness. What they have achieved, and learned, and how much has been healed in the past several years? Also, why they chose the term, ‘clinical copilot’ over caregiver in their relationship? Which is something that I can personally relate to as well. My husband, Andrew, and I have also had to navigate this journey of a romantic relationship that has turned into a marriage.

And all the while, my health has taken lots of bumps, and turns, and winding spirals along the way. And it is something that has required so much communication between the two of us. And, I honestly think that it brings a unique perspective into a relationship. Especially, when just one of the partners is struggling with health issues. So, I am going to be asking Will about how he supports Natalie, but also how Natalie supports Will. Because you will hear from them today. You are going to see how much love is here, in this couple. But they support each other. It is not a one-way street. And that is ultimately why ‘caregiver’ does not feel like the right word in their relationship. And in my relationship does not feel like the right word either. So, there is so much to be learned here, so much to be witnessed, and they are going to be sharing a lot of the wisdom that they have gained along this path. And just taking it day by day, and figuring out how to navigate something, that we are not born learning, or knowing, how to navigate. And I think you guys are going to feel so inspired by how they keep silliness and playfulness, and fun and joy alive in some of the most challenging situations and circumstances.

Sarah: You know that feeling when you sit in your own problems, in your own shadow, in your own grief, in your own sadness, in your own frustration, your own stuck-ness, and you are, I am going to figure it out. I got this. I am going to figure it out on my own. And then you sit there, and it is so hard to find the answer because you are in your own shit. And it is hard to get out of your own stuff because you are so consumed by it. Because you are yourself. Because you have your brain, that you cannot just dissociate from. And so, when we get stuck in our life or we feel the problem is this thing, and it must be this thing. The problem is not always that thing.

And with the help of my Better Health therapist, I was able to realize that in my life this week, on our weekly call. We talk every Thursday. She is amazing. We were having our conversation and I was talking about something in relation to grief, that I thought was the problem. And she was, Sarah, how do you feel about this? What about that? And I was, Oh my God, that is the actual problem. I would never have come to that conclusion on my own. And really, part of what has been holding me back, or just making it feel challenging for me to move forward with grief, has actually been another issue with a different relationship in my life. Completely, seemingly unrelated but not. And I am so grateful to have someone with a more neutral eye, helped me realize and have those big aha moments in my life.

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Welcome the show, Natalie, and Will. I am thrilled to have you both on today.

Will: Thank you for having us.

Natalie: Happy to be here.

Sarah: So, I have known, we were just talking about, Natalie, for a few years now, and she was part of the OG Auto Immune Tribe, a community. And we have really been able to grow our relationship, both, not a client-coach relationship but also as friends and people who get each other. And it is just been such an honor to see you grow Natalie. I would love to start by more formally introducing each of you to the audience. And Natalie, if you can start by just talking about what has the last couple of years been like for you.

Natalie: Sure. I started to experience symptoms of chronic illness, pretty early on in my twenties. They presented really mainly in the form of migraines at first and then snowballed into more issues. The migraines themselves got more severe and more frequent. And started impacting every area of my life, from school to work, to relationships, to working out, getting coffee, everything. It just grew into a big issue and a big part of my life. Which led me to seek support in all kinds of places. Obviously, first with lots of doctors, and specialists, more doctors, and when that was not working, or when I was not making a ton of progress with that, I started to look elsewhere for support. I found Autoimmune Tribe. I found people like you, who were offering support in the emotional sphere of going through something like this. So, it is been a long road of debilitating pain, and very intense symptoms, and treatment, and diagnosis. But, it has also been an exciting road to learning a lot about myself. And I think with people like you.

Sarah: Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. And, I actually do not know the answer to this question. How long have you and Will been together? You guys are now engaged, and we are going to be talking about your relationship, and how you have been navigating that with illness. But how long have you been together officially?

Will: I guess, this September we will have been together for 12 years. So, it is been quite a while. I know a lot of people ask if she has been dealing with migraine, and Lyme disease and all of that before we met, or if it happened after. We were together for five years, before any health deterioration or anything like that. So, we have been through the whole gamut of it together.

Sarah:  Yes. That is interesting for you, Will, to have this perspective of Natalie, back in college or whenever that 12 years ago was for you. Before college, right?

