Contributor - Dana Marie Gatziolis, Living with an Ostomy Since 2012
Another year, another time to gather round the table. Another season beckoning us to slow down, reflect and let go. I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving is a beautiful time for gratitude. It’s placed at the tail end of Autumn, a season naturally enticing us to let go of what no longer serves us. Just as the leaves change and fall to the ground, we are invited to put away our summer t-shirts and exchange them for cozy sweaters. We’re invited to let go of what we don’t need to make way for new, fresh (and crisp!) air.
A friend of mine once told me that “everyone has an ostomy,” something that they are ashamed of or feel they have to hide in order to be accepted by the world.
Whether you’re currently going through a health crises, or you have overcome it all together, I want to invite you to join me in furthering your practice of gratitude this Thanksgiving.
I hope that by sharing what I’m grateful for and what I’m releasing this year, you can be inspired to do the same.
On December 7th, 2012, I underwent a 9-hour surgery that left me without a colon and with a permanent ileostomy bag. To say that I was faced with a HUGE mountain to climb is an understatement; a mountain that may sound familiar to you. At the time of my surgery, I was 24-years-old, single and completely overwhelmed.
I knew that I had a choice to make. Was I going to lead my life from a place of fear and feel like a victim to my ostomy? OR would I use this mess to create a message and transform my pain into purpose? I was determined to find meaning and let this battle propel me into helping other people. That decision has made ALL the difference. I let go, and a spirit of joy and purpose swept in.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my ostomy because …
- It has given me the gift of health. Although my health isn’t completely 100% after surgery, I can say that I actually have a life outside of my disease! I used to define myself by my Crohn’s, because it truly seemed to take the starring role in my life. Constantly being in the hospital, not feeling well, undergoing different procedures and surgeries, I just could never seem to get ahead of myself without taking 3 steps back. I’m grateful that having an ostomy has given me so much relief from the constant hospital stays and scary health situations that I found myself in.
- I can do more than I ever could pre-ostomy! Now that I am not nearly as sick as I was before my surgery, I can do the things that I always dreamt of, but didn’t have the energy or health to be able to do. I had dreams of being a musician, writing, and recording my own album. After my surgery, I was able to move to Nashville to pursue this dream. I wasn’t afraid to sing for hours on stages across Nashville, because my ostomy allowed me the ability to not have to be buckled over in pain or chained to the bathroom. It’s amazing how much freedom I have when I don’t have to worry about the location of the nearest girl’s room! Without the constant fear taking up my brainspace, I was able to tap into my creativity more than ever. I wrote and recorded my own music available on iTunes.
- It has made me a better person. I always considered myself a kind and compassionate person, but I think that going through something so traumatic and painful has caused such a massive shift in how I perceive others and the world around me. I know that everyone I meet is either fighting a hard battle or they have in the past. I make an effort to look people in the eye, to ask with sincerity how they are doing, to treat my barista with kindness and a smile. I remember going out into the world after I left a weeklong stay at the hospital. I was shook by how fast the world was moving around me, and how the people I came across hardly took the time to look into my eyes. My family and friends knew what I had just gone through, but strangers had no idea. It made me think about how I interact with strangers, since I know the feeling of going through a traumatic experience and then being hustled through a line or yelled at in traffic. It made me softer, calmer, less ready to point the finger. It made me more present. I love that I can be a safe place for friends and family (and strangers for that matter) to feel listened to, understood and held. I wouldn’t be nearly as compassionate or present if it weren’t for my ostomy.
- It helps me to hold my loved ones close. Going through a major health battle made me think more introspectively than before. I know for a fact that life is precious, short, and not a day is to be taken for granted. Each and every day is a gift to me. Days when I feel good and have no pain are TREASURED. I know what it’s like to wear Crohn’s disease like a chain around my neck, and my ostomy has truly broken those chains. I’m no longer a slave to my disease. Freedom is an amazing teacher.
- I can eat (pretty much) whatever I’d like! Last, but not least, I can now eat almost anything I want! When I was really sick, I would have to bring my own food to family Thanksgiving festivities. It was so sad, because I have a family of GREAT cooks! Now, I can eat pretty much anything, and boy, do I love it! I love to be able to celebrate with my family and not feel afraid that I am going to end up in a flare-up. Bring on the pumpkin pie!
Click here to learn more about diet and digestion with an ostomy.
A friend of mine once told me that “everyone has an ostomy,” something that they are ashamed of or feel they have to hide in order to be accepted by the world. When we embrace our ostomies, the people around us are liberated to embrace their “ostomy,” too.
I hope that this has inspired you to think about your ostomy in a whole new way, as a GIFT. Have a cozy, delicious, hug-filled Thanksgiving with your loved ones.
IMAGE CREDIT: Elyse Bullard Photography