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Following your ostomy surgery, you will no doubt have an adjustment period of figuring out your new routines and schedule. You will be learning about your appliance, how to use it, when to change it, and how it works. Although there may be frustrating and discouraging days, as you get the hang of your body and the newness of it all, you may also find yourself fascinated with your body’s adaptability. Some of the most resilient, inventive and strong people are ostomates who are changing the way people think by helping to reduce shame around ostomies as well as creating networks and communities to encourage and support others in similar situations.

Body Love

We live in a world where we are bombarded on a daily basis by media showing us advertisements of what beauty should be. The unreachable goals are already set, and then you throw in an ostomy? How in the world are we supposed to love our bodies when we feel so different? Building confidence begins with you. It begins with self-love and embracing your uniqueness. This can take time, and giving yourself the time to heal (both literally and figuratively) and come to terms with the changes and the new daily rhythms will go a long way in boosting your confidence. The great thing about confidence is that it is contagious. Others can feel it in the way you talk, walk, and are proud about yourself and your body, and when they sense it, it transforms the way they see you. This doesn’t mean that self-love is easy and immediate, but it does mean that it is a possible and attainable goal. One of the ways to lead yourself into recovery and learning to love your body is to get active. Maybe you love to run, swim, or hike in the mountains, or you’ve always wanted to join a gym but your disease was holding you back from the commitment of it. Have you always wanted to learn an instrument, or join a band? There are amazing people out there with stories of how they overcame their fears, and also how they discovered the right product for their unique lifestyle and activity.

Every body is different and being patient with yourself and your healing process is vital, especially within the first few months. While inspirational stories about others can help to normalize your situation, it is also completely normal to feel discouraged and down at times. If you are feeling extreme discouragement or hopelessness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed therapist or a healthcare professional. It is important to be able to share as honestly as possible about your situation so that you can begin to move forward.

Inspirational Ostomates

If you are looking for some inspiration from fellow ostomates, there are many platforms out there with information to connect you with people and resources. Feeling like you need some encouragement in embracing your body and its changes? This video is full of helpful information as well as inspiring individuals just like you. As you begin to enter the world of other ostomates and hear their stories, not only will you be able to relate with them, you will also find that they are paving the way for others to be confident in their bodies and, in many cases, thankful for their ostomy and appliance. Maybe their stories will be the push you need to reclaim your life and find that confidence that you know you have in you. Don’t just stop there, why not become one of the inspirational stories that someone else undergoing a surgery leading to an ostomy can read about? Embrace your new life and body.

For More information, visit www.coloplast.us.

Editor’s note: This educational article is from one of our digital sponsors, Coloplast. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

From Imperfection to Perfection

By Ellyn Mantell

My parents came in two different sizes…my father was extra large and my mother was narrow and slim. While it is not unusual for a daughter to model after her mother, I would say that my modeling was extreme. My mother not only was very weight conscious, she was very rigid and restricting of food and drink, and binging was a big part of her life, and as I found out later, unnamed bulimia. Her daily guidelines for foods to be consumed had a critique that usually ended with “remember, Ellyn,” she would repeat, “a moment to the lips, a lifetime to the hips!”

Blueberries, watermelon, and oranges were on her DO NOT EAT list since they had too much sugar. Meat, potatoes, breads were all annotated with what could just as easily have been a skull and cross bone. So as long as I followed her dictum, I would be narrow and slim like her, or so I thought. The problem was, however, that although I inherited her very narrow and slim upper body, I inherited my father’s larger and rounder lower body. Regardless of how much I tried, I was never to be lithe in my legs and hips. College not only brought the “freshman 15,” it brought anorexia and eventually, bulimia. So I lived with an eating disorder that lasted for years, and the reality of body dysmorphia that plagued me for decades. And now, as an ostomate, I am finally grateful and humbled by my beautiful body…because it is an incredibly resilient organism and I am so proud to own it!

For over two decades my strong little body fought through surgeries, hospitalizations, PICC lines, infections, abscesses and lack of bowel motility. And yet, regardless of my physical state, I would expect it to be thin and attractive, fitting into whatever garment I wanted to wear. I never questioned its strength, its ability to weather weeks in the hospitals or the most grueling of tests and procedures. It was never an issue of can I travel alone to Rochester, Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic by myself and stay for two weeks to have bowel retraining. I just wanted to be certain I could exercise, eat “normally” and not put on weight. Regardless of how many scars I had down and across my abdomen from 23 abdominal surgeries, the goal was to fit into my clothes and like what I saw on the scale. Enduring an enteroclysis study (a wire inserted down the nose to be able to see into the small intestine) I steadily focused on what I would allow myself to eat once I was finished. In retrospect, my expectation of my infirmed body to be perfect was abominable, and I would never, ever support anyone I love put that expectation on their body.

And then four years ago, I had my ileostomy, and suddenly, my now very obedient body gave way to an imperfection I was forced to acknowledge. The first time I saw my reflection in the mirror after the surgery, I was horrified. My high-output bag, which is transparent, was reaching down my short frame to my right mid-thigh. But after the shock of my appliance and pouch, I began to relax and look at the possibility that I could have a new life, free of hospitals, surgeries and worry. I began to see the beauty in my stoma, and named it, as many do. Her name is Lily because my mother, Lillian, gave me my first life, and Lily has given me my second.

No longer striving toward an unrealistic goal, I am no so proud of the ability I have to live and love my life. My little body is strong enough to advocate for others; it is strong enough to lead my support group; it is strong enough to visit those suffering in the hospital, and it is strong enough to start a grassroots movement to open our ostomy center, one of the few in New Jersey! On a personal note, I am strong enough to enjoy my beautiful family, my wonderful circle of friends and celebrate each and every day. And I have learned that perfection may never really have been a possibility for me or others, but imperfection makes me very, very happy!