Will: We met in high school and she was living out in California. I was in Louisiana, and we did a long-distance for a couple of years, before being together in undergrad.

Loving yourself and your body when you have a chronic illness

Sarah:  Oh my God, you guys are freaking adorable. I love you. And Natalie, I want to hear from you and your perspective for a moment. Around coming back home to your body and into self-love in the hardest of situations, that you have been navigating and traversing in your life, over the past several years?

Natalie: Yes. It has been such a long process. I think talking about where I am today, it has to start with that. Where it is, this did not happen overnight. This happened over years, and months and so many days of feeling like I was not on the right track, and feeling like self-love was impossible when there is so much pain going on at the same time. And, I think at the beginning of my journey with my illness, you are conditioned to not love your body. Because you are not supposed to love feeling sick. It is scary, and it hurts, and you are supposed to fix it. So, that was a huge hurdle for me for two years. Just figuring out how I could love a body that was in pain so much of the time. And look at that with softness, and gentleness, and not anger at least all the time. I still have plenty of moments where I wish I was not going through, the actual pain when it is happening. But, yes, it was just coming to a place where I accepted on a deep level that, loving this life, was more important to me than hating this pain. And part of loving this life is loving the body that is here. The body that lets me hug people I love and walk to go see sunsets. So, I do not know if that answers your question.

Choosing the term Co-pilot versus Caregiver

Sarah: Absolutely. I think you have said it really, really beautifully and I think, in my own experience with chronic illness that, there are those more simple things in life, that become really important when you are struggling. And you start to appreciate things so much more. And you have personally navigated so many different specialists, and different opinions, whether they are solicited or unsolicited opinions, I am sure. On how to heal, what to do to get better. You need this, you need that, appointments that you have navigated throughout this process. And in the Clinical Copilot Instagram, over there with Will, I was reading a post that, there was a very intentional purpose and reason around choosing the word, ‘copilot’ versus ‘caregiver’. And I would love to hear both perspectives on the process that you have, how you have navigated that process and also, Will, your role in that as, copilot? And if you want to chat a little bit about the difference between caregiver and copilot, I would love that too.

Natalie: Sure. I can go first and then Will can chime in and finish up with a copilot definition. But yes, it was really born out of a conversation one day, in the car. We were talking about, so this has happened through our twenties. And it is not uncommon for 20 somethings to go through, health crises and healing, but it is not the most common 20 something experience either. And, we were just talking about, how proud we are of how we have grown as a couple. And we were going to do some appointments. Oh, we were going to the DMV to get our licenses, which literally took us 12 months to do, from the point we moved. Because of other health things, and other appointments. And we were, this is awesome. Look at us finally doing it, and doing it together, and finding a way to make it happen.

And we were, the word, ‘caregiver’ it just does not resonate and feel like what is going on here. But also, it is not something that we are proud, to tell other people about. Because it is just not what is happening for us. We are a team, and we are helping each other, both achieve our own goals. He is copiloting my healing, but I am also a copiloting him, through his big dreams and goals. That, we were, we need a cool word, something that we can be proud of, and we can tell people, “yes, this is my copilot. This is my partner. It is awesome”. Instead of the stigma that can be attached to the word, ‘caregiver’ which reflects much more of a one-way relationship.

Will: And so, the way I see it as well as, when you are a caregiver to someone else, that other person is really dependent on you, or doing a lot of things that they are unable to do. And, there is a bit of an uneven dynamic between the caregiver and the person receiving care. And for us, I do not think we have ever seen our relationship that way. And we really liked the idea of a co-pilot, because we do always feel there is this bi-directional flow of support. And like Natalie mentioned, she helps me get through so much going through med school and being organized, and all the great skills and unique characteristics that Natalie brings to the table helped me out so much. And likewise, I am very optimistic, I am very giving and all of these other things that help Natalie out, a lot as well. So, we did not feel ‘caregiver’ made any sense in our dynamic. And we felt it probably also does not describe a lot of people’s relationships. Especially when you are in this age group, where, you do not want to see yourself as a caregiver, or somebody who is just receiving care. You want to be this team together. And so, we thought, that plane flying high, in cruising altitude, that just being co-pilots together, made so much more sense to us.

