I’ve been all different shapes and sizes over these last 30 years.
I was a chubby child.
I was an overweight teenager.
I was an underweight Crohn’s patient.
I am now a curvy woman.
When you have a chronic illness, it’s very easy to hate your body. You feel as though it has let you down, and you feel angry that it’s stopping you from doing what you want to do. But when you’ve always hated your body, even before your illness flared up, it can be a real challenge to learn to accept it.
When I was a teenager, I had a lot of pretty friends and I couldn’t help but compare myself to them. I don’t think it helped that I went to an all-girls’ school, as many of the girls seemed to be very critical of each other. So when they would all look cool, with their perfect eyeliner and short skirts, I was over here looking all dumpy with panda eyes. I soon found myself buying those magazines – the ones where every other article was about how some celebrity had gained too much weight or lost too much weight, and how ‘horrific’ they looked when, in reality, they looked normal. I was being bombarded by bullshit about how, if you didn’t look ‘perfect’, you were inferior. I blamed my body for letting me down.
It was the same when I was at university – I had loads of awesome friends who were pretty and looked amazing on our nights out.
It was always my friends who got all the boys’ interest, and I never got a look in. I felt as though no-one would ever find me attractive. I lost respect for my body, and I drank and I smoked, and hated how I looked.
When my Crohn’s disease flared up, I lost about half my body weight, had horrendous abdominal pains, lost blood and generally looked tired and grey. At first, the only symptom I had was weight loss so I wasn’t concerned. In fact, I was elated that I was finally shifting some weight. I thought it was just a natural loss in body fat – the ‘student diet’ of cigarettes and not much food, because most of my money was spent on getting drunk and dancing the night away for most of the week. But when the other symptoms (the pain, the blood loss, lacking energy) kicked in, that’s when I realised something wasn’t right. I was still losing weight, and I had gotten way past the point of being slim – I was now very underweight and looking terrible. I felt terrible too; I had no energy and even sitting down was uncomfortable, because my bony bum had no padding.
It got to the point where my parents had to pretty much drag me to the doctors and I finally had to face what was going on. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and it was very aggressive. Within months, my bowel was so weakened that it perforated after a colonoscopy. I had no choice but to have ostomy surgery.
They disconnected my colon, cut out a couple of really damaged bits, drained the perforation, and gave me two stomas – an ileostomy and a mucous fistula.
For someone who already hated their body, I thought having two ostomy bags would be the final nail in the coffin. I thought it would send me further into the self-hatred spiral that I’d been falling into since my teens. But strangely enough, the opposite happened. After my ostomy surgery, my symptoms eased off. I was feeling less pain. I was feeling more energy. My body didn’t feel like a torture chamber anymore. I felt freedom. I felt exhilaration. I felt better than I had done for years.
It’s not exactly been an easy journey towards feeling better about my body. There were a few blips along the way, one of which being my midline incision wound. It had reopened a couple of weeks after surgery and so it was a huge blow to my recovery as well as my self-esteem. I lived with this open wound for seven months before it healed and, when it did finally heal, it was a deep, ugly scar. I hated it for years. It wasn’t until my most recent surgery in May this year that I really felt at peace with my body.
I had my original ileostomy taken down and reconnected to my colon, and the mucous fistula was turned into a proper colostomy. Aside from the huge change of going from two stomas down to one, my surgeon (my wonderful, incredible surgeon) closed the wound with staples and left me with a neat, beautiful scar. Well… to me, it’s beautiful.
Poo isn’t exactly the most glamourous accessory to wear, but there have been times in my life where I’ve felt truly beautiful, even with ostomy bags.
And sure, I am not in the best shape of my life right now but it doesn’t mean I hate my body. I love my body, even if it’s not what people perceive to be ‘perfect’.
I’ve said many times before that these are my battle scars, and I am proud of them. But it’s more than that. Yes, my scars and my colostomy bag are a reminder of how my body overcame something that nearly killed me. But they are also a reminder of how my body somehow found the strength to fight back, even though I had treated it so badly in the past. It didn’t give up. So, now that I’ve pretty much recovered from my most recent surgery, I’m going to start exercising more regularly and eat better. Sure, part of that is to get back to a healthier weight, but mostly it’s because I just want to reward my body and look after it better, especially now that I finally accept it and respect it.
Words by Thaila Skye