Hey Friends. I have been pretty MIA lately due to a busy life, a growing non-profit and an active social life. All of which wouldn’t be possible with my awesome jpouch. I put it to the ultimate test a few weeks ago though when I went on a 3 day, 4 night hiking trip at Big Bend National Park in Texas.
So as an IBDer we deal with a lot of shit, literally. But there is no feeling worse than dealing with shit that comes from somewhere it’s NOT SUPPOSED TO, which is what a fistula is. A fistula is an abnormal opening that connects two organs, causing drainage and air and pus and god knows what else to come through whenever it wants. I have a recto-vaginal fistula. So you can only imagine how THAT feels. Having a fistula is not only gross when it’s at it’s worse, but can also be painful, depressing confidence crushing. I know that for myself, personally, it leaves me feeling almost less-than-human. I’ve had 3 fistulas since my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis (which is now Crohn’s) in 2004 and I’ve tried every procedure and medicine out there for the damn things. I’ve had seton drains, vaginal mesh, Graciloplasty surgery, fistula plugs, the advancement flap repair, have been on Imuran, Remicade and am now on Humira to try and keep these damn things at bay.
Granted, since I started Humira my fistula has remained calm and even closed a majority of the way. But, after having a plug surgery last week to get the thing to ‘fully’ close I am having more drainage than I had BEFORE the surgery and am back to feeling pretty low. With this disease we go through highs and lows, what ifs and ‘should we?’ and constantly question our next move. I have a hard time planning ahead because I don’t know if I’ll still be able to do said activity once the day actually comes, and with a constant draining fistula, it makes these decisions even harder. The fistula affects any regular activity: standing, walking, sitting…etc. If I do any of these things too long I can expect to suffer the draining, burning consequences. Not to mention sex. Sex is a whole other subject. I’ve kept my fistula issues a secret throughout most of my relationships but as I’ve gotten older I’ve juggled with how to let my significant other know what is going on, with as little detail as possible. Regardless of my constant struggle with fistulas I have managed to: graduate from college, hold a full time and extremely demanding job at an ad agency, run in a 5k, travel to various cities and states, and workout. Basically what I’m saying is there are times when dealing with fistulas is rough, sad, frustrating, gross and painful. But I’ve realized that life continues to go on and it’s all about learning how to deal with it one day at a time. Ok, brb, got some shit to tend to.
I’ve been going to therapy lately, and my therapist gave me a task for the next month. Be uncomfortable.
I’m uncomfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. When she said it, my skin started to crawl, and I was all “yea, I don’t think that’s gonna be a thing”.
A few months ago I wrote about how it felt like it was raining cats and bowel problems. It felt like everyone I knew was having some issues with their IBD/jpouch/Ostomy. Like for whatever reason, the IBD gods were smiting us all. It sucked.
Well now its raining cats and depression. I have countless friends that are going through deep and severe bouts of depression right now. Myself included. I’ve found that when I get depressed, like this, there are very few things that I want to do. Most of them involve self medicating and sleeping. Wallowing on my couch has been a favorite activity for the last month. And then talking to my other friends about why they are depressed and if/how we can help each other.
What I’ve learned about having depressed friends is that it is a blessing and a curse. Its just like having other chronically ill friends. Sometimes you can relate to each other so well, that its incredibly comforting know that at least someone out there kind of understands why you haven’t showered in 5 days and are ok living on a box of cheeze its for an extended period of time.
But other times, you tend to bring each other down and its a slippery slope. My friends and I try to check in on each other daily and if I’m having a good day and they are having a bad day, I’ve noticed my feelings can change. And the same vice versa. Sometimes I have to tell certain friends that I can’t be their support network right now because I am not strong enough in my own life. Being depressed almost always revolves around some level of being selfish. Maybe you’re ignoring your friends calls. Maybe you cancel plans. Maybe you’re not a listening ear when someone else needs it. I think all of that is fine as long as you just give people a heads up on why you’re doing it. I have told people lately, that I’m have a really difficult time in my life right now, so I find myself retracting and isolating, so please don’t take it personally. And that’s all I have to say.
