I’ve always been very self concious of my body, living in the idea that I was ‘fat’. Things like going swimming were always a bit of an ordeal for me, as I was convinced people would look at me and point out the flaws I felt within myself. I would always jump into the water as soon as I got to the pool so that nobody had the time to even get a glance of my body. Last year was the year I started to feel good about myself. I’d lost some weight and was determined to become more confident with my new body. With this newfound confidence I decided it was time I bought my first bikini – sounds absurd at the age of 19 doesn’t it! I remember wearing this bikini and feeling really good about myself. It was high waisted, but it was my first step towards the self-esteem I desperately longed for.
This year, it’s been a little different for me. The flat stomach I always longed for has finally appeared, which of course I’d love to show off in a bikini, but something has now been added to my belly, which would probably cause more attention than a little bit of flab – a stoma, covered with my ileostomy bag.
I’ve come away for the week, and the place I’m staying in has a pool. With that being one of the main attractions, it’s something that most people use when staying here. I contemplated swimming, researching into it to see if anyone had experienced swimming so early on after ostomy surgery. I’d seen some very positive experiences written up online and decided to give it a go. Of course the idea had me shaking a little, my stomach tied up in knots, overwhelmed with the nerves that had entered my body; but I told myself that if I don’t do it now, I may leave it so long that the thought of it leaves me too scared to do it in the future.
I don’t own a swimming costume anymore, just my bikini. I thought about wearing it, a devil on one side of my shoulder telling me “no, don’t wear it, people will laugh at you!” and an angel the other side shouting back “you can do it, you don’t need to hide”! I then remembered how good I felt last year in my bikini, how little fear I felt when people looked at me. I didn’t want to fall back into that place where I’d hide in my towel as soon as I got out of the water. I told myself that my stoma is nothing to be ashamed of. And I meant that. My stoma is the thing that has kept me alive, and surely I should embrace that? Why should I cover myself just for somebody elses satisfaction? So I wore that bikini that made me feel beautiful last year, and instead of falling two steps back, I moved one step further towards that self esteem I so desperately want to maintain.
With my bikini being high waisted, I was able to keep my bag supported, with the option to fold it down incase the water put too much pressure against my stomach, making it cling too tightly onto the parts of me that are still tender and swollen. I wore a smaller ileostomy bag also, so that I was more lightweight, and more comfortable in the water.
It was yesterday that I actually gained the courage I needed and walked over to the pool, taking my friend with me. I stripped down into my bikini, and although I started off feeling self-concious, I quickly realised that this is the body that I will be living with, and that if I want to do things deemed as ‘normal’, I need to get over any flaws I feel are there. In actual fact, I just needed to forget about what other people may or may not think. Because it’s not their opinion that is going to keep me going – it’s mine.
I left the changing rooms and walked over to the pool, my scar very prominant. Expecting stares and fingers, I felt ready to acknowledge the fact that everyone has a different point of view and a different idea of how a body should look. But my expectations were wrong. Nobody stared, no body pointed. I slowly got into the pool – not wanting to jump in, incase the pressure of the water caused my bag to float away – making my own water float! I was able to get into the pool with ease and began swimming. The water felt amazing. I couldn’t even feel my bag whilst in the pool, it was as if for that amount of time none of this year had happened, no surgery, no stoma, no bag. I was taken back to last year, I felt as if I was back on that same day where I felt absolutely amazing. I swam a few lengths before getting out to use the steam room. I was a little breathless I must admit – it’s the most exercise I’ve done in while!
I questioned using the steam room before entering, as I was a little worried of the heat effecting my scar. I really wanted to use it, so decided to just try it out for a few minutes. It was great just being able to lay there in my bikini out of the water without a care in the world.
Leaving the steam room and returning to the pool, I was actually more concerned with how red faced I now was from the heat – instead of how the rest of me looked! We only stayed in the pool for a quarter of an hour more because I was getting tired, but we still managed to do hand stands and roly polys!
We left the pool, got changed back into our clothes and that was that. I’d done it. I’d overcome my fear, and proved that even an activity that could make me feel so vulnerable has not defeated me. Now, it’s just one more activity I’ve ticked off my list. No stares, no fear, no problems. I felt so in my comfort zone and so confident. Just another teenage girl.