Sarah: I love it and I resonate with it as well. I remember this was the very beginning of the podcast when I had, at the time, my fiancé, Andrew on. He is now my husband, but, I had him on. Actually, he was playing, I think he was still my boyfriend at that point. But somebody asked, what was it like for him to be my caregiver? And it really triggered me, because I was, ooh, that does not resonate. I am giving to him, just as much as he is giving to me in this relationship. And, when I think of caregiver, and this is just my limited perspective of the word, but I think of more of nurses helping people in nursing homes. And here, you guys are in your twenties, I am in my thirties, that is not the image of the relationship that my husband and I have, or certainly, what you guys have with each other.

And so, I love that you have given a modern spin to it, an upgraded spin to it. But just more of an accurate definition of what your relationship is. And how that dynamic plays out in your relationship. So, within that co-pilot role that you both play Will, how has it been for you, to support somebody who is going through chronic illness? And I think especially, in what I know, because I know a lot of Natalie’s journey, there is been so many unknowns. There is been so many question marks, that have come up in that process. And what has that been like for you?

Will: That is a great question. And, it is something that ping for me, with what you were describing earlier. Just before I answer that, where, I remember at one point somebody said to me, oh Natalie is so lucky to have you. And that triggered me a little bit, where I was, I am so lucky to have Natalie, and we are so lucky to have each other. And so, I think that was another one of those moments where I was, I am not just caring for her, we are caring for each other. I digress. I am going through this chronic illness thing, with the amount of unknowns and the amount of ups and downs. One, it is just not something I think, you are just born naturally good at. I think that you learn to deal with, and you find coping mechanisms and other things that allow you to get through it. And, maybe, I was better equipped in some ways, because I am that eternal optimist who always thinks that the next thing is going to be the thing. But in some ways, that was all also really challenging, because I had these big disappointments when that did not happen. And Natalie had to adapt to, she is a scheduler. She is somebody who likes having plans, and things ready to go. And so, her having to let go of that a little bit and say, we will see, whatever happens, happens. And so, I know that, for me, it was not something I was naturally good at. And it is something that I have had to work at, and be more patient, and understand that this is such a process. So, I think I have gotten much better at it now, but I also do not want people to feel they should be in a great position. If it started off, and they feel totally overwhelmed and that they cannot handle it. And that, they will never get to that point because it just does not happen overnight. It is something that I had. I went through a lot of hard times myself, to try to get to the point where I could be a good support system. And it is totally natural for everyone to go through something like that.

Sarah: That reminds me of my own relationship again, with Andrew, in that, he would get so frustrated that he could not, I am air quoting over here, “fix me” and could not do more, to help me so much of the time. And finally, our communication got a lot better. And in that communication, I told him, I do not need you to fix me. That is not what your role is in this relationship, in this partnership. And instead, I need you to just see me, and I need you to see my pain. I need you to acknowledge my pain. I need you to hold space for me to cry, or to be pissed off, or to punch a pillow, or to just want to curl up into a ball on the couch, or in the bed.

And that, in itself, was extremely supportive, and extremely comforting for me, in that process of that navigating chronic illness. And, you mentioned this, I think you mentioned this previously, that you are in med school. And so, you clearly Will, have this heart of a healer. You want to help people. You naturally know exactly what to do in your relationship, or your partnership when Natalie is not feeling well. But there is a part of you that wants to help people in the world, as a future doctor. And so, I am curious to hear from you in that perspective, how that plays out with conventional medicine? And the way that, the things you are learning in med school? And obviously, you are not working as a doctor yet, but here you are learning these skills to be able to help people with illness. And then, you are living with and in this relationship, and going to get married to this person who is trying to navigate the very system that you are about to be a part of. How does that play out in your mind?

Will: Yes, it is really interesting to me, because I do feel Western medicine is really tremendous and fantastic, and so effective at acute illnesses. for an illness that happens and needs a fast resolution. I alluded to this earlier, at the beginning when she was first diagnosed. And when we were first going through this, it was, it is an illness that you are fighting. And that is what Western medicine is. It is a fight, and it is you versus the illness. And that is awesome when you are fighting something that has a definable endpoint, and that you can get to the other side of. But, when you are dealing with something like a chronic illness, all of that gets thrown out the window. And you really have to reassess and maybe understand that Western medicine is not set up to deal with a lot of chronic issues.