Some days are ok. Some days I wake up already hyper focusing on negative issues and things that I can’t change. Those days I take a lot of Xanax and when I get home I have a glass of wine. Is this the “right” way to deal with it? Nope. But right now sometimes I have to just shut my brain off, and that is how I choose to do it. Depression is a weird thing that is unique for everyone. All that I really know is that its very difficult to crawl out from it and that a lot of people I care about are down in this hole with me. But I am doing what I can to crawl out, step by step, day by day. I take my anti depressants. I take my Xanax. I go to therapy. I talk to my friends and I try to set small daily goals so I can feel like I accomplished something. Sometimes that goal is just getting the mail but at least I did it.
Just know that many of us who are chronically ill deal with depression in varying degrees. Mild to severe. Frequent to periodically. I know that it does get better, even though it feels awful right now. It does. It will. In time.
I am currently starting a new medication for MS called Tecfidera. Much to my chagrin, the first month of this medication has patient reports of mega GI issues. So “mega” that many patients with normal colons stop the medication. Jackie, why are you such a dumb dumb and taking this med? Well, in terms of MS medications the options are limited because I am not “compliant” with taking injections. Which basically means no matter how many times I start an injection therapy, I forget, don’t want to, or whatever other excuse there is for not taking it. Last year I tried Gilenya, which was the first oral medication released for MS, and well…I can’t take that one either. So I’m here, trying Tecfidera and all was well for the first week or so but now, its just dehydration all over. My poop is 100% liquid, and I haven’t been eating much because it makes me feel super nauseous. I even had an accident last night because the stool was so loose. This literally NEVER happens to me. So this brings me to my favorite IBD delimma, to ER or not to ER. Before you give me the lecture, just know that I will probably wait until the last minute to go because its what I do.
BUT the whole point of this thing is symptoms of dehydration because so many are obvious and a few are not so obvious. So when I’m dehydrated, here is what I feel.
- Extreme fatigue (I’m sleeping like 11-12 hrs a night and its not helping)
- Dry and itchy eyes
- Sore throat or a “sick voice”
- a heavy head, it feels difficult to keep it held up
- It feels like I poop liquid more frequently, almost as if my body is tying to deplete itself
- Contrary to most people, I don’t feel thirst. I actually do not want to drink at all
- Dry skin on my face and hands
- Constant headaches all over my head, unlike a cluster headache
- light headedness
- difficulty with breathing
- everything is slow, my walking, my talking, my thinking, everything
- fever or hot flashes
- I also feel very cold and get chills often, regardless of the hot flashes
- heavy heart beat. When I lay still I can feel my heart moving my whole torso when it beats.
- Sore back between my shoulder blades
So what do I do about it? First I get really frustrated and angry. Then I load up on Smart Water (because I truly believe it works). Then I sleep a whole lot. I’ve been pretty depressed lately, so I’m doing my best not to cry. There are these hydration packets that I think I’m going to try this time. Frankly there is a huge part of me that wants to just give up on the home hydration because its exhausting and very frustrating. But someone once told me the importance of taking control of your health even when its going down hill. I recently learned that the way you do or don’t take care of yourself can frame how someone views you. I always make jokes about my future, and how pitiful it maybe, but I learned that not everyone thinks those jokes are funny.
Frankly, I’m tired of taking care of myself, but you know what? You do what you have to do and hopefully this time won’t involve the ER.
I met my boyfriend shortly before his first surgery. His illness was pretty epic. He had been sick for maybe ten years with UC when we met. He moved to the UK to change careers and started training as a teacher at the school where I worked. It was not an easy school to work at, even for someone experienced. I’d hate to think how hard it must’ve been on immunosuppressants and steroids and in constant pain. But he managed to do it all and still remain cheerful. The staff and the students all loved him. No one knew how sick he was. Not even his best friend I think. I suppose he had learned to keep it from a lot of people by then, but he was really unwell.
A few months later he was hospitalized with shingles, as the drugs had weakened his immune system. We were friends by then and he tells me now that he’d already fallen for me, but decided he was in no state to contemplate women or relationships due to his health. I knew he had colitis, but I knew bugger all about the disease apart from that it affected the bowel. A few months later he had his bowel removed as a matter of urgency and had complications from his surgery. We kept in touch through our mutual friends and he returned to work after the summer.
