Who am I? A question I’ve been grappling with for the last few weeks and it’s really been getting into my head.
Life as it was came to a standstill just before Christmas 2015 with a severe flare of pan colitis. In October 2016 I had a sub-total colectomy and ileostomy.
Who we are or how we like to be seen by others seems largely to be defined by what we do with our time, such as work, an interest, being a parent etc. How often, when meeting someone for the first time is ‘what do you do?’ one of the first things asked.
When your life stops for a long period of time and your ability to do those things stop, who you are becomes more difficult to quantify. It doesn’t happen immediately. Over time, the person you were, the things that you love to do slip away and you don’t even know it’s happening. That’s what happened to me anyway.
Once I knew I was having surgery I thought that with 3 months recovery I would be going back to work and picking up my life where I left off. It really hasn’t been that simple, exacerbated I’m sure by a year of being unwell and life on hold on top of the surgery along with some post surgery bumps along the way.
Adjusting to life with an ileostomy is more than a physical recovery. Sure, having your colon out is as about as major as surgery gets, but for me the physical recovery has been supported hugely and something I know how to do. Mentally and emotionally it’s an unquantifiable adjustment. Just when I think I’ve got my head around it something hits me and I feel the shock all over again. I’ve had some counselling, which I am so grateful for but there comes a time, beyond the care, when you have to get on with it. Life goes on, as they say. It sure does. There’s me feeling like I’m on the hard shoulder of the M25 with everyone whizzing past me doing 100mph and I’m trying to join them from a stationery position. Daunting.
I’ve put myself under a lot of pressure to ‘get back’ to ‘normal’ life. Normality for me was working hard (too hard), training, socializing, always busy, always tired (not surprising with active pan colitis..). These were the things that I thought defined me and the things that I thought I wanted and needed to get back to in order to feel like me again but in some respects I just don’t identify with my life exactly as it was.
Trying to pick the thread of life up again isn’t easy. People have become used to me being in their lives in a different way. Remotely, at the end of a bit of social media or a text, the occasional visit and at work not at all (that’s where it’s like joining the M25). Eighteen months is a long time and I’m finding myself having to nudge my way back into my own life. It’s quite strange and at times my emotions swing on a pendulum of being hurt and angry to indignant and perplexed. Oh and there’s the guilt too. It’s not all like that but it is a process and one that must be difficult at times for others too. Life moves on quickly when someone isn’t around and sometimes I feel like Tom Hanks coming back home in Castaway (wondering if I should have called my ostomy Wilson..).
I’m coming to the conclusion that this big ‘life changing’ event might have been just that, changing me and my perspective on life. Possibly for the better too. I look back on how I was spending my time and I can’t find enough joy. I was happy yes, but I didn’t have a moment to reflect, the distribution of my time was all wrong. So why would I want to go back anyway. Isn’t this moment in time an opportunity then. I think so.
I thought, by definition, I was a career woman, into fitness, with a great group of friends, who likes to work and play hard. I was wrong. They are the things that I did and still do in part but they are not the things that define me.
So back to the question that’s been perplexing me. Who am I?
I am exactly the person I was before, albeit with a new angle on the world. I know exactly who I am. It’s just that now who I am manifests into doing some of the same and some new and different things. I’m learning to adjust to this new me both physically and mentally and actually she’s alright.
I am still me, just better. All is well.