An estimated 7% of teenagers and young adults live with at least one ongoing health condition that can disrupt daily life, according to a National Health Interview report. These conditions can range from mental illness such as depression and anxiety, to physical conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
In 2013, 15-year-old Ashley Carnduff, a former secondary education major, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of the digestive tract which can lead to abdominal pain, weight loss and malnutrition. Since then, she has been diagnosed with several other autoimmune illnesses in addition to Crohn’s disease.
“When I was diagnosed, it was in the middle of high school when you’re already struggling to figure out who you are and where you belong,” Carnduff said. “Being 15 and not feeling like I could relate to anyone was really hard.”
Carnduff’s experience inspired her to start a blog where students with a chronic, or invisible illness can share their stories. She explained that people battling these illnesses need to know they are not alone.
“Someone who is getting diagnosed who feels like they can’t relate to anyone can at least go on this website and know that there’s someone else out there that they can relate to,” Carnduff said.
Though the website is still relatively new, Carnduff has gained a lot of attention on social media. Very recently, one of her posts went viral, which she calls a huge success.
“I gained a lot of attention on social media, actually, with one of my posts on Instagram. I’ve gotten a lot of attention on it already that I wasn’t expecting to have so soon, and it’s all been very positive feedback,” Carnduff said. “I’ve only published a few posts so far, but my most recent one was about anxiety. And I was shocked because it’s already been viewed almost 400 times and I wasn’t expecting when I first started the blog to have anyone but my parents reading it.”
Despite her initial thoughts about website’s potential, Carnduff says the response to her project has been more amazing than she ever thought it would be.
“I’ve just gotten incredible messages and comments and people just saying that this kind of stuff isn’t talked about enough,” Carnduff said.
In addition to speaking out about life with chronic illness, Carnduff also posts photographs depicting what invisible illness can look like. Randi Jo Sylvester, a junior nursing student, is conducting a photoshoot for Carnduff’s website at no cost.
“I do a few donated sessions and projects a year just for my creativity and for someone who deserves it,” Sylvester said. “I really love [Carnduff’s] cause as I am a nursing student at Boise State so being a health advocate is near and dear to my heart.”
Erin Taylor, Carnduff’s cousin, said she has seen nothing but positive reactions to the website and social media posts. In her eyes, Carnduff is taking a delicate subject and creating something incredible.
“I feel like it’s a great way to share her story and see all the challenges she has overcome while dealing with her pain she experiences every day,” Taylor said. “It makes me extremely proud that she is doing this not only to spread awareness, but also for herself so she doesn’t have to keep it all bottled up.”
Taylor explained that Carnduff created this website out of the kindness of her heart, and feels that she is creating a safe space for those looking for others that understand what it means to live with an invisible illness.
“I’m very proud to see that people have taken interest to know more about it,” Taylor said. “I’m confident that it’ll help others that have Crohn’s with healthy ways to help cope with the pain they may experience.”