When people meet us for the first time, we tend to not mention our stomas or illness. Yes, it can affect the things we do, but we won’t let you know unless we really need to. We are who we are. Our conditions do not define us. That means not everyone knows our history, not everyone knows about our condition.
This can work against us, because when people hear about some of our exploits – trying to live our lives to the full to prove that this illness is not going to bring us down - we get labelled with the “just having a midlife crisis” tag. It’s annoying, and it’s the reason why some of us don’t like to mention our achievements.
Pre-surgery, I was a nervous social introvert…
I lacked any drive, had low energy, and basically just “existed”. I couldn’t commit to anything - sometimes I would give myself deadlines. If they slipped, it would be the end of the world. I would see it as lost time. Time I would never see again.
I didn’t drink. Just a drop of alcohol would cripple me with arthritis. Every joint in my limbs felt as though it was being stabbed with daggers.
I avoided exercise because suffering from extreme stomach cramps and diarrhoea afterwards is not my idea of a healthy lifestyle. My weight would fluctuate between thin and clinically overweight. These were the many side effects of the medications I was on.
After a long period of sickness you get stuck in a funk
You develop a routine: get up, watch TV programmes, eat, watch more TV, eat, watch more TV, then sleep. You get to a point where breaking that routine becomes scary. Sometimes you’re off work so long you fear going back because you worry you’re out of touch with everything.
When you have all this going on, you sit and wonder, “Is this it? Is this my life?” You begin to think about your possible futures. None of which seem positive, because you are in a bad place, and that’s all you know. You can’t see “the sunny side”.
Even after my emergency stoma op., I still couldn’t see anything positive. If anything, I felt I was worse off.
An ironic gift provided me with a turning point
My first blog for SecuriCare was about a mug that gave me a kick up the backside. The phrase “I’d rather be living the dream” was printed on it. It inspired me to take a risk, and from that point onwards things turned around. I found I could look at the world with less fear, and more confidence that I could be normal. I could start to live.
When you have spent most of your life thinking “is this it?” and then find yourself in a position to say “no, actually it’s not”, you learn to take a chance, even if it may only last a couple of weeks.
I’ve learnt to live my “best life” as and when I can
During periods of good health, I try to make the best use of my energy and motivation as much as my body allows me to. I have skydived, fly-boarded, downhill mountain biked, I flew down Europe’s longest zip wire, appeared in a charity calendar, owned a unique car, went to Disney World, started kickboxing, danced as a Chinese lion in a kung-fu competition, shot a gun (legally), and got a full arm tattoo. I have squeezed a lot into a short space of time…and all with my stoma.
When I’m feeling healthier, it’s as though I’ve been given a chance to live the life so many people are lucky to have been able to live all along. All those years they were out drinking, playing football and having fun, I was most likely sat in pain wondering what my life would be. I’m now taking those chances to live my lost years – and sometimes that means packing a lot of incredible experiences into a short space of time.
So, to everyone quick to judge, I say: no, people like me aren’t experiencing a midlife crisis; we are just living our lives, as and when we can.