Hi, I’m Billie, I’m 22 and living in London. I also happen to have a stoma bag.
At the age of 20 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC); one half of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (the other being Crohn’s) UC is a gut disease that attacks the good cells in the lining of the large intestine. My UC was so angry that almost a year to the day of my diagnosis, I underwent abdominal surgery gave me a stoma bag. A stoma is an opening in the abdominal wall and a bag is placed over it to catch waste. Basically, in simpler terms, I poo into a bag.
Without warning, without a reason and without a cure; my life was thrown upside down. Before I was diagnosed, I went through months of suffering without any knowledge of why my body was in so much pain. After a while, suddenly I was completely bed bound. I was stuck between my bed and my bathroom; unable to eat or sleep properly and crippled by severe anaemia. I’d lost two stone in a matter of weeks and wasn’t able to walk on my own.
Finally, after months of suffering, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in January 2017 and put on a strong medication regime in an attempt at getting my angry body under control. After being on 20+ pills every day, going into hospital three times a week, medication side effects like losing most of hair, burning acne and crippling joint pain, the call for surgery was made in December 2017.
From the moment I had surgery, I’ve been living my best life. I may be a little different, but I want to show our differences make us stronger. I’ve been using Instagram to raise awareness of the issue and now I’ve been lucky enough to be part of so many incredible campaigns, met thousands of fabulous people and found a confidence inside me I didn’t know I had. I’ve learnt so much through my journey; it has helped me to see how lucky I am and without my bag I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have found a way to love myself through all that pain and come out the other side so much stronger.
5 Tips for Starting Your Self Love Journey
1) Self-love isn’t linear
You don’t wake up one day, love your body and continue to do so 100% of the time. Self-love isn’t a destination we reach; it is a journey of ups and downs where we learn so much about ourselves in times of joy and times of sadness or pain. I don’t love myself all the time but I am grateful for what I have now. After losing my hair and suffering with painful acne, I appreciate the full head of hair I have and the importance of looking after my skin. Throughout my UC-infested-colon days I lost a lot of weight and found it very difficult to look in the mirror.
My ribs, pelvis and spine were my defining features for a long time and I have come to understand what it means to be a healthy weight. Pre-illness I used to think skinny = worthy, but being skin and bones isn’t healthy and is no longer my goal. All I want is to be healthy and happy. At times I find it difficult to love my body; the bag of poo on my front and the routine that comes with it can be exhausting sometimes, but my bag gave me my life back in ways I never thought possible and I will always be grateful for that.
2) Do the things that make you happy
Happiness means something different to everyone. To me, it’s a chilled evening in front of the TV after a home cooked meal. Happiness is a cuddle after a long day from the one I love the most or a cup of tea with a friend. Happiness to me is being healthy enough to hit the gym or go for a walk without needing to plan where the nearest bathrooms are. The rat-race of life can become all-consuming and sometimes we forget to do the things that make us happy; so, plan that time in! It’s so important.
3) Everyone is different
Self-love means different things to different people and the process we go about getting there is unique to each individual. After surgery I would compare my recovery process to others, but this did more damage than good because what helps others may not help me and vice versa. It helps to talk to others but we should take that advice and make it our own.
4) It’s the little things
I’ve found that setting small goals along the way helped me the most in loving myself. I choose to focus on the little things in life, as I have come to realise they are the most important to me. It started throughout my recovery with walking unassisted for the first time, going back to the gym and being brave enough to go on holiday on my own. To me going for coffee with friends, sitting through a whole movie without needing to rush to the bathroom and being able to eat whatever I like, are just a few of the things that make me happy. They might seem small but they make me smile.
5) Be selfish and learn to say no
I always put other people before me and will continue to do so, however I have learnt that the people I love are just as important as I am. Being a little selfish once in a while isn’t a bad thing. Saying no to plans to stay in and watch TV or just read a book or do something that makes you happy is OK. Giving yourself some ‘me time’ is so important.
For more from Billie, make sure you check out her Instagram @billieandersonx
If you are struggling with starting your self love journey or you need someone to talk to about anything, you can race out to the Ditch the Label Community here.