I remember my first stomaversary. I was actually pretty high on life. I felt like I had ‘survived’ the first year – post accident, post stoma surgery, not quite post chronic pain and recovery – I just wanted to be back in the world, exploring and having new adventures that were nothing to do with the previous year. Late morning I went out with my husband and daughter and I just marvelled at the fact that I was alive. The next day I excitedly posted on Facebook and shared pictures of my outing and an inspiring poster I had seen about living life to the full. 

What I didn’t advertise was that the run-up to that day had been SO incredibly hard. The reality was unwanted flashbacks and nightmares interrupted my day and night. I may have wanted to feel normal again but my mind and body were still in shock. My day out had been planned around not leaving the house until my stoma had settled and after the time of the accident – so I felt safe to leave the house. A lot of mental time and energy had gone into making this day feel safe and right. But to see me out that day – you would never have guessed.

No one would have guessed behind my smile I was wondering if I was meant to be celebrating or commiserating? I was thankful I was alive and with my family, I was thankful I was getting stronger every day but was I thankful the accident had happened? Absolutely not. Did I feel thankful that one event had turned the lives of my family upside down and would affect me for the rest of my life? Nope, not one bit. I still had a long way to go in accepting what had happened to me, bag and all.

The following year, I actually felt worse. I felt overwhelmed and panicked. I was getting on with life but struggling to feel ‘normal’. We had moved countries and I had not really told many new friends about the accident or my bag at that point. At first it was freeing not to dwell on it, but it felt like a heavy secret and stopped me from feeling truly authentic.  

In retrospect I was still in shock and I deeply mourned my old self and all that she was able to do. I felt sad and angry that it took so much energy to do ‘normal’ things. I now fully understand that I was going through a cycle of grief as well as coping with PTSD. I knew it was irrational that I still didn’t want to go out until after the time of the accident (now 2 years ago) but I just couldn’t keep myself in the here and now. I still didn’t feel safe and there was too much to worry about.

Luckily for me, I trained in Matrix Reimprinting and with the help of a practitioner, and really committing to my own regular tapping, my fears and anxiety started to lessen. I learnt about how trauma affects us and used Matrix Reimprinting to resource my younger self when she felt scared, disempowered, isolated and frozen in time. I also started to develop a mindful self-compassion practice that helped me to offer myself kindness and compassion. My depression was loosening its grip and I was starting to feel more present and grounded. My emotional and physical self-care box was filling up and yoga, cycle rides, journaling and being more open in my new friendships were also grounding me and helping me to be in the present moment.

Now my stomaversaries are a lot more manageable. I allow myself to BOTH celebrate and commiserate. In fact, I have learnt to allow all my emotions, knowing there are no bad emotions it is just what we do with them that is important. Just as Rumi suggests in his beautiful poem, The Guest House, I ‘welcome and entertain them all’!  I am no longer paralysed with fear, or stuck in anger, resentment or depression for weeks before my stomaversary. These feelings may show up but I have learnt to ask myself, “what it is that I need right now?” Tending to myself rather than rushing to be there for others or distract and numb my emotions.

I created Bags of Calm because I know I am not alone in having needed support to navigate a stomaversary. I am still amazed when clients tell me that they have never talked through how they learnt they needed a stoma, how surgery affected them, or how they felt in the weeks and months that followed. I am amazed because it is so much for one person to carry around and can stop you from living in the present moment. And I know this because I’ve been there too.

You and your stomaversary deserve respect and recognition but you do not deserve weeks of fear, stress and overwhelm to get there. 

I’ll share the tools and techniques that helped me, so you too can create the life you want to lead, Stoma, anniversaries and all.

Image credit: Lara Rose