It has methods to be supportive and to alleviate some symptoms. But, oftentimes, what I found is that you need to bring in a lot of other components. I am sure that you and Natalie have talked about before, that are these Eastern medicine practices, and these more traditional ways of thinking that, are more towards just bringing the body into a more even state, than it is right now. So, that has been a challenging thing to hold both of those I guess types and approaches in my mind, simultaneously. While I am in medical school and learning about all of this stuff, that is out there.

Sarah: Yes. Thank you so much for sharing that and sharing that transparently. And, I agree with you so much that there is a time, and a place, for each. And with chronic illness, it often does require us to look at the whole body and the root cause of what is going on. But the diagnostics behind it can be much more challenging. And it can take us down this winding path that can get frustrating. And you guys have done, and Natalie, you have personally done so many different things on this trek, on this path of healing. And, as of this past year, flying out to California for some intensive treatments. And so, throughout all the things that you have been through, all the things that you have tried, some have worked, some have not worked. What do you feel, Natalie, have you learned about your body or your life as you have been going through debilitating pain, almost on a daily basis, and all the different treatments you have been through? What did you learn about yourself and about life?

What Natalie has learned about herself & life through her chronic illness journey

Natalie: Oh my gosh. That is a huge question that I could probably answer for four hours straight. But, I guess the first thing that comes to mind, so, you know this about me. And, before I even started dealing with an illness of any kind, I was a pretty anxious person. I just tended toward anxiety. So, as I have gone through this, and as I have gone through treatments and procedures, and appointments that, I never would have been able to imagine myself doing… I have learned, first of all, that, I can do things that I think I cannot do. And, I learned that over and over again, in a million different ways. Whether it is a procedure or just another migraine attack that has reduced me to, how am I going to get through this attack? And the answer is always, one moment at a time, one breath at a time.

And, it is so hard to get to that place. But when you are confronted with these battles. Or, not battles, but mountains, over and over again, and you show yourself that you can do them, even when it feels like you cannot. That is some of the biggest growth that I have had for sure. Which has bled out into other areas of my life or seeped out into other areas of my life. I feel so lucky that my journey with pain and illness has brought me to a gratitude practice. I do not think that happens to everyone. And, it can take a lot of time to get there, but I am one of the most grateful people I know. I can wake up and point out 20 things off the top of my head, that I am so very, very deeply grateful for.

Not just, Oh yes, I am glad I have this. But, gosh, I am so lucky to be alive and have this dog, that is a beautiful little being. Or this home is so comfortable, and I feel so safe here even though I am hurting. And we talk about a lot how, it does not matter if you would choose these struggles because they have happened. But, at the end of the day, when I do get to the other side of some of this, I feel I am going to be a much more joyful, grateful person because of it. And that is some of the biggest growth that now, I am proud of. And I am just so grateful to be able to turn so much pain into something positive because it can be really hard to get there.

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The experience of living with an invisible illness & communicating it to your partner

Sarah: I see that in you, so strongly, Natalie. I think that you have really mastered the skill of turning shit into gold. And really allowing yourself to lean into hope and into positivity. And not in a facade, a fake way, but in a truly authentic way, that keeps you going on this path. And, that keeps you grounded along this path, when there are so many bumps and, and setbacks, and hurdles that you are making progress. But it does not mean there is no challenge along the way. And, this is what you experienced, and what many of us experienced. Many people listening, and myself too, is an invisible illness, because you are a beautiful young woman who, some people might look at and think, Oh, she looks fine. And you recently posted on your Mindful Migraine, Instagram page. What you really mean when you say, I am tired. And, when we hear people say that, we think it means one thing. But when you have a chronic illness, it does mean a whole different thing.

So, I would love to just have two questions. Natalie, for you., what is it like to have an invisible illness? And, Will, because it is more of, you live together, and Andrew relates to this with me. You see, probably more of the symptoms show up in a physical way. And so, you are able to identify that, when she is going through that. But, I am sure there are moments or when she is trying to really be strong out in public, or you are traveling, or whatever. How do you support somebody when you cannot…? You know.. There is not a cut on her arm. She has not broken her arm, she does not have, maybe a rash or something, it is not obvious. How do you support someone with invisible illness and really tune into the subtlety of them? And then, Natalie, what is it like to navigate and live with that?

