Health Is Wealth: How IBD And Stoma Surgery Changed My Outlook On Life

Billie With Cocktail

With the new year came the usual bombardment of advertisements and social posts about detoxing with celery juice, going vegan or not drinking alcohol for a whole month. Everyone is out in new gym kit or sporting that new fitness tracker, only eating salads and feeling guilty for eating too much food over the holidays.

With the start of a new chapter we make pledges to ourselves to ‘be better’ and set the restart button on life.

That can be anything from eating healthier and hitting the gym every day to spending less time on social media. Every year we get sucked into these fads, competing with everyone else to be better than we were before, and I’m no different. When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve always reevaluated myself and the past year. However, since being diagnosed with IBD and having my colon taken out I approach the ‘new year, new me’ with a different perspective. 

I was the type of person who gave up chocolate and cheese. I would set unrealistic goals and be disappointed when I wasn’t able to achieve the unattainable.

But when my life plan was shaken up by illness and surgery at the age of 21, it made me change the way I see myself. I decided to leave my unhealthy mindset of dieting or trying to be something I’m not well and truly behind me. I was diagnosed a week after we celebrated the turn of 2017, but I was so unwell at the time, my New Year’s resolution was to end the suffering and pain I was in. My goal for 2017 was to be on medication that enabled me to leave my house and just get through a day without pain or stress. Exactly a year later, as the fireworks in celebration of 2018 lit up the sky, I was stuck in a hospital bed awaiting surgery with an IV line in one arm and a nurse taking blood from the other.

It wasn’t until I was being wheeled down to the operating theatre, about to have my colon taken out, that I realised I wanted to change.

It doesn’t get more ‘new year, new me’ than having an organ removed, and because my body was about to become completely different, I chose to change my mindset along with it. But this resolution wasn’t a yearly one, it was a resolution for life.

As the epidural was going into my back and the doctors were preparing me for surgery, I decided all I wanted from life was to be happy and healthy. In the recovery from surgery, I saw 2018 as a year for me to outline where I wanted to go in life. It would start with being able to walk for the first time unassisted, then eating my favourite food and then going back to university and having another attempt at my degree.

I was visualising who I wanted to be in 2018 with my new body; my first year with a stoma bag and my first year of opportunity in a long time. And as I ticked off each little goal, I found so much joy in just being able to walk down the street or watch an entire movie without worrying where the bathroom was. I spent more time with my family and friends and I found a sense of joy in being around the people I love. I found comfort in helping others through social media and in spurring awareness for Crohn’s, Colitis and ostomy bags. I fell in love with writing and discovered a talent I’m proud of. Throughout 2018 I had the opportunity to meet many people in my situation and to talk to those who needed help. I’ve found so much happiness in discovering who I want to be and where this life will take me; with the same motivation in everything I do. To be happy and healthy every step of the way.

In January 2019, I decided where I wanted to be at the end of my degree and I now know exactly the kind of person I want to be.

I want my family and my friends to be at the forefront of my mind, I want to have fun in the final months of being a student and I want to keep pushing myself to find new opportunities. But I will only set my goals and achieve them with the same mindset: be happy and healthy. I will eat chocolate and cheese because let’s face it, they are the best things in life! I will go to the gym to keep myself healthy and be proud of the hard work I put in to achieve my level of fitness. I will always put the things I love at the forefront of my life, because a happy mind and body is a happy life. I’ve spent so much time picking my body apart, sitting in a hospital bed or putting too much pressure on myself to achieve unrealistic goals, and that mindset stops now. I will always do things to make me happy and keep me healthy, because if I’ve learnt one thing from my illness and surgery, it’s that health is wealth. 

by Billie Anderson

Billie Anderson

About the author

My name is Billie Anderson, I'm in my twenties and study history at Portsmouth. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2017 and after a year of very aggressive drug therapy, I became an ostomate. To help raise IBD and stoma awareness I started a blog and an Instagram account @billieandersonx.

This is my attempt to make my very unconventional stomach, conventional. I hope to show the world that you can love yourself - with your insides on the outside. 

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