Ostomy life and mental health

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It’s easy to talk about physical recovery, but not so much mental recovery.

However – due to the intrinsic link between the brain and the gut along with how drastically an ostomy changes bodily function and image – mental strain can weigh pretty heavy for some.

I think if everyone was honest who has been through the experience of ostomy surgery they would admit that it does pose a mental, as well as physical challenge. These can present as minor mindset challenges to do with stress, frustration and fatigue (etc), to full blown crises to try and overcome.

For me, I am five months post op and on the right path to restoring both my physical and mental fortitude to full capacity. But it’s not something that happens overnight and does take time…Getting constant hospital, health and surgery thoughts, worries and consultations out of your head…it takes time! As does getting fit again.

But I’ve identified areas for improvement and it feels good to be doing something about it. Thankfully, I have always been comfortable with how my body appears (but not exactly to the extent of wanting to show off my ostomy); accepted how my digestive system functions (there are some pros to bypassing the arse!); and I don’t mind having the bag per se (but would clearly rather not have it).

And in terms of opening up about my ostomy life, I am obviously ok talking about my ostomy via my blog and talking about in real life to a certain extent, which are good things I think.

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Getting fit also makes me feel better mentally, so it’s a win-win!

But I’m not yet at the stage – and doubt if I ever will be – where I would, for instance, casually display my ostomy bag at the local swimming pool or at the beach on holiday. Or talk about it with colleagues at work.

Does this reluctance to 100% reveal and talk about my ostomy mean I have a mental barrier to overcome? Nah, but it does highlight how some people, like me, continually find it hard to not give a shit what other people think and place a high value on a certain degree of privacy.

My main mental challenge

Since surgery, there have been no major issues which is good. My main mental challenge has been fretting about little sounds my stoma occasionally makes, especially at work in a quiet office environment, that can sometimes make me apprehensive, distracted or inward looking.

But, I am starting to find positive coping mechanisms and am confident I will either learn to get used to these minor symptoms so they don’t bother me, or the actual symptoms will improve as my stoma continues to settle down.

I realise in the grand scheme of things these issues may sound trivial, but to me they can pose a challenge. I also think that if this is my only issue with it, then I’m not doing too bad!

This is actually my fourth ostomy but my previous ones I would say settled down quicker. With this one, I have struggled the most with taming, as it has mis-behaved more than my previous ones especially in the first few months. But I am getting on top of it now I feel, but there is a little way to go.

Overall though, I am doing fine and I have no major problem with physically having an ostomy bag, but some of its side effects (such as gas) can cause fretful moments. It’s something I’m working on and what is helping me is realising that hardly no one would ever hear it make a sound except me, because I am so acutely tuned into it. And most of the time it would just sound like a strange tummy rumble.

What I eat can also affect the amount of gas I create and I’ve learned to try and cut back on things like scrambled eggs and yoghurt, which can trigger it!

What is the most challenging thing you’ve found with your ostomy?

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