Natalie: Sure. I can start us off. Yes. It is hard, first and foremost. It is definitely not easy. And I think, a couple of years ago, I think I was much more consumed with it. How do I get everyone to understand how bad this pain is, and how hard it is? And, when you are operating from that point of view, it is even harder, because at least, I was overthinking everything. And if I do this, do they think that? And if they see me out at the grocery store, do they think that I have had a whole day that has been okay? Or if they see a picture of all those things. And something that really helped me was to let go of a lot of that. And to pick the people who I want to understand.

So, I prioritize. I want Will to understand as much as he can, what I am going through. I want my parents to get it. I want my brother to get it. I want a couple of my close friends to really get it. And, I figured out ways to have conversations with them about pain scales. Or, sometimes it was uncomfortable and awkward for me to be, I just needed to talk to you about this because I want you to understand how hard it is. I am not looking for sympathy or to be a victim, but this is my every day and I want you to know what it is like. So, I pulled away from trying to make sure everyone in the world knew what was going on. Or, everyone in the world got it and prioritized my closer circle getting it.

And then, it forced me to get comfortable with boundaries, and to accept that not everyone will get it. Not everyone will get me, but that does not mean it is an excuse to push my boundaries, because other people think I might be feeling better than I look. I got to, or I have gotten to a place where it is, all you can do is be honest, and authentic, and truthful. And, people are going to think what they are going to think. And hopefully, you are getting honest, empathetic people who are responding, but sometimes you are not. And then, that is, are you going to carry around the energy of them not believing you, or are you going to protect your already very taxed, limited energy. And, I let it go.

Will: In regards, to your question, it actually made me think about something that happened to me yesterday. Where, one of my friends said, it seems the couple of times today I saw Natalie this month, she was actually doing pretty well. And I was really happy to see that. And, that always makes me feel good because I am, yes, I love it when Natalie is feeling good. That is great. And I love it when other people get to see that and appreciate it. But then, I also had to remind him that, and this is one of my best friends, and he had come over I think four times this past month. And I said, well, two of those times Natalie did not even come downstairs, because she was not feeling up to even seeing or talking a little bit. And then the other two times that you saw her, she was still pushing through a decent amount of pain. And the fact is, she can do that. She can push through, she can sacrifice her long-term health so that she can be there in a moment, to experience something. And that is just something that she’ has gotten really good at, for better, for worse. But that is just the reality of the situation. And so, I thought that was a people will see and latch on to what they want to see, to a certain extent. Even when they mean only the best. Because they are trying to be supportive, and want to say, well, it seems like you are doing a little bit better. I have been thinking about you and whatnot.

It can be for the best intentions, but still, they will see that snippet, and assign it to a much larger description of how you are actually doing. And I am sure you have experienced that so much as well. And then, secondarily, and you brought this up earlier when you are out there in a certain environment, and how are you supporting your partner, your co-pilot, but this invisible illness. And it is like you said, communication. And it is developing a language that the two of you can use, that you know exactly what the other person means when they are using it. And that can be a pain scale, that is very specific for the person you are with. So, Natalie has got her own pain scale, as far as her migraine pain. And then, also, her spoonie scale, which is more of a fatigue or I guess a stimuli overdrive scale. We have developed these communication techniques, so that when we are out doing something, and I need to be able to ascertain what Natalie’s level is, that we can use those techniques to better assess it.

Sarah: Yes. Andrew has gotten so good with me at, it is the subtlest thing. And we should get better at having a scale like you guys do. But there is this thing I do with my hands that is not conscious. I just do it. And he is, we need to go now, don’t we? And I am, yup.

Will: Yeah. No, I mean it is an invisible illness. But it is very hard to have a poker face when things get really bad.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Will: We have give when things get to a certain extent, and I can tell. It is Natalie’s eyes for me, always, she gets the droopy eyelid. She always looks beautiful, but there will be a give more often than not.

Sarah: Yes.

