My name is Lolly. I’m 21 years old and I have Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s Disease is an auto-immune disorder in which the body attacks tissues predominately (although not exclusively) in the bowel. I have spent 5 years dealing with this chronic condition and at the beginning of this year I underwent life changing surgery to form a Colostomy.
Over the years Crohn's disease has had a great impact on the way my body looks and functions, both due to surgical procedures and various medications. This has inevitably had a lasting effect on my self confidence and my relationship with my body.
Until recently, I had spent the majority of my time living with the more severe stages of Crohn’s Disease in a wonderful and supportive relationship. This relationship broke down shortly before the largest operation of my life, leaving me feeling completely lost. I had spent two years surrounded by constant affirmation and support from my partner regarding my condition and to suddenly be without that unwavering love and reassurance a month before I was due to undergo Colostomy surgery was truly terrifying.
I am unashamedly what you would call ‘a relationship person’. I love having someone to love, and I thrive on the connection and support a meaningful relationship gives me. This meant that finding myself so out of my comfort zone at such a vulnerable time in my life was incredibly daunting. While feeling alone through this life changing surgery has undoubtedly been one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced, it has taught me a lot about myself.
I came to realise that I had spent so many years, both in past relationships and more recently, basing my self worth off the acceptance off another person. I had often chosen to comfort myself in the knowledge this person would still love me regardless of my disability or illness. The shock of going through this alone and learning to not base my happiness, attractiveness, or self worth off of another human being has been an incredible life lesson and is something I want to be able to pass on to others.
We all struggle with insecurities, whether they're related to body image, financial status, or social acceptance, and they often leave us questioning our own self worth. Learning to love ourselves, particularly those of us with disabilities, can often feel like an unreachable goal . I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. We all have things we are running from, mountains we are trying to climb and dreams that seem so far from the grasp of our outstretched hand that sometimes it feels easier just to give up. But I think what I'm trying to say is that despite the challenges we all face as individuals, self love does not have to be an unrealistic ideal. It’s something we can all achieve.
I’ve come to realise that a key step to attaining this is accepting our differences and embracing our vulnerabilities. Personally, I did this by opening up about my colostomy on social media and personally confronting my fears of going through this surgery single, but for others it could be admitting an illness to someone close to us or going out in public despite the fear of what others might think. I’ve learnt that in embracing these vulnerabilities we actually relinquish their ability to hold such power over us. By admitting my insecurities and by allowing myself to be vulnerable in this way I have been able to cast away a lot of the shame connected with my own condition.
But as we all know, you don't just wake up one day and decide to be confident in your skin - you have to learn to love yourself. Its a process, and for the most part it’s an uphill battle. I think one of the biggest steps is actually realising that and accepting there are going to be bad days. I wake up every morning and remind myself that I am no less worthy of love, connection, or belonging because of my colostomy bag, but I do this fully aware that there are going to be some days when I don’t believe myself, and making allowances for these moments is what really counts.
The message I’m trying to convey here is that while we are all worthy and capable of being loved by another person, sometimes it is when we are forced to stand and face a challenge alone that we find strength within ourselves that we did not originally believe was there. Our internal support systems and our own conviction are just as, if not more, important as the words and actions of others around us. It’s through these experiences that we become stronger, wiser and more comfortable in our skin. Learning to love ourselves regardless of what is going on around us is one of the most difficult but important steps to becoming the happiest and most genuine version of ourselves. Adversity might lead to vulnerability, but in embracing this vulnerability we achieve self acceptance.