Thanks to colitis and my surgery combined, I lost a lot of my strength; with months spent on the sofa and not able to walk up the stairs let alone go the gym. Post-op I knew I’d need to get my strength up, get back into the gym and exercise, even though what I actually wanted to do was sit on the sofa and eat my way through the fridge.
My body was so weak after surgery that I even avoided bending down in fear that I’d be stuck on the floor. But as time went on, I knew it was time to burn off the eat-everything-in-sight diet I’d been on for the first couple of months post-op.
I like to exercise but I wouldn't say I'm an avid gym goer
I recently bit the bullet and went to the local leisure centre, with every intention of getting on the running machine. Going to the gym always made me nervous even pre-stoma. I’ve always been the smallest person in there and the only girl in the weights section; it was always so daunting when you’re completely dwarfed by the body building giants who look like they've been inflated with a bicycle pump.
I like to exercise but I wouldn't say I'm an avid gym goer; I enjoy a quick run once a week, so I've always felt as if I'm being judged when I try not to embarrass myself in amongst the sea of toned legs and peachy bums. But as I walked through the door of the leisure centre the smell of chlorine hit me like a bus and I was pushed away from the claustrophobia of the gym and drawn to the prospect of swimming.
As a kid I was a really accomplished swimmer
As a kid I was a really accomplished swimmer but when I became an ostomate, the idea of swimming was a little frightening. Firstly, I had all these thoughts running through my head: would the bag fall off? Would I get chucked out for the possibility of contaminating the water? Would people try to swim away from me because of Rosie, the stoma?
But I absorbed all my fears and literally jumped in. I treated myself to a new high-waist bikini so Rosie was supported and hidden from the rest of the world, and to my surprise I managed to do 20 lengths without any problems. No one stared at me, I didn't get chucked out and the bag was firmly stuck to my stomach. I found myself recalling memories of my youth; always the one the boys thought they could beat because of how little I was, but they were left with their jaws on the floor when I lapped them. It brought back so much confidence in my body and reminded me that I was actually good at something.
I spent an hour in the pool and completely forgot about my bagged stomach until I realised the only way to get dressed was to dry the bag with the hairdryers in the centre of the changing rooms.
I am more myself than I've been in a long time and it’s fabulous
As I was drying my bag, there was a woman to my right drying her hair. She leaned over and touched my arm, looking like she had something to say to me. My first thought was, ‘oh no’. To this day I don't know why that was my reaction but as we got chatting it turned out she had Colitis. She told me how brave she thought I was for even thinking about going swimming only 4 months after my operation.
Not only did I find another person affected by IBD (with surgery in the wings), but it made me so much more confident in my own body. All those preconceived ideas I had about swimming and stomas left my thoughts completely when I saw how easy it was. I am more myself than I've been in a long time and it’s fabulous. It’s so important to keep your strength up and to exercise regularly but most importantly you have to enjoy it. I’ve gone back to doing something I love and it adds to the joy of stoma living.