Natalie: I think part of it, we still have times and it really highlights how invisible, invisible illness is to me. Where, I feel we are on the same page. We are out somewhere in public, I am, he gets it. He knows I am at a level nine migraine creeping up, and we get in the car and I feel like I am dying. This is awful. And he is, Oh, I thought it was just starting to kick up. You are that bad right now? And that always shocked me, because I am, here is this person who spends more time with me than anyone else in the world right now. Who gets all of the descriptions of my pain that I so creatively come up with, so that he can understand this as well as possible. And, even he misses it, not misses it completely, but in misreading the severity. And, I think that speaks to…

Sarah: It is invisible.

Natalie: Yes. It is not a cutesy saying, it is true, you cannot see it sometimes, or at least, hold a decent poker face. Mask your nine-level pain to look like a six or a 6.5. It is, if he cannot see, how can I expect anyone else?

Sarah: And we get so good at masking it, I think to try and fit in, and to not start to attract unwanted attention towards ourselves when we are uncomfortable. And so, we get good at it, so that even the people who are closest to us are, yes, maybe I noticed a little bit, but I do not know the intensity of it. And, unless you do communicate that with me, and you tell me, or we have a scale, or we have a tell, or a sign to be able to know that. And so, it is so important to have that level of communication with our partner that, you are navigating this journey with, or you are co-piloting this journey with. And Will, I would love to hear from your perspective, the story. It is obvious that you see the strength and immense beauty in Natalie. But I would love to hear more specifically what you have? What has her journey taught you?

Will: It has a rife with a whole mess of lessons, actually. And so, I have learned so much about just healthcare in general, from what she has gone through. And I have got this immense repertoire of knowledge going through this journey with her. It has taught me a lot about Natalie as a person, and her resiliency. And, a lot of what she talked about earlier, and just the development that she has had to go through. It has been pretty profound. And just all inspiring, in a lot of ways. So, I would say, specifically, there is so many components to it. I am trying to think of some specific examples because it has dominated our lives in a lot of ways. Every single part of our lives, whether that is interacting with our family members, and cherishing certain moments together where the pain is low. Or it is, being able to go and do an activity and having an appreciation for those types of moments. Or it is seeing Natalie work up to, this fear mountain of having surgery or trying a new medication, and then getting through that. And helping her get through it. It has been just lesson after lesson.

Sarah: To me, it is, from what I can see, also, a really beautiful indication of how compassionate you will be as a practitioner in the future. And I think that that is something that you cannot add to your resume. But it is definitely something that adds to your strength as a future doctor, as a future MD.

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The first type of lens is sleep plus lenses. And these are a red lens that is the only true way to block a hundred percent of blue and green light for after sunset use. They also help to improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and relax you. The second type of lens is blue light lenses. These are the ones that I currently have. They are clear lenses and they are blue light filtering for during the day. These are ideal for people like me, who work either under artificial light or in front of a computer screen all day. And these target the frequencies of light that cause migraines, headaches, macular degeneration, and digital eye strain. The third type of lens is the summer glow lens. And these are these sexy yellow lenses and they are blue light blocking meets color therapy. They are designed for daytime use for people who work under, again, intense artificial lighting who suffer from migraines, anxiety, depression, or even seasonal affective disorder. They work by blocking the portion of blue light responsible for these issues and uplift the person’s mood with infused color therapy. Pretty freaking cool. They even have an amazing sleep mask that is so comfortable, and so effective at blocking out light.

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How Natalie and Will keep the energy light when things are heavy

Sarah: I would love to hear from both of you because I think you guys are really good at this. How do you keep things light, when a lot of stuff is heavy? And where do you find silliness in something that is so challenging?

Will: Well, one of my purest joys in life is making people laugh. And so, I can almost turn any situation, even when Natalie is full-blown head pain, just feeling terrible, and she has even accept this. You can still laugh when you are in a lot of pain. So, I think it is, do not look for those moments. Try to create them a little bit. So, I think it is, they might not happen organically sometimes. But, try to make a little bit of a light moment, because one of the things that Natalie talks about all the time, is, you can have a day that is gone. That is totally taken from you by pain and by symptoms. But, within that day can be several moments that you can hang on to where you are doing something goofy or where you are laughing about something that is ridiculous. Sometimes it is just about laughing about how shitty it is. And just, isn’t this effed-up how our life is like this right now? And it is just almost unbelievable. So, I am not trying to tell people they should adopt a dark sense of humor, but it is not terrible. It is one of these coping mechanisms that are really vital to your mental health, honestly, while you are going through something like this.

