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New Year. New Ellen. New You.

I am thrilled to write this post to share the ins & outs on one of my dear friend’s new career and life path. Ellen O’Keefe (Meriage) has taken on a new nursing adventure and I am so proud of her accomplishments for becoming a Health and Wellness Nurse Coach, Board Certified. And her brand new position as a Clinical Performance Nurse. She gets to work with a group of physicians to implement strategic plans to improve patient outcomes and bring her holistic point of view to encourage positive changes.

Ellen and I have known each other since we were 5 in Kindergarten. After the big K, we went to grade school and high school together as well, then went our separate ways for college. Els went to Mizzou and I went to Missouri State University > Maryville University, but we remained friends with our tight knit group of gals from high school. Ellen studied Nursing with the end goal of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). However, that wasn’t her initial goal. She started college with the intention of a ‘Hotel and Restaurant Management’ major, then shortly after, switched to ‘undecided.’ By the following year, Ellen interviewed an aunt of hers, who is a lactation specialist, and spiked an interest in the Nursing field. She then took the aptitude test, and sure enough matched with the field to pursue Nursing; and that’s where it took off!

Ellen graduated Mizzou in 2010, and quickly started her career at DePaul Hospital for two years in the step down unit.

Ellen was fortunate to embark on some travel nursing in San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, SLUH, and Yuba City, California.

After traveling, she landed a position at St. Mary’s Hospital as a RN, where she worked the past 4 years and ended just last week, in The Transitional Care Unit as a Charge Nurse.

In between her busy work life, Ellen is a fun P.I.C.; has the best laugh in the game; Willie Nelson’s biggest fan; dances in the room like no ones watching; basically, she’s just kickass and you’ve been missing out if you’re not her friend yet.

Ellen married her love, Chris, in September 2016.

Right after the wedding, they honeymooned in Bali.

This is the time Ellen started having more belief towards alternative medicine. With all the stress of planning a wedding and the long hours of travel, Ellen began feeling under the weather and run down. She had your typical cold symptoms: congestion, headache, sore throat, fever, sluggish…but absolutely no time to feel this way. Especially on her honeymoon! So, when the locals got wind of how she was feeling, they gave her certain teas to treat her symptoms. Ginger tea was a biggie. It’s known for digestion, soothing a sore throat and sinus congestion relief. They also toured a coffee & tea farm to learn how they used different plants to take care of themselves before medicine. She felt back to herself, and quick! Ellen and Chris enjoyed their honeymoon, sick free.

Two of many highlights of their honeymoon I want to share because it’s just too cool not to: was being able to witness baby sea turtles hatch!

And going to the Hindu Temple of Purification. It’s similar to Baptism, but they do it more often like a cleansing ritual. It’s fresh spring water that’s been flowing for thousands of years. There is 7 spouts; each one to cleanse you of a specific sin.

When they came back to their homeland, Ellen started growing a passion for alternative medicine and knew she wanted to learn more to incorporate it into her personal & career life. While working in the hospital as a RN, she became frustrated and more turned off on how she couldn’t have the time to really connect with her patients – lack of getting to know what & how THEY felt, instead of what the text book told them what & how to treat wasn’t how Ellen wanted to be a healthcare professional. After spending little quality time in getting to bond with her patients, Ellen has to document, chart, pass out meds, give discharge papers with a medication script her patients need to take, but there was not much time to explain, in depth, educate and possibly give a different option, as something simple as a lifestyle change to improve or heal their body. But this is the modern healthcare world; it narrows in on symptom management, rather than healing the root of the problem. And she decided she needed to make a difference in another way.

As the frustration grew, so did her desire for a holistic approach. She researched and studied different options of incorporating this in her nursing career, asked people their opinions and saw positive change in others which gave her a great boost to begin that in her own life. While learning new ways to better oneself, she definitely wanted to practice what she will soon preach, so she dove into self care with practices, such as: meditation, yoga and salt water’floats’

  • Floating decreases anxiety and depression and improves sleep

  • Floating lowers stress

  • Floating relieves physical pain

  • Floating enhances athletic performance

    Floating benefits creativity.

