By Alexa Federico, as told to Skylar Harrison
Before I became a lawyer for those with Crohn’s and IBD, my mother was mine.
“Her nails are blue. She’s lost weight. She’s really cold,” she told doctors over and over again about the alarming symptoms of her 12-year-old daughter, but she never seemed to take us seriously.
“She’s just a skinny girl,” one doctor told us. But my mother, a nurse, knew we needed answers. There was something wrong.
It started with fatigue and then joint pain in my knees and wounds in my mouth. By the time my GI problems appeared – stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and a low tolerance for food – we were accustomed to countless doctor visits and countless unanswered questions. We were used to not hearing our voices.
I spent New Year’s Day of that year in the hospital. My 10 day stint was full of endless tests – MRIs, CAT scans, a colonoscopy, an endoscopy. And then, after days of repeatedly telling my life story – more insistent than ever before – we finally got our answer. Most of the tissue in my digestive tract was diseased and I was diagnosed with moderate to severe Crohn’s.
Find my voice
That first hospital admission not only came as a great relief, but a powerful seed was also planted there. I did not know it then, but finding my voice in that traumatic stay would not only be crucial to healing myself, it would also be the way I would reach countless others living with IBD.
I started my first Instagram account as a freshman in college. The Allergy Food Diaries was an anonymous site where I started documenting the food I ate. With the help of a doctor of functional medicine, I knew that changing my diet and lifestyle were crucial to managing my Crohn’s symptoms. And so I started sharing daily photos of my meals and snacks, hoping to connect with others in the IBD community.
“You need to start a blog!” a friend suggested.
no way was my immediate thought. A blog felt too big, too public. I was happy with my little anonymous Instagram. Until I was not. Soon I wanted to reach more people. I clicked “live” on my blog the first day of my seniors and introduced a new handle on my Insta.Girl In Healing was officially born – my face and my story public for the whole world to see. I was not afraid. I was excited I knew I had gained a lot of experience and knowledge about my chronic illness and knew I could help many others who were sitting in the same boat. My goal was simple: to empower people with IBD to heal themselves.
Make a difference in people’s lives
As my community grew, instant messaging started coming in.
You give me hope that I can live a full life even with a chronic illness,
My symptoms are so similar to yours. It’s so good to know I’m not alone.
You take on healing ourselves – our whole selves – gave me such a perspective shift.
The whole thing just felt unbelievable. My,normally me had a positive effect on an entire community. Then I knew my Instagram was more than just a fun idea: it made a difference in people’s lives. Have I woken up from it now and then to share so much about myself? Absolutely! But I calmed myself down by returning to work.
For a long time, I kept posting practical advice on how to manage symptoms with diet and lifestyle. It made sense. After all, I was a functional nutritional therapy practitioner. But as I continued on my own healing journey, I knew I needed to go deeper. In my 20s, I began to realize that curing a chronic illness was not just about managing symptoms – it was about counteracting the sadness, anger, and resentment that lived within me. It was about forgiveness – forgiving a medical system that failed me, forgiving my body, forgiving my past. As my own healing shifted, so did the content on my Instagram.
Today, I only post about food every now and then, because I now know I’m called to help people heal not only physically, but emotionally. I hope to inspire people to regain their strength in their own healing. I like to think I’m a pillar of strength for my community, absorbing everything they go through and then creating useful content that they can apply to their own lives.
A new chapter and new Instagram account
In 2019, I hit the ground running after I developed a painful infection in my gut and had to have a bowel resection surgery. I have of course documented the whole horrible experience on my Instagram. I came out of that operation in remission, and it was the beginning of a new chapter for me. And a new Instagram account.
In 2021, I launched @AlexaInWriting, where I share poetry from my recently published volume, growing ivy: poetry for coming, healing and love, It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. It is the closest thing to expressing what I have been through: the devastation, the physical pain, the feelings of unworthiness, the hope and the healing. I even started reading my poems on the mat, and my face and voice attached to them.
When I think back to where my Crohn’s story began, when no one would listen to us, when my mother felt like she’s screaming underwater, it feels like a lifetime ago. Today, my voice is louder than ever, and I’m anything but anonymous.
I have been in remission for three years and am still committed to navigating both the highs and lows of this journey with my nearly 10,000 Instagram followers. That’s why I named my brand Girl In Healing – we are always in process. Our healing is a journey, not a destination.
I was recently asked why my poetry collection has the title growing ivyMy answer: “Because ivy can survive even after experiencing harsh environments.”