We became great friends when he returned to work. Weirdly, his illness was partially responsible for us getting together. UC had nearly killed him, but it made him so grateful and positive about being alive after his first operation, he was so awesome to be around. His love of life was contagious and I loved hanging out with him. I’d never known someone with such a unique perspective. He used to tell me how great it felt to feel the wind and rain on his face after months stuck in hospital. Anyone who could be positive about the English weather had to be something special.
I knew he had an ostomy, but it didn’t bother me. He was so much healthier because of it and I was just so grateful he was around, bag or no. I let him tell me about his illness and surgeries when he was ready. We took a while to get together. The only reason I hesitated was because we had become so close as friends and we had a close knit group of common friends, that we both sensed it had to be all or nothing if we got together.
Since then we’ve not let it hold us back: I nicknamed his ostomy Oswald and we saw the funny side when he made noises, we saw the bright side to Oswald when we went to psy trance festivals in the middle of nowhere and managed to convince the medical team to let us use the medical tent loos (even though we spoke zero Hungarian), we realised his limitations when moved in together a matter of weeks after his second operation (and subsequent infections). Tip: Do not allow your significant other to try to move house post op, coming off tramadol and morphine.
The most difficult part of being with him was seeing him get down about having Oswald. I was so into this guy, I couldn’t have cared less if he had an ostomy or not. It didn’t scare me off but it really upset me that it made him uncomfortable, self-conscious or less confident at times. He avoided being completely naked around me at first which I understood, but his bag never put me off. It had saved his life. I fucking loved that thing.
There was one time, not long after we got together, when we were staying at our mates’ house. We’d had a lazy morning and were in the early stages of our relationship where you shag each other’s brains out. Then… the worst thing that could’ve happened happened. A leak. A significant leak. In bed. Pretty much right after a really lovely moment. Looking back now, we both think it’s pretty fucking funny. Not only did it occur at THE MOST (well, almost the most) inopportune time, but also: we weren’t at home and our best mates knew what had just gone on. But, despite it being embarrassing at the time, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. It kind of got the worst out of the way pretty swiftly and we were able to get on with our lives. So what if it happened again? I don’t think it did happen again after that actually, but it took the fear out of that situation.
Two and a half years on, Oswald is gone and my boyfriend has a fully functioning j pouch. I have always said to him that if something goes wrong down the line, I’d welcome Oswald back with open arms. That bag made our relationship rock solid from the start. We had to be open and honest with each other from the get go. I became my boyfriend’s emergency contact/next of kin for his surgeries fairly early in our relationship. It brought us together in lots of ways.
We will get married in a week’s time.
And here’s a note from her boyfriend:
This is a letter my girlfriend (now fiance) wrote to my ostomy (and associates) after I had a serious shit party in my car, (leak, I think it was in the car on my way to work) and was just a bit pissed off.
We named my ostomy ‘Oswald’ and in truth we thought of ‘him’ as a third person (I’m sure you would get that).
Our relationship with Oswald was a love/hate kind of thing. We loved him for helping me be alive (just a small thing really!) but we hated him for being an arsehole. To be honest, we loved him more than we hated him.
We got together after I had my ostomy. We had been good friends before, we got together. I was all sorts of nervous but we worked out. I know Patches has written you an email describing how it all went so I won’t double up here. I just want to say that I really think it’s definitely possible to to start a relationship, even with an ostomy (shock horror!). All you need is someone who understands and is loving. Bec has been the most amazing person. I will be forever indebted to her for the way she looked after me and treated me (even when I did shit the bed). Her sense of humour was infectious and only served to made me laugh. Constantly!
Yep there will be arseholes. There will always be arseholes out there, with or without an ostomy. I read somewhere before that an ostomy is like an arsehole filter. Keeps them arseholes away. So, I figure, if somebody is all weird and shit then they are just not for you (sometimes, they mightn’t be arseholes, just not educated or open minded enough).
