It’s given me so many amazing memories and great times that I would have missed out on. I’ve watched my daughter swim with dolphins, lived in beautiful areas, holidayed in hot countries, jumped off the back of boats into the ocean and seen some unforgettable sights. I’ve enjoyed amazing relationships and supportive partners that have been great about my stoma.
But of course, I didn’t always feel so good about it. I’ve had my stoma for 13 years. In a few years I will have had it longer than I have known my life without it! And if that’s the case, it’s important to make peace with ‘stomie’ (my nickname for it) and appreciate all that it’s allowed me to do.
It all started in 2008, when at the age of 24 my body gave up a long battle with Ulcerative Colitis. My only choice was to have my large intestine removed and a stoma formed. I worried I wouldn’t accept and cope with the changes to my body but being able to live again made it far easier to deal with.
I was now able to eat most foods without the pain it used to cause. I could go on holiday and experience life without needing to rush to the nearest toilet and sit in pain unable to move. I got my strength back and could hit the gym and get physically fit. Most importantly I could be around for my daughter who was 1 at the time and watch her grow.
I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly over-thinking and analysing situations, trying to control what’s happening and worse still, what will happen, instead of just going with the flow. In fact, I often think the more I try and control and meddle with things, the worse I make them.
But there’s a different way. I recently read a great book about Buddhism and it advices you to get out of your head by asking yourself three questions: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?
I like to close my eyes and really think about it along with some deep breaths. I find this quickly snaps me out of my head and into the present. To be in the past can be depressive, to be in the future can be anxious but to be in the present is peace.
Think about where you are when you’re at your happiest. Is it a park? The beach? The woods? Or even just at home.
Lockdown has made it tough as humans are social creatures and I love nothing more than visiting friends and family for a meal and a catch up. At times when I’ve felt sad, what’s saved me is my trips to the sea. Connecting with nature is so important, it makes us realise what a wonderful world we’re part of.
Watch the beautiful nature around you and see how perfectly it is designed.
If I’m feeling low, I like to walk on the beach and throw a stone into the sea asking it for answers and help - it probably sounds silly, but it never lets me down. Find your happy place and even if you can’t be there in person, enjoy it in your thoughts.
I think this can be underestimated and not often thought about, but it’s so great learning a new skill for your confidence and wellbeing. I took to learning the ukulele in my spare time. You could say it’s still a work in progress, but I like to pick it up often and feel a sense of achievement when learning a new song.
I’ve also decided to try and train as a stoma nurse so I can help others in a similar position as myself.
I’ve just started a foundation degree as a Nurse Associate, it’s one step closer to my goal and keeps me busy challenging myself. Without my illness and stoma who knows whether I would be spending my time doing anything constructive.
This is something that seems to be more spoken about recently which is really good. You’ve probably heard of ‘Self-care Saturdays and Sundays’. Well, for me, it can be any day! Run a hot bubble bath, put on a face pack, enjoy a takeaway, dance to your favourite music – be kind to yourself.
I’ve left this one until last as it’s so important.
When I woke up from my first surgery forming the stoma, I remember the nurse changing the pouch for me and I thought ‘please don’t put that pouch back on me’. I felt so sad, I hated it. It felt foreign and I didn’t want it on my body.
I think I had a realisation there and then that I had to accept this or else I would never be happy again. It’s a whole lot easier accepting and then being proactive than it is constantly trying to change things you cannot control. The way we react to changes and problems is often more important than the problems themselves.
You are amazing. You’ve come through so much and even if you don’t always feel it, you’re stronger for it.
Continue to challenge yourself, be confident and above all, be yourself.
Lots of love and happiness to you all , keep fighting.