My most embarrassing memory linked to my stoma has actually scarred me quite deeply. I returned from lunch early one day and I caught sight of my manager dancing around the office telling my colleagues I was going to have a bag as I had a ‘big smelly problem’. He had a Tesco carrier bag taped to his trousers. I was devastated. An awkward silence ensued and I left, never to return. This was 35 years ago and attitude and awareness has thankfully improved so much. That said, that incident totally wrecked my confidence and I became very insular and secretive where my stoma was concerned. As the years went by and my health improved, I found it easier to talk about my stoma but I did pick my audience, staying away from people I felt would have no empathy or understanding. Fortunately, my next employer was extremely supportive and helped me regain the confidence I’d lost. I stayed in that job for over 20 years. In my personal life I have never really gone public as such since most of my family already know and it’s just a part of me like my arm or leg!
Seven years ago however, complications after a hysterectomy left me with an abdominal fistula which means I now wear two bags. This has been life changing and I am still very embarrassed by it as the bag is totally unreliable compared to a stoma. I don’t even try and explain as most people have never heard of a fistula so I find it just creates more questions which adds to my embarrassment.
I have, however, generally found it’s best to be open and honest with people. For many years I would be too embarrassed to use disabled loos as I don’t look disabled! I eventually got over that and am pleased to say that I’ve never been challenged. People are now generally more aware that not all disabilities are visible and hopefully dinosaurs like my old boss from the 80s are where they should be-long gone!