Natalie: I think something that also helped us with that, and again, this took a little while. But there was a point in time, where, we did not have as good a communication as we have now. And I did not feel as competent that he fully understood everything I was going through. So, I would sometimes be more guarded around moments of lightness, on days that were really hard. Because I felt if I did laugh, then it would send mixed signals, like, Oh, I could not really be having such a hard time, if I laughed or smiled about something. And a couple of years ago, that I was able to let go of. I was, he gets it, we are on the same page. And that has made a lot of room for lightness, in terms of, he will give our dog Finn a voice and talk to me as Finn, and literally, even if I have been in bed all day. Hey, I think he is really funny. So, that probably really helps. But he can get me laughing. And, we have had times in the ER where, even if it is one laugh, something comes out. Or waiting for surgery on the one that I truly had so much anxiety, I thought I would die before I would get through the surgery. Which, I rationally know is not true. But we were finding lightness through that. It was okay, here we are about to do this thing that feels impossible. Well, let’s see how this goes. And, that has helped not guarding my joy, and not guarding my lightness at all. Sometimes I will be laughing and then I will start crying, and then I am laughing again. In the middle of a pain meltdown, that happens a lot where it will be, this is so crazy. How are we doing this? And that has helped, I think.

Will: And I think Natalie has touched on this just now. That is such a warped pressure on individuals who have invisible illnesses, that they feel they need to prove it. Because so many people will just not believe them if they do not. And not only are you suffering enough, but you have to show that you are suffering from other people. Or at least, there is that pressure to do so. And I think that to be so restrictive, like Natalie said, to finding that light and finding those bright moments. And what a burden for people that are already so burdened?

Sarah: Yes. Holy crap, you said that really beautifully. Well, I am really glad that you drew attention to that. Because I relate to that. I am sure many listeners can relate to that too. It is an added pressure that is really not wanted. There is already enough on somebody’s plate, who has an invisible illness. And so, Will, as someone who is seemingly healthy, at least on the surface level. You still have needs, as a human being as well. So, how do you navigate asking for what you want, or what you need from someone who does have a lot on their plate? And you guys, touched on this a little bit before. And it sounds there is definitely this mutual agreement that you both help each other equally. It is very much an equal exchange of energy. But I would love to hear more specifically, about being able to speak up for your needs when, the person that maybe you are asking, is dealing with a lot.

Will: Yes. Absolutely, that involves Natalie, making sacrifices in some ways. Or meeting me in places that are really important to me. So, I am someone who I need to exercise a certain amount of time throughout the weeks. That means going on several hours of runs throughout the week. And also, I am somebody who is energized by social interactions. So, sometimes that means if there is a gathering, and I feel I need to go and have that interaction, sometimes it means Natalie is home and dealing with her situation by herself. And that is never an easy agreement to come to. Because I do not like leaving her in that situation, and she does not enjoy being in that situation. So, one of the things that we have adopted is, having a weekly check-in and talk about what things worked for us, what things did not work for us.

How we can improve in certain ways. And that has been pretty fundamental in helping us come to these agreements. On ways that she can support me, and I can support her. Because, like you said, it is that two-way street, and if we are not feeling like we are being met halfway, it is going to build resentment. And it is going to build up negative emotions. And it is going to lead to unhealthy coping habits. And it is going to lead to a big strain on the relationship. So, I think, you have to be upfront and confident in talking about what is important to you, when it comes up and in those situations. Because, while you might be bandaging something for the short-term and the long-term, it is just going to blow up in your face. And they are not always comfortable conversations. But they are really important.

Sarah: I just want to say thank you so much, to both of you. And I would love to just end by opening the floor up to you one more time, and if there is anything else that you would share about the journey that you have been on these 12 years together. Any advice that you may have for other people or couples navigating a similar experience?

Will: Well, I guess first off, I would want to disavow the belief that we are a perfect team. And are not constantly making mistakes, constantly learning, trying to get better. And, it is certainly not all rainbow and lollipops over here. We are dealing, we are still figuring it out and it is a total work in progress. And so, one of the things that I brought up a little while ago, it was just, do not feel like you should be totally capable, and enabled to be a perfect co-pilot to somebody. It will not be the case. So, start low, go slow and work your way there. And, as long as you really care for the other person, and want both of you to succeed, both of you can.