  • Ellen started a course called ‘Transformative Nurse Coach Collective’ in January 2018 and completed the course July 2018 with 120 hours CNE (Continuing Nursing Education). After months of online education and practice clients, it concluded with 3 intensive days in Portland, which consisted of: deep self work, meditation, coaching techniques, and learning new tools for the coaching life. It also included all meals that were 100% plant based and “100% delicious.” -Ellen
  • A big thing you will hear and read in ANY lifestyle change is diet. Your diet can really become a game changer, but it also has to be done correctly. When Ellen started studying the alternative approach, she was growing knowledge in a plant based diet and luckily for her, she had someone she could work closely with in asking for some input:🙋🏻‍♀️

    I started my transition to vegan May 1st, 2017. I have been following my brothers vegan journey for years and always wanted to take the leap from noticing all the benefits of eliminating meat and dairy; but wasn’t about to make the change until I was fully committed, because my goodness, cutting out cheese was difficult. I probs day dreamed about jumping into a pile of cheese multiple times a day🧀😩

    But here came April 30th, 2017 and I set in my mind that May 1st was going to be the day. I asked my brother for tips and recipes and relied heavily on my love of Pinterest for additional ideas. I went through a bit of withdrawal at first with headaches and fatigue, but that quickly passed. I stuck strong to my diet and did what I could to make eating greens, lentils, beans, fruits as tasty and enjoyable as I could.

    With this new diet, I felt incredible. I never felt full or bloated (which meat and dairy tend to do). I felt nourished and content after my meals. I had more energy. My body wasn’t working extra to digest any bull shit I was putting in my diet. A huge thing I noticed from eliminating dairy was no congestion. I would sometimes feel mucusy (tmi, sorry) in my throat, sinus cavities and nasal passages and once dairy was cut out, I definitely didn’t feel congestion. Say what you want, but it makes sense that dairy was the culprit when you notice something positive from a diet change. If you don’t try it, how do you know what works for you, right?!

    I can’t say I am 100% vegan to this day because I have & do allow myself to splurge on my favorite cheese foods; pizza being my fav of all time! And some of Eli’s Halloween chocolate candy too, if we’re being honest. It all happened so fast…I saw a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and poof! It disappeared. In my belly. Down, down it went. And not being fully prepared when I’m out and about, sometimes leads me to poor food choices🤦🏻‍♀️ BUT I can say, it’s easier to enjoy a vegan or strict plant based diet at many restaurants, food trucks, stands, etc. nowadays.

    When Ellen took me on as her first ‘client’ to practice the ropes of wellness coaching, we made a plan to try different vegan joints around St. Louis to broaden our knowledge and tastes for different foods. Over the past 18 months, I’ve tried quite a few, but wanted to check more off my list.

    Our first joint was ‘Confluence Kombucha.’ We indulged in a flight of 8 tasters of Kombucha, Kinbap Tacos (roasted seaweed, brown rice, kimchi, and avocado), and Tempeh (pickled beets, honey, black tahini, fermented kale, and golden berry). It was almost too pretty to eat, but who am I kidding? We devoured it. You definitely have to have a good taste bud for every ingredient in these foods because each flavor was powerful and packed a punch 🤜

    Next up, is one of my favs ‘PuraVegan.’ I’ve been here a few times and each visit was delish!

    First off the menu, was the açaí bowl. It’s a base of frozen açaí pulp, mango, almond milk and agave. My toppings were granola, coconut and cacao nibs. Second, the mackincheese. Who doesn’t love classic mac n cheese?! This delightful dish is brown rice noodles, pepita cheddar, Brazil nut Parmesan, peas and tempeh bacon.

    And saving the best for last is the cornbread avocado toast. This is 🔥

    Gluten-free cornbread made to order in a waffle iron (uh, genius) topped with avocado, house-made brazil nut parm, and all pepper. AAAAHH-MAZING.

    Third, was ‘Yolklore.’ This cutie provides fun and innovative cuisine using local and healthy ingredients.  Meaning, it isn’t all vegan. Meat lovers are welcome!

    I had the MO Garden Greens (fresh greens, crispy falafel cakes, pickled vegetables and lemon vinaigrette) sided with the best potatoes evs: Yolklore potatoes (a whole roasted Yukon gold potato that’s seasoned with house salt and crisp up on the flat top.)

