First swim with my stoma – the best feeling in the world

This weekend I felt truly free for the first time since my hospitalization six months ago.The bizarre thing is that although I have been feeling more human than I ever have during the 13 years I have suffered from IBD, ever since my operation I haven’t felt truly myself. It hasn’t been because I’ve been mourning my large bowel, or feeling unattractive – having my bag doesn’t make me any less attractive, if anything it has given me more confidence than I’ve ever had in my life – it’s because I haven’t been able to swim.

My lovely family - fish and chips at the fish quay

My lovely family – fish and chips at the fish quay

I know that might sound ridiculous, of all the things that have happened and I haven’t been able to do since the operation – from the very start where I couldn’t walk, wash or eat properly to struggling to comprehend an intimate relationship with my ostomy bag – that I would find the inability to swim the most restricting thing. But I really have.

Before my operation it didn’t matter how much pain I was in, how much blood there was or vomiting, all I wanted to do was to swim. Nothing would stop me getting into that water, putting my head down and going hell-for-leather down the middle lane. No amount of pain, blood and guts would stop me swimming. Swimming gave me exercise, focus and a way to get rid of stress. When I swam I felt the whole world drift away, any worry from work, home, hobbies, community projects just fell off my shoulders and into the pool and my mind would be free, unable to focus on anything apart from the repetitiveness of counting the number of lengths and, sometimes, annoyingly, dodging screaming kids.

Although some people would argue intensive exercise is not good for people during a UC/Crohns flare-up…from my experience I would argue the opposite. Running, jogging, hiking and dancing have always helped to give me focus on something other than the pain, and to ease stress – usually the trigger and exasperater of my particular disease. My main problem has always been over doing it. Usually by the time I’ve stopped swimming I’m sweating, which is something that’s puzzled a lot of people – just how do you sweat under water?

Anyway, normally swimming post surgery is not a problem. Ok its advisable and necessary to wait for any open wounds to heal and to not over do exercise in the first few months after an operation, and to basically take it easy – you don’t want to suddenly decide to become Michael Phelps over night. For me it wasn’t about fear but a great bit gaping scar that just would not heal and could not be submerged in water. Even a shower caused chaos – but there was no way I was going without them.

As I told you in the previous blog entry, despite still having my fistula pumping out gunk (into a bag, no hygiene risks here) my surgeon gave me the green light to submerge myself last week. He said I would be “fine” to swim and bathe, but to be sensible. So naturally at the first opportunity I went shopping for swim suits that flatter my new figure…only to be left almost crying on Chester’s high street as I realised no where stocked nice swim suits or high-waisted bikinis in the depths of Autumn – there’s simply not the demand.

The perfect coat shopping at Fenwick's in Newcastle

The perfect coat shopping at Fenwick’s in Newcastle

I was even left disappointed by Next’s catalogue range. I’d pictured lowering myself into the glimmering waters wearing a 50s inspired high-waisted bikini or a more Victorian ask bathing suit with stripes and all that jazz – I’m so nostalgic at the moment, I blame it on Mad Men – but the two viable options in the catalogue left me feeling far from inspired. It was a shame as I had been pinning my hopes on Next after a few tweets from ostomy societies and ostomates recommending them for their fab costume range.

Anyway, despite not being able to find my dream confidence-boosting costume my boyfriend booked us both a hotel with a swimming pool for our trip to visit my sister in Newcastle for her birthday. So after a rest on Friday night following the long drive I donned my very old post surgery swimming costume and went for a morning dip. Although my swimming costume didn’t exactly flatter my new body, with the lycra clinging around my ostomy bag, it didn’t really draw attention to it either. At first I have to admit that I was very self-conscious about it, pulling a towel around my waist to hide my stomach and bag, but once I got into the water I couldn’t have cared less.

Once in it was like I was alive again. I tentatively lowered myself in terrified that my bag might float off my skin or my fistula bag would fill up with water and fall off. But once I was in I had no concerns, but trying to stop myself going mental doing hundreds of lengths and giving myself a hernia. It was tempting, I was soon back into my natural rhythm, but after 20 blissful lengths I forced myself to give in – exhausted and realising I was working muscles that, well, hadn’t been used in months.

Very hungry after my morning swim

Very hungry after my morning swim

I’ve never been happier. I went swimming again on Sunday morning, doing 30 lengths at a fantastic pace, racing in between crowds of kids and generally getting back to my own good old self. I can’t wait to go swimming again, but with everything that’s going on now I don’t think that’s going to be for a while.

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