Natalie: I think that was one of the first things we talked about with Clinical Copilot because we talked about it a lot as partners. But it also expands to parents, and friends, and coworkers, and anyone in your life who you love and who loves you. Sometimes that does not translate loving someone a lot. It does not translate to knowing how to support them. And once we accepted it as that, I was, Oh, not having the skill set to be perfect co-pilots has nothing to do with how much we love each other. We just need to build this new toolbox. That was helpful for us because we know we love each other. We know we are so excited to build a life together, but we have to build a toolbox for how to handle these curve balls that no one taught us how to handle. So, everyone’s toolbox looks different. One couple could copy everything we do, and it would not work for them. Everyone is going to have their own toolbox. But I think that commitment to just figuring it out together is what leads to progress, and what leads to making it work. And it is fun. It is you guys against your mountain, you can take it on together, and brag about what a great team you are. And be proud to be co-pilots and take it on with that attitude.

Sarah: Thank you.

Natalie: But it has been so much fun to talk.

Sarah:  I love it. You guys shared so many good inspirational, and actual action steps, and tangible things people can implement into their life as well. And I think there are going to be so many people who are inspired by what is a team. You guys are a team and you do work together, and there is an equal exchange of energy and open lines of communication. Even if you are constantly perfecting it and hitting bumps and being triggered by little things. You are still on the ride, you are buckled in and you are going on this ride, regardless. And so, I just want to say thank you so much. And we will, of course, link to both of your amazing Instagram accounts. You guys, if you are not already following @clinicalcopilot or @mindfulmigraine, they are just showing on a regular basis, these not only the underside of what is going on inside of your lives, in a very vulnerable way. But also, some amazing tips to be able to navigate that. Whether you are the person who is struggling with illness or you are the person who is in the partnership supporting somebody. Regardless, you are the co-pilot. So yes, thank you again so much. We will link to those in the show notes. And, thank you guys again!

Do you all love them as much as I do? I just think they are freaking adorable. And they are learning so much through this process. And I also feel it would be easy to just go through something like this even though it has been a year. So, this has been a challenge, and kind of go through it in a blur. And what I find so honorable about, well Natalie’s experience, is they are really pausing to gather the learnings along the way. And they are gleaning so many new insights as they do go through this process. This is not time wasted. This is a time where there is exponential growth, both together in a relationship, but also individually in both of their unique paths on this planet. So I am just again, so grateful to have had them on the show today. And I am so grateful for you for tuning in and for listening.

And if you are in a relationship, either you have chronic illness or your partner has chronic illness, I would love to hear it. Maybe both of you have chronic illness. I would love to hear from you and your own perspective of how you navigate that. What challenges have you bumped up against, and how have you overcome those? Because it happens in any relationship regardless of whether there is somebody or both people with an illness. There are always going to be challenges in life. But, we always have the opportunity to choose how we respond to those bumps and those hurdles. And again, it is something that my husband and I have really opened up lines of communication about. And it has really brought us closer together and deepened our connection, our ability to communicate, and our love, our love for each other. And I am so grateful for that, in my own relationship. I cannot wait to hear from each of you and what your thoughts are on the subject, and what you thought of today’s episode.

As a reminder, you can receive a free guided hypnosis on cellular healing to help tune back into your body and to its innate healing abilities. And to quickly access the subconscious mind and bypass the egoic voice, and shatter in the mind that says, I cannot or has limiting beliefs, or old stories, or a laundry list of excuses. And instead, it allows you to access that deeply healing place, very quickly. And, it has been one of the most transformational modalities that I have used in my own healing process, is hypnosis. I cannot wait to share this with you, especially if you are new to this modality. I would love for you to take a chance to try it out, and experience it for yourself, and I would love your feedback on that as well. Again, this is a free hypnosis to support cellular healing and heal the immune system. Simply go over to iTunes, share your honest feedback, make sure you screenshot your view, and then email that screenshot over to And then, in return, I will email you your freebie. Thank you again for tuning in and I’ll see you in the next episode.

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May 29, 2020


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