    Ellen decided to go more vegetarian and indulge in some eggs. She got the special. Drawing a blank on what it was, but you can enjoy looking at it _

    Our 4th, but surely will not be the last stop was LuLu’s Local Eatery. This quaint, eclectic restaurant is in the heart of St. Louis, serving a vast variety of vegan eats. Some “now you know” facts about lulu’s:

    • recycling and composting 95% of our waste

    • offering a 100% plant-based menu using all-natural, local and organic ingredients whenever possible

    • prioritizing a living wage and flexible work/life balance for our team

    • offering 15% off to customers who ride their bike to the restaurant

    • buying our employees a bike if they work for Lulu’s for 2 years

    • growing our own organic herbs on our patio garden

    • repurposing materials to use in our restaurant space

    • offering a seasonal menu and minimizing food waste by anticipating customer demand

    • using 100% compostable to-go materials

    • getting a five star certification in sustainability through the Green Dining Alliance (GDA)

    Pretty cool, huh?!

    Ellen went with a kale salad topped

    with cranberries, shredded carrot, sunflower seeds and maple mustard vinaigrette. And an app I nibbled at: loaded nacho tots. They tasted as good as they sound. This goodness was tater tots topped with jackfruit carnitas and smothered with house-made butternut squash cheese sauce, salsa, nondairy sour cream and garnished with green onion, pickled jalapeño and cilantro.

    Yours truly went H.A.M. on the Robo special. This beaut consists of a house-made sweet potato black bean burger wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla with fresh greens, lulu’s chili and house made butternut squash cheese sauce.

    Now that I shared the yums of the excursions of Els & Peeps, I want to shed lots of light on the true fulfillment I gained from Ellen’s health coaching….

    Nurse Coaches help people to adopt healthy lifestyles. They empower their clients to make choices which lead to fewer disease complications, less frequent hospitalizations an improved levels of wellness. Nurse Coaches honor their client as the experts in their lives and partner with them to discover the changes they need to make.

    Health and Wellness Nurse Coaches guide us to answer our “Why’s?”, to “cope” with everyday stressors and try to find healing with a nourishing diet.

    When Ellen took me on as her first coaching experience, she had asked for me to explain my troubles, health issues, etc and what, if any, actions I’ve been taking to help thus far and the goals/accomplishments I’d like to reach.

    Even though Ellen is a close friend and knows so much about me, I looked past that so we could make this coaching experience as real and true as possible. I laid out my health issue, stress of balancing being a mom, working, volunteering, trying to handle disagreements, my “to-do’s”, basically just life🌍! I explained the road blocks I keep encountering that are standing in the way of my desires and wanting to work on a plan of action to ease all of this and handle smoothly.

    I started with my first & only obvious health issue: Friedreichs Ataxia. The affects of FA have and still are diminishing my nerves that control balance and coordination. In turn, I cannot walk unassisted. Lots of sitting has me in back pain and discomfort. My feet are cold often and I love hot summers😬. Palm trees, oceans and sun are my happy place! It takes me a hot minute to open something in a wrapper, or button my clothes, or zip a jacket (but always up for the challenge and I accomplish it!)…My speech tends to slur when I talk too much💁🏻‍♀️ FA is a constant thing that is truly apart of me and the only way to calm that bia down and not let it take over my well being, is to grab it by the horns and {partly} do my own “self healing.” See, to me, a healthy & happy mind and body isn’t all about medication. There’s a time and place for that route, but I feel (in my opinion because it works for me) is to try an alternative, holistic, non invasive approach, or whatever you want to call it, before subjecting to a daily medication or big surgery that can lead to more complicating, troubling effects. That scares me. It really does.

    I also know some people don’t believe this is the first move to make or “these meds are the only solution in keeping me alive” or “this surgery saved my life.” This is true in many cases and I would do the same if it’s what I needed. I respect it. The Scientists. Doctors. Surgeons. Nurses. Mad respect for you all!

    But I have a lot of belief and practice in taking care of myself alternatively first. If it works, wonderful; if it doesn’t, then I am open to a medical approach.