I recently asked those who are dating someone with IBD/Ostomy/Jpouch (who started dating after their partner was diagnosed or had surgery) to write a guest post for me about why they didn’t run screaming when they found out about their IBD/Ostomy/Jpouch. I wanted the stories from the other side. Here is one that I got, if you’d like to share yours email me at Jackie@bloodpooptears.com.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing to head out of town for a work related trip, I noticed a post on the Girls With Guts Facebook page and wanted to respond. I did not respond at that time
for two reasons. The first reason being that I did not have time at that point to write my response as I needed to be driving out of town to get to my destination. The second reason was that I was not sure if it would have been proper for me to respond since I was newly introduced to the IBD and ostomy world.
First, let me explain who I am and how I am connected to Girls With Guts. I am the Vice President of a car club in my area and a couple of months ago a new member joined my club and we started talking and she has since become my girlfriend and stolen my heart. She means the world to me and I adore everything about her. But let me get back to the story at hand. As we were getting to know each other (and before we had actually met) I had become Facebook friends with her and saw her connection to Girls With Guts and ostomies. Not knowing anything about IBD or ostomies, I did some Google searching on my own to read up and learn more about it all and while I still do not know or understand it completely, it did give me a glimpse into what it was all about. It also did not in any way deter me from wanting to get to know this girl further and then pursuing a relationship with her.
That now brings me back to the original point I was making about this post that I saw on the Girls With Guts page. You see, it was a girl with an ostomy saying that she was having a selfimage issue and not feeling beautiful. I wanted to answer her back and let her know that real beauty cannot be hidden or taken away by anything on the outside. From the posts and pictures I have seen, you have many beautiful women and none of them should let an ostomy or anything else take away from that beauty. A real man (and yes I realize that this world does not have too many real men, but rather an over abundance of males) will see that beauty and not care about those things. I got into a relationship with my girlfriend already knowing a bit about her ostomy and some of what it entails, but it didn’t matter. The moment I first saw her she was beautiful to me. I feel in love with her and had a very physical attraction to her as well as a spiritual connection with her. To me, she is one of the most beautiful women in the world and I tell her so every chance I get.
So this quick little post was written in response to that post I saw on Girls With Guts. I wish I would have replied but missed that opportunity and told my girlfriend about it and that is when she told me that Jackie was looking for letters like this for her blog. I just want you women to know that you are beautiful and any man that judges or states otherwise is not worth your time or consideration. Do not even give him a second look and just keep your head held high and find a real man. They are out there and they will adore you and everything that makes up you.
From what I’ve seen and heard, many ostomates, male and female, are concerned about how others perceive them. We worry that our appliance can be detected under our clothes or that if people see our bags, say if we wear a swimsuit or something similar, then we’ll be labeled as “abnormal” or “gross.” For those of us who are single and interested in dating, we have additional concerns: Will we be seen as unattractive? Will a prospective partner not want to have sex with us? Will dates be freaked out?
Speaking from my own experience, I have never once (that’s right, not a single time!) had a date or sexual partner react negatively to my ostomy. One guy knew I had one because of our mutual friend. When we became intimate, I asked him, “so you really don’t care that I have an ostomy?” and he responded, “why the hell would I care about that? You’re beautiful.” Another guy I met online and after a few dates I told him about my ostomy. His two questions? Would sex hurt my ostomy and did my vag still work. When telling another partner, he just held my hands and said “an ostomy isn’t who you are, it’s just a small part of you, and regardless, I want to know all of you.”
Maybe my experience is abnormal, I’m not sure. But I do know this: when I tell or talk to people about my ostomy, I come across with confidence. I don’t make a big deal out of it, mainly because I don’t see it as a big deal. Aside from the three people mentioned above, I’ve been on multiple dates with others whom I did not become sexually involved with, but who certainly tried their best to get in my pants – all the while knowing I have an ostomy.
