How I Learned To Love Myself While Living With A Stoma

Being an 18-year-old girl and hearing “you need emergency surgery to give you an ileostomy bag” was really difficult. That sentence has and will stay in my head permanently. But I didn’t really have a choice, it was either have the stoma or don’t make it through the night.

The first thing I thought was “who’s going to love me with a stoma bag?” when it should have been “this surgery is going to save my life.”

Teenage years are so important in finding yourself and building your confidence. We want to be liked and accepted, so that was the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to me.

All of a sudden, you’re a different person. After I was diagnosed, I felt like I had lost myself. I lost my health, my body. I became so weak. I had to learn how to walk again. I could barely stand up without my head spinning and that wasn’t me. It was the most isolating time of my life, all my friends went to freshers week and joined university and I was in a hospital bed watching all the stories of them at parties.

I lost my independence in recovery, even my mum had to bathe me. I spent months in denial, I didn’t tell a single soul. I pretended everything was fine and that I just took a gap year between studies. I beat myself up about not going to university and not starting my law degree. I am naturally a very focused and determined focus, but my diagnosis and surgery meant my ‘five year plan’ went out of the window. I had to change my goals and expectations for the future.

I soon realised that with chronic illness meant no cure. My IBD and my stoma will be a permanent part of my life. It is such a massive part of me and I shouldn’t surround that with such negative energy by hiding it from others and myself. My illness has helped me grow into who I am today. I am strong and resilient, and I wouldn’t of realised that if it wasn’t for this journey. It’s weird how we often make ourselves uncomfortable and uneasy, hiding away, to make others more comfortable? We need to normalise normal bodies.

Accept who you are. Practice self-love, you are worthy of absolutely everything in life. I encourage you all to find people who have the same conditions on social media – building a community with likeminded people has been the best thing that I have done. I made my IBD Instagram page @ibdkatie a few months after it all happened, and I wish I made it sooner. I have met so many incredible people on that platform and I couldn’t of got to the stage I am today without them.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Do not drain your happiness by looking at yourself compared to others. You can have a full adventurous life filled with all kinds of opportunities without pain. We all go through events that change us, whether we are sick or not. Let it change you for the better. Grow through what you go through. You have your condition, it doesn’t have you. Being sick has made me appreciate every little thing a whole lot more.

My illness has taught me patience I never had before. It has given me much more empathy and understanding, I had no idea people could feel like this and go through so much before I was diagnosed. This condition has made me see and attract myself to much nicer, genuine people than whom I was associating myself with before. Being sick truly does show you who your real friends are.

If you have a chronic illness and are going through the same thoughts and feelings, just know that you aren’t on your own. You are not your condition. There is so much more to you. Your illness has taught you how brave you are, revealed how mucho inner strength you have. Self-confidence is one big rollercoaster of a journey.

The only part of your body that needs to change is the way you think about it. All bodies are good bodies, your body is your sanctuary – it has carried you and fought for you all your life. You only get one body, so feed it love and compassion. You have all the capability of getting through this.

You are enough.

Push through day by day.

Keep fighting.