Living with a bag on my stomach was something I did not believe I could deal with at first. Not just because of how it looked, how it felt, or because I was scared of other peoples reactions, but because I didn’t know what kind of emotional effect it would have on me. I didn’t know if it would pull me back to where I was almost 4 years ago, when I was living with bulimia. I was scared it would bring back those same feelings, that obsessive, compulsive, feeling of loneliness that fell through lack of control.
In 2011 I was admitted to hospital after one of my lungs had collapsed due to vomit being stuck in my chest. Nobody knew I suffered with an eating disorder at this time. Nobody would’ve guessed either; nor taken me seriously. I wasn’t skinny, I wasn’t ill looking. I was a normal size. Just normal. People forget to differentiate between eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Bulimia for me didn’t just revolve around being skinny. Of course that was my aim, but bulimia for me wasn’t just starvation, it was bing eating eating and purging. Eating so much that I’d feel sick, trying to fill the emptiness inside of me. And then getting rid of the food I’d eaten in anyway I could. If I couldn’t control myself around food, I’d need to make sure it didn’t stay in my system. Making sure I was back to feeling empty. Because if I felt empty I couldn’t be fat. I couldn’t be angry at myself for losing control again. That empty feeling gave me back the sense of control I lost every time I binged.
I remember coming out about my fight with bulimia in 2012. I made a video for the blog I was currently writing. I talked about the effects it had had on my body, my family, and my social life. Of course, many people wrote to me and congratulated me on speaking out about it, others wished me well. Lots of people that had known me in person, had seen me in full length and had not taken the time to look deeper, judged me, mocked me, and attacked me for “talking about something I knew nothing about”.
I could not deal with knowing that people were talking about my experience in such a negative way. I deleted the video a few weeks later. I had never felt so alone. Luckily, I had a couple of close friends at the time, that knew what had happened and were there for me. But it didn’t stop me being scared of what others were saying. Feeling people were looking at me when I went out. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. I felt like people would just laugh at me if I tried. I continued to struggle even after the video, after my hospital recovery, because I still felt alone. I was made to feel embarrassed for what I had gone through, and nobody should be made to feel like that. It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend that things began to change for me.
Living with bulimia is one of the loneliest experiences I have had in life. My life revolved around a pattern of binging and purging, weighing myself daily, starving myself, and looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but ugliness. I felt an aching need to change. I needed to be skinny, that way I’d like myself more. I’d feel better. I hid this from my family and my friends for two years. I don’t know how I kept it up. It was ruining me. I’d cry every night, feeling overwhelmed with guilt from the amount of food I’d thrown up just moments before. I was scared I’d never like myself. I was scared it would never stop.
And this is how I first felt with my bag. I was scared of being scared. I was terrified I’d hate myself again. After not purging since the promise I’d made to my boyfriend in 2013, I had been free. I didn’t want to go back to feeling trapped.
The first two weeks with my ileostomy bag were kept secret. I didn’t tell anyone. When people asked why I had been in hospital for so long, I avoided it. I told them I’d just had a little surgery. I was scared of that judgement I experienced those few years ago. But dealing with it on my own was not dealing with it at all. It was ignoring it. It was singling myself out amongst other people my age. Why should I hide my scars? Why should I be ashamed of the bag that saved my life? Why should I be afraid of other peoples judgement?
I decided to speak out and I’m glad I did. It has allowed me to accept what has happened. Writing has become my therapy. It has been an escape. It has also turned into such a positive thing. I’m finally helping others. I’m finally speaking out and I’m finally gaining the confidence I always longed for.
Speaking out this time, I had such a completely different response. I received nothing but positivity. What I don’t understand is…why? Why is it that it takes me having something visible on my body for people to be there? For people to take time to try and understand? For people to sympathize?
I’m proud of my ileostomy bag. I’ve fought to not let myself get dragged back down. I’ve kept my head high, and I’ve realised that I’m lucky to have the body I do. I’ve put my body through so much harm throughout my life, and it’s time I looked after it. It’s time I appreciated it. My scars show my strength, and my bag is something I wear with pride. It saved my life.
It’s funny how we judge people by what we see. Just because I wasn’t stereotypically skinny, I was an attention seeker. Not somebody who had really struggled in a fight against herself. And just because we don’t have wheelchairs, IBD sufferers are glared at for using disabled toilets. We are known as having a “hidden disability”. Why don’t we ever realise that maybe there’s more than what meets the eye?