    I am not against medicine, so please don’t label me as a quack. I would say I’m 60/40. More alternative, as I’m sure you’ve gathered. When I was diagnosed with FA, it was not as progressed in the beginning, so I considered myself a pretty healthy person; and still do. I didn’t have any other health issues, even the ones related to FA. I felt no need for medication, and I also wanted to be proactive in making sure I stayed as healthy for as long as possible without meds. This is what that looked like: physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, swallow therapy, yoga, working out at the gym with a trainer, eating a vegan diet, lots of water!!!!, vitamins, essential oils, herbs, keeping a healthy emotional and mental state: meditation, talking to a counselor, making memories with my son, having some time for social events with friends/family and most importantly, “me time.” Finding ways to fulfill my passion to give a little something that may mean a lot to someone else, all while making myself financially stable – all of this takes commitment and can seem like a lot, but doing these things have kept me healthy in so many aspects and I stick by these approaches. Just because this works for me, it may not for you or them; and I totally respect what you gotta do to heal or treat your symptom. People have different beliefs, approaches, opinions, actions, thoughts, so at the end of the day, you should applaud someone for doing what they believe works for them (that is if it’s legal); instead of putting their belief down because it’s different than your own. But if you’ve never tried an alternative approach before or haven’t gathered enough literature and knowledge on it, I encourage you to at least listen and learn from research, real stories and/or a teacher (Ellen) who can at least lay out different options. It’s nice to have choices, right?!

    So you may ask: “why do you partake in research trials for FA?”

    Like I had said before “there’s a place and time for meds” and a pill or shot that is working in a treatment/cure for FA is definitely MY RIGHT PLACE AND TIME. And if something does come about to treat/cure the one thing I want so badly to be gone, I would weigh in the side effects and hopefully be able to partake.

    Anyway, back on track…

    As I was saying, Friedreichs Ataxia is my obvious health issue, I am fortunate to report I don’t have any other health concern UNrelated to FA. Not even much related to FA either, thankfully. However, I do have other troubles and overwhelming jars to open and handle.

    I am a mom to a very active 6 year old boy. I am single and doing life with the love and support of my family and friends. Whoever said “It takes a village to raise a child” gets 5 gold stars, because you nailed it. It’s tough and trying and each phase, grade, year, group your kid goes to is a whole new bag of “what is this?”, and right when you think you figured it out, BAM the new phase kicks in. I’ve learned, sometimes, ya just have to roll with it or you’ll be beating yourself up, eating french fries crying in the bathroom😳

    Stay focused!!

    Raising a child while being “disabled” may make you think “that’s a lot” in so many categories! But I always make it work. Yay, me!

    I am not sitting on cash. Frankly, the money I earn is typically being used/spent for something important; savings are set aside in jars (I’ll explain in a bit) and spending it needs to be done wisely. I work part time, and as much as I love the freedom of the company I work for, I still need physical help in some of its tasks. I normally don’t mind asking for help, but the best word to describe how I feel asking is “annoying.” I get annoyed with myself to have to ask for tedious things. I hate it, but it comes with FA, so accept it and move on, right?!

    At the start of the wellness sessions, I would think and say “I have such a desire to be on a new path, but so confused & lost battling my let downs that I have no idea what it is to do even fulfill”🤷🏻‍♀️

    I knew I was taking a lot of the right steps to my issues/concerns, but maybe it wasn’t enough?

    I told Ellen the actions I’ve been taking, which I listed above: yoga, meditation, PT, exercise, diet…so on… but the first plan I made and voiced to Ellen, was to add an extra one/two days of meditation. As a wise 90 year old woman said: “yoga helps you learn to meditate, which gives the body a lovely stillness. You deal with things. Problems never stop, but the way you deal with them is far better.”-Margery

    👆🏻👆🏻👆🏻👆🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻

    I did that and was ready to attack and dissect my unknown path.

    During our next session, we highlighted my hobbies, my strengths…

    I write. I write for my personal blog and for FARA’s blog. I enjoy it and share factual personal juice, which other FAers can relate.

    I travel; kind of often too. I travel for personal trips and vacations, research trials, FA related events…enough to say I know some of the airport workers by name. It’s simple, I enjoy traveling. I do it with travel companions, just Eli and me, or even solo. Doing it all by the waves from my wheelchair.

    I open up to meeting new people and exploring new grounds. It means a lot when I have the opportunity to learn from people and it’s equally meaningful when others can learn from me…we talked about my strengths and I walked away from it with many questions for myself.

    I’m usually good at talking myself out of BIG dreams & wishes I like or would enjoy because if it’s an idea that favors me, I must be doing something “selfish.” But I was beginning to grasp and understand my importance and how far the importance is to be able to accomplish a desire, belief, a strength…

    This time, I started telling myself “maybe that’s why you feel stuck; because you never take that leap of something that means so much to you.”

