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Relationships & Dating With a Stoma

Valentines can be a tricky one for a number of reasons… As cliché as it sounds, single, taken or, ‘it’s complicated’, it’s just as important to focus on loving and appreciating you (not just on Valentine’s day, all year round).⠀

One thing I’ve learned and, am still learning is that if you don’t love you, then it’s really hard to let someone else in and love you. Having ‘that someone’ is great but, it’s so important that you learn to navigate alone too. Society can be a pretty tricky place to be as it is with growing feelings of pressure, expectations and conforms without the added complications of such thing as disability, a stoma and/or chronic illness.⠀

Take care & appreciate yourself

Studies show that undergoing trauma in terms of illness or surgery can pose psychological damage that is sometimes even ‘irreversible’ posing great impact on things such as confidence, self-worth and general well-being meaning it’s so important to take care of and, appreciate yourself. It (your health and body) might feel like it lets you down at times (or, very often in that case) but, it’s always there to carry you through eventually so, it deserves a little bit of love and appreciation in return.⠀

Topics surrounding relationships and dating are very important to discuss but equally, can be very personal topics and so different to each individual – annoyingly, as with many things, there is no ‘one size fits all’ rule book to follow. Everybody is unique and sometimes, you should just do whatever feels right to you in your own time. ⠀

The most attractive thing will be you embracing life and going out there, making the most and living life to the full despite its certain challenges. If somebody doesn’t like or accept you for you then as difficult as it can be, they’re not worth your time; boy, bye.


My experience with relationships

Having surgery such as stoma formation doesn’t always have the anticipated negative impact on your love life and relationships. I’ve only had two, maybe three serious relationships and never been the ‘serial’ dater type. One was during diagnosis but pre-surgery, another during treatment and two surgeries and entering the current, steadier but not stable health, post surgeries and with a permanent stoma. Relationships come and go for various reasons. None of my own has ever ended directly because of my health but, I feel like my own mentality and feelings surrounding myself at various points in my journey have had an impact.

To cut a long story short, what I mean is that the relationship I’ve felt happiest and most comfortable in, ironically, is the one that I entered post-surgery with somebody who had never had experience with bowel disease or a stoma. Why is this?

I think its hugely down to the fact that I knew a lot more about myself and was much more comfortable and confident in myself upon entering the relationship – disease, scars and stoma included. I lay everything out on the table from pretty much the first instance (made easier thanks to being on a night out and having had a couple of drinks) and didn’t put pressure on myself or, the scenario. Despite not really knowing anything about the things I had, he didn’t run for the hills and was (and still is) extremely accepting, willing to learn and help with whatever it may be.

So, this Valentines, I’ve made a list of elements that may be affected as a result of illness or surgery which in turn, may impact on relationships and dating and have included some tips for overcoming these feelings:

Mental health

– It’s taken a while to learn and understand this for myself but, I’ve come to the conclusion that for anybody but, particularly people like ourselves who have dealt with ‘trauma’ such as chronic illness and/or surgery, it’s so important to care for yourself and build yourself up so that you don’t rely on someone too particularly emotionally. It’s likely that you’re not always going to have a constant someone by your side to pick you up so it’s important to develop methods and mechanisms of picking yourself up and being there for you.

– Leading on from that, try to become comfortably self-sufficient and independent (this could be as simple as going for a stroll alone or taking a trip to a coffee shop for an hour or two and enjoy being alone with yourself.)

– Listen to podcasts (Happy Place, Mad World)

– Speak to someone. There is no shame in discussing your concerns with someone whether this is a healthcare professional (stoma care nurse, surgeon, GP, therapist), people online (forums, Instagram, helplines) or simply a loved one (remember, everyone has relationship dating tips and nightmares disability or not).

Body confidence

– Find the right clothing that makes you feel comfortable and good (starting with underwear).

– Be active (go for regular walks, take up a new hobby, go to a fitness class).

– Do things for you and that makes you feel good (as difficult as it is in a 100mph world, it’s important to take time for yourself – have a pamper day, treat yourself, go to the beach).

– Surround yourself with uplifting, positive people and unfollow anyone who makes you feel otherwise.

– Read books (self-love, mindfulness).

– Bryony Gordon.

– Try to take a step back and appreciate your body for what it has survived and carried you through.

Intimacy

– Intimacy can be a daunting thing. But, remember, Intimacy consists of more than ‘doing the deed’. Start slow – even touching or kissing can be daunting post-surgery or, with somebody new. Don’t feel rushed or pressured into doing anything that you don’t feel comfortable with. No matter what literature or anyone else says, you are on your own journey and there is no generic time scale or pace to take things at.

– Last time I checked, your colon has nothing to do with your sex life. Although there are things that may change and need adapting to slightly, usually, there is no reason that you can’t return to being intimate.

– Through time and practice, you begin noticing and applying little tips and tricks, for example, to sneak to the loo to empty quickly beforehand.

– Leading on from the previous, some people like to change their bags completely beforehand for example, to a smaller bag or a bag that folds in half and that too is completely fine. At the end of the day, what matters most is that you feel as comfortable and as confident as possible in your scenario.

– If you feel more confident covering up, get yourself some nice underwear – this could be something comfortable or, something a little bit cheeky.

Read Respond’s Sex & Intimacy booklet

Telling your partner

– Another one that isn’t typically in the books; ‘page 56. Telling your partner that you have a chronic illness and a stoma’. Now, this isn’t one I’ve experienced heavily but, what I can say from combined experience and speaking to others is that this again, is a very individual thing dependant on you, and your potential partner. For me, I would prefer to be upfront and honest, however, my online presence means that often I don’t have to bring this up as a completely new topic but more so, be open to discussing it further if the conversation topic arises.

However, I can appreciate how daunting the prospect of telling a new partner can be; what to say, how to bring it up or where to start?! I know people with stomas that have had one night stands, people that have waited until the moment of being intimate to tell their partners, people that have made it first date topic of conversation and use it as a filter for separating the good from the bad and, people who have waited months.

Equally, I know ostomates who let their partner see their bare stoma as well as people who years down the line still haven’t let their partner see it and carry out all empties/changes undercover while keeping their bag covered by using underwear or support garments during intimate occasions. It’s like farting or burping in front of your partner; some couples compete for the loudest while others wouldn’t dare do such thing in front of one another.

– Have a list of useful, accessible websites, forums or accounts that do a good job of covering the topic area or explaining things that you could point someone to.

– If you are going to bring it up, perhaps you could decide beforehand how much you’re comfortable with explaining or vaguely prepare what you might say to make it less daunting and so that you don’t feel put on the spot.

Ultimately, dating and relationships should be positive (beyond the normal first date nerves of course). You’re in control. Time is a healer in many senses – take things as they come and in your own time, at your pace.

Happy Valentines,

Amber x

Follow Amber on Instagram

For more advice on relationships with a stoma, click here

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