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.
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 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.
So I’m dating. Well, I started dating. Let me rewind.
Dating is a HUGE topic in our community because there is a lot of fear around disclosure and acceptance. In the past I’ve written about dating and my opinions, but I have never actually dated since I was diagnosed with IBD. So all of my theories and advice were pure speculation, even though I still consider it solid advice.
So now I have legit experience in the dating-sphere, and I’d like to share it with you guys. I approached dating cautiously, after all the world is full of crazies. I haven’t actually dated…ever. I was in two very serious relationships for the last 13 years so not only is dating with IBD/jpouch scary, dating in general scared the literal shit out of me. I realize that I tend to talk about my butt to anyone and everyone who will listen, but I also realize that is not great first date conversation. Or at least that’s what I’ve read in forums and other blogs. Hell, I think that’s the advice that I gave in the past.
Here is what I realized…I can’t not talk about my butt. First dates, and even the predating period, it took me a matter of days, if not hours to spill the details on my defunct digestive system. I literally can not stop talking about my butt, and my blog and Girls With Guts. If this was the test, I failed with flying colors. Even if I wanted to hide my history, if just for a few dates, I can’t. My name and face is plastered all of the internet with “butt disease” slapped right next to it. I have positioned myself in a place where my future beau can read details about how I poop, see my fat face pictures, and view graphic photos of my body when it was at its worst. This is my life, there is no hiding it, there is no going back. I get that is scary for potential suitors, but whelp, this is me.
But you know what…not one of the guys I was talking with cared. In fact, many of them talked with me about their own health ailments and it made me realize a few things about the world. First, that many of us are all giant health disasters, and also that people like and fall in love with the person, not their medical records. I’m sure there are people out there who might run screaming from me on a first date, but frankly, I never found that guy. Not once.
In fact, I found the opposite. I have found someone who cares about me because of what I’ve done with the hand I was dealt. Someone who understands and can relate. Someone who I think is really great, and who thinks that the sun shines out of my ass. Actually, I’m going to ask him to guest post so he can tell you himself what he thought when he met me, learned about my butt disease, and MS and why he didn’t run screaming.
So don’t let IBD scare you away from dating. There a million reasons why someone can like you, or not like you, and frankly IBD is probably not one of them.
Also…I live in Michigan, where the job market is coming back but still isn’t particularly strong. Before I graduated you could often find me talking to my co-workers at school having mini mental breakdowns about how I’d pay bills and how I’d never find a job. A week before I graduated I was approached by the university about a full time position, and I literally thought that I had been saved by some divine intervention. Rather, I had made a strong impact on my co-workers and had done my job well, so they created a position for me to keep me on board. In addition to that, they also gave me a temporary 3 month contract so I could continue to work while they pushed the lengthy university paperwork through. Right at this same time, I had my practicum site ask me about doing some temporary work for them, because again, I had showed a strong work ethic and a knack for archives. Much to my surprise, I was also approached by another company who had received my resume from a friend. This company had nothing to do directly with Libraries or Archives (what I was getting my masters in), but they were essentially an internet marketing company. I love social media, and I know marketing but on paper, I don’t have a ton going for me. And here is the kicker folks…they wanted me because of my online work with Girls With Guts and this website.
Let me write that again. A potential employer wanted me because of my online work with Girls With Guts and this website.
They didn’t pass me over because I talk like a trucker, or because I have a butt disease and a brain disease and because all I do is share the consistency of my crap. They wanted me because I showed that I know the internet marketing space and how social media can be utilized to make an impact. All I have been doing, is what I love, and what I didn’t realize, and what you should all realize is that people are watching you all the time when you have a presence online. They are watching your triumphs and your faults.
So what did I do? I essentially had 3 job offers on the plate. Read that again. 3 job offers despite my health history (which they all were very aware of, in fact we talked about it during interviews), and despite this very blog. Take a moment and let that sink in.
So what did I do? I took the job at the university because I loved that job and the benefits were amah-zing. But I only worked there a month before I quit.
Wait, what? I had a stellar job, with amazing benefits, and stability and I quit after a month? I sure as hell did. Why? Because I got offered a better job.
A job so good that my boss at the university told me I HAD to take it! And here is where the world comes full circle people. Remember how I said someone is always watching? Last year, I had a concerned father email me about his daughter who was going through the same thing many of us had experienced. After some back and forth, we realized that I had already been in contact with his daughter and we had realized that they lived within miles of my house (small world!) and I met her for coffee. I continued once in a while to converse with her father when he had a question or concern. Through a strange series of events, I ended up at a football tailgate with them and we all had a really great time. A few weeks ago he approached me with a job. Not just a job, but a really good job. I was really happy and comfortable at the university and nervous about switching careers essentially into a field I was unfamiliar with. After many talks, he told me that he had monitored my internet moves, not in a creepy way but how I interact with you all, how I use social media, and how I communicate my message to the world through this blog and Girls With Guts. He really showed me that my hobbies were in fact, marketable skills.
So I took the job and I started last week. And now I work for a giant company, with amazing benefits for anyone but particularly people with chronic illnesses, in a position that will challenge me but also reward me with new skills and relationships, for a boss who knows probably more about me that he would ever want to, but more importantly who understands everything.
So do you see my point? The very condensed version is that this blog got me a career. And to be clear it is a very professional career, at a company I wont mention because while my boss is a-ok with me talking about my butt, I don’t want the company as a whole to come up when people Google my blog/name.
So the long and short of all of this is… be a good person.
Do good work. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and you might just land a dream job because you told your story. In my mission to help others with IBD and MS, I have reached a lot of people. And my point is that you never know who is watching, and the people you want in your life will commend you for sharing your story and being honest.
What I’ve learned through all of this is that I really wouldn’t want to work for someone I had to hide my past from, but I’d rather work for someone who respects me for the journey I’ve traveled. For me that is what being a true activist is all about. I understand those who write anonymous blogs, but at the same time, I think they are doing themselves a disservice and a disservice to their community. As an activist, I do my best to set an example, and I would feel like a fake if I hid who I was and what I am passionate about.
I am not so naïve that I think what happened to me can happen to everyone else. I don’t think there are concerned family members reading blogs just waiting for the chance to pounce and offer up life-changing careers. But even if it doesn’t result in a fantastic career for you, do you see how you always will reach the right person at the right time? I think that is what it all comes down to. Timing. Karma. Fate. Whatever you want to call it. I do think that if you put good in the world, then someday, somehow you will get good back.
So, thank you boss man, for taking a chance on me and helping to prove to a whole community of people that there is life beyond chronic illness.