    Whelp, I think I was onto something. Once I stopped talking myself out of cool ideas, I actually listened. I listened to my desires (so corny, I know) and to others, too. I had a couple friends tell me something I was always too afraid to act on, let alone say out loud, because I seriously thought it was too silly. “You should travel and write about how it’s done from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair.” Yes!! Someone said it! I heard it from more than one person, so that’s gotta be a sign! I’m a sucker for “signs” so I ate that right up.

    As I said, I really enjoy seeing new and familiar places away from home, so I have,for quite some time, put small amounts of money away for traveling. I never knew how, where, what, I’d be traveling to or for, but always knew I (or Eli and me) would be seeing some things. So over the years, that small amount of traveling money has grown and at this particular moment in my life I can confidently embark on this journey. I can give good intel for others who want to travel, but are bound to an assistive device. I can share tips on how to do it on a tight budget. I can give you some inside scoops to help travel easier and smoother.

    I have some goods I can explain that I’ve experienced already and definitely more I have booked and planned for the future.

    As excited as I am for this, I don’t plan to make this a BIG thing. The fine print to this is: My kiddo always comes first, so if this gets to become too much that takes away from mom world, I’m bowing out. My health, aside from FA, is excellent, but if too much travel becomes taxing on my health, I will need to consider an alternative. If other life scenarios come about that are pressing, the “pause button” will need to be pushed.

    Otherwise, I’m all in!

    I have experiences I can already share; one trip I took this month and one I did with Ellen mid October, to kind of get my feet wet with the planning, questions, pictures, planning of activities to do on the trip and just documenting more than the usual to share. I am excited for my next post where I’ll uncover the first trip!As far as the savings in a jar thing…

    Another perk of laying out some plans and goals with Ellen was to set a side small amounts of money, to add to, over time in 4 jars. 1) extra travel money 2) Eli and/or me spontaneous occasion (dinner, movie, haircut, a school obligation for Eli, etc…) 3) gifts. A gift I buy for a friend family whether it be birthday, holiday, wedding, baby shower…a gift for Eli’s friends birthday….4) when life happens (a car maintenance issue, an unexpected bill…)

    These jars have been an absolute life savor. I’ve had to dabble into each one that didn’t make me cringe when I didn’t account for my oil change in my finances, when Eli had back to back birthday parties, I was able to bring Eli to a dinner night with friends, the weather went from summer to winter in 10 seconds and I needed to stock up on new jackets and pants for Eli.

    It’s really been a great way to save & use for those purposes. And Eli has even learned from it and started his own money jar! What a gem.

    I’ve been committed to maintaining a good, healthy, balanced diet; I’m adding more meditation & exercise and working on following through to my wants & needs and life stressors. Ellen has helped me narrow in on my thought process and tackling one thing at a time. I have more confidence in pursuing, preaching, following the beliefs I love. I’m not afraid of sticking up for myself. I’m learning my limits and when to say “no” when needed. I’ve always been worried about other people and their feelings, that it took away from worrying about myself and my feelings. Hence, why I’m 31, a mom and single and FINALLY putting the pieces together. Starting here was a great choice for me; and I am extremely happy I had Ellen as my Health and Wellness Coach. I’ve also gained some relief to the discomfort I was having due to sitting more often with yoga and meditation. Just laying on my back on a yoga mat/rug I feel instant relief. It’s a good back stretch and a great way to realign (if ya need it).

    I know no matter how hard you try to be ready for “life” you’ll never fully be. There’s always something that will try and tug you in to your current status, but there’s nothing quite like a little uncertainty that puts a lot into perspective. Life is about lessons and chances and taking that leap of passion with the hopes it’ll come into fruition. So, here I am ready to take some action into the world of some traveling. Thank you Ellen for guiding me into this. Much love, Els❤️

    2 thoughts on “New Year. New Ellen. New You.

    1. Wow!!! Absolutely love this blog!! You put a lot of thought and time into your writing….what a wonderful journey you and Ellen accomplished, and continue to embark on new and exciting experiences!! Thank you for sharing past, present and future adventures!! Love you Erin Kate ♡

      Liked by 1 person

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