I’ll admit it. I enjoy talking about myself. I like telling my story. I like hearing people tell me how strong I am and how much they admire what I’m doing. Who wouldn’t like that extra push of encouragement, especially on a less than perfect day. That said – I don’t want to be the one to start the conversation all the time. My life is not a support group and my introduction when I meet people is not “Hi, I’m Karin and I have an ostomy”. It’s actually more like “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m awesome.” I don’t walk around looking for strangers to talk to and then plot ways to get them to ask me about my ostomy, but I don’t hide it if the conversation goes in that direction. I do find that on the second or third interaction I have with someone, there’s usually some part of the conversation where it would be really easy to bring up my ostomy. At that point, it’s up to me to decide if these are people that I want to let in on my secret. My favorite interaction that led me to sharing about my ostomy happened a couple weeks ago.
The profile picture on my Instagram (@ostomyadventure) is a picture of my lower torso and shorts showing off my bag with a newly made bag cover (same images as the one in this blog post). While working recently, a coworker and I were taking pictures to post on Instagram and she asked what my handle was. I thought for a second wondering to myself if I really wanted to share with her about my ostomy, then quickly decided that I had no reason to hide it. I also decided I wouldn’t bring it up since I wanted to remain professional and not overshare on the job. I spelled out my handle for her and once my profile appeared, she asked me if I was wearing a fanny pack in the picture. Caught totally off-guard, I asked her to repeat herself and looked to see what she was asking about. She thought my ostomy pouch was a fanny pack. I chuckled (probably out loud), then explained to her that it was an ostomy pouch to collect my poop because I had a digestive disorder and had had my colon removed. She gave me sympathy and then said “You don’t have that on you now though.” It was said kind of like a statement and a question. I told her I did have it attached and that I would have it for the rest of my life. She still looked skeptical, so I lifted my shirt a little to show her just the top part. Mind blown. We talked about it a little bit more and then moved on to other topics.
It seems a lot of people are concerned their ostomy will be noticeable and worry others will judge them. I think my experience with this coworker is a perfect example of a positive ostomy awareness interaction. Not only did she not notice my ostomy before I told her about it – she didn’t believe it was on me AFTER I told her.
Moral of the story: Most people don’t know what an ostomy is so they probably won’t “notice” it anyway, because they won’t even know what they’re noticing. Black is slimming. We worry a lot about what others may think, but most of the time they are too busy worrying about their own differences. Exuding confidence when sharing your story, and acceptance of yourself both go a long way to a positive interaction.