I don’t know how other single ostomates tell dates or partners about their ostomy, but I like to keep my approach simple. Once I find an appropriate and casual segue into the conversation, I say something like this: “So I got really sick a few years back, have had some surgeries to make me better, and one of them saved my life. The result of that one is that I now have an ostomy. I don’t think it’s a big deal and neither should you, as it really doesn’t affect anything.” Most of the time my date won’t know what an ostomy is, so I tell them very briefly and will sometimes show it to them so that they can see what a small part of me it is. The typical response? “Is that it?” or “That’s all it is?”
I’m not trying to downplay the negative experiences of other ostomates in the dating world as I’ve heard stories of dates reacting poorly, but I do have to wonder how the topic is being talked about or explained and whether the ostomate is coming across as confident or insecure. Perhaps a few readers can chime in and detail their dating adventures instead of just attacking Jackie for not understanding the permanent ostomate’s experience since she has a j pouch? I’d be interested in understanding what other ostomates are going through….
Hey guys. What’s up? Not much here.
That’s a lie.
I am one busy mofo. Hopefully you can tell that by the fact that I have not updated in over a month. …….bad blogger.
So heres the updates!
I am working hard at my new job, which I love. I feel fortunate to have it everyday and even more fortunate that my whole medical history is not an issue.
I am working my ass of for Girls With Guts right now. We are in full steam for planning our 2013 Fall Retreat. Holy crap you guys, I am so nervous but at the same time SO SO SO excited. If you’re a lady with IBD/ostomy/jpouch, I really urge you to check it out. I think we have an amazing weekend planned and frankly, it would mean a whole hell of a lot to me if some of you came. So many of you have been so important in my IBD path, and it would be nice to be able to thank you in person. If you are having a problem affording it, we’ve got scholarships! Deadline is the end of July so act fast! Also I swear that wasn’t a commercial, but its just a HUGE part of my life and I really want people to come because I think it would be really helpful and be a great resource.
I am speaking at conferences! I’ve been invited to speak at two conferences this year (I’ve declined one) but I was also asked to come speak and mentor at the Michigan Girls Scouts of America leadership camp. In the giddy 12 year old me, I am really really excited about this. I was a Girl Scout as a kid, and I remember having mostly fond memories (until I got kicked out, but that’s another story), and I remember it being a really positive part of my life. There is something inherently exciting about speaking to a group of young girls who are motivated and excited.
I’m back to my neurologist to start a new drug for my Multiple Sclerosis. This is sort of a touchy subject for me because I feel happy and healthy and I don’t want to be on any medication. None. I take NOTHING now and its so fantastic. But by not taking anything for MS, it’s not necessarily helping me, more or less just letting me throw my oblivious ignorant fit about being med free. So now I’m stuck between this adult rock and hard place where I want to just enjoy being healthy for the first time and a long time, and throwing a tantrum about taking meds because I DONT WANNNNNNAAAA. Getting back into medical mode is a little difficult. Doing testing again is obnoxious. But alas I am an adult and not an unruly 4 yr old. My new med won’t be a flavorful Flintstone vitamin but hell, there are medical breakthroughs everyday. You never know. Remicade could become a maple syrup you slap on pancakes once a month. Humira could just be the active ingredient in a new energy shot. A girl can dream.
I ran the Tough Mudder. It was 12 miles and 20-some military obstacles. While I’d like to be all, “CRUSHED IT”, the reality is that I did it, I finished, but I’m sure it was not pretty. It was 12 long miles of mud, mud, electrocution, mud, walls, the coldest water I’ve ever been in, mud, mud, and the norovirus. Apparently in the Michigan course we also had the added benefit of a gastrointestinal bug. Lucky day! But get this. I think I’ve put enough Good Gut Karma into the world that I didn’t get it. Dude, I know. Days after the race normal, healthy, coloned people were dropping line flies due to IBD like symptoms. I, however was not fazed. I wonder if I gave all of Tough Mudder IBD. Suckaz. The summary is that I didn’t train enough (per usual) and it was hard but not impossible. Honestly, my body and its abilities keeps amazing me. It may not be the hottest bod, or the strongest, but its been through a lot and now I have a fancy orange Tough Mudder head band.
But that’s pretty much it. I hope guys are well. I have some more stuff in the cue for postings soon so check back and I swear to not disappear again.