'It's just a bag' I'm often heard to cry. I'm determined not to let my ileostomy stop me doing anything and for the most part it doesn't. I try to live a normal life. Most people forget I even have a bag. I never use disabled loos - even though I've been given a key - I'd rather just queue up like everyone else. I'm not different. I run, I cycle, I climb mountains and I do all the things I did before I ever got ill. Yes, I have a bag but it doesn't define me, it's no big deal.
Well sometimes it is. Sometimes I have to accept that there are limitations and I'm not actually a superhero after all. There I said it.
For a recap on what an ileostomy is and how it works here's an old post 'Me and My Fake Stomach'
The biggest challenge with an ileostomy isn't about the bag at all, or how it looks or whether or not anyone can see it - I don't much care to be honest. The greatest challenge for most people with an ileostomy is dehydration. Without a colon we don't absorb fluids and electrolytes in the same way. As the stoma is at the end of the small bowel we can also have very high fluid losses. My system regularly misbehaves and I often struggle with dehydration, nausea and periods of high output - imagine having diarrhoea 24/7. I live on Immodium (sometimes 20 tablets in a day) and gallons of dioralyte to try and replace the lost fluids and salts.
I look back at my trip to the Himalayas last year and sometimes wonder how on earth I ever ran 100 miles in those conditions. Some good luck was certainly involved as my stoma behaved pretty well the whole time. I didn't get dehydrated, there were no leaks and I didn't get ill. Nothing short of a miracle actually.
But 'lady luck' wasn't with me this past weekend. After a preceding week of not being able to eat properly, high output losses and struggling with dehydration and low electrolytes, I had nothing left. Perfect preparation for a 31 mile ultra trail run.
But like I said, I don't allow my stoma to stop me doing anything, so I pulled my socks up and got myself on the start line of the Weald Challenge Ultra on Sunday. Well it turns out that no amount of 'sock pulling up' can get you round an ultra when you're stuffed before you even start.
I don't think I've ever felt so ill in a race. I was feeling fairly weak and nauseous from the start and just kept trying to force fluid and fuel down - in the hope it would make me feel better - which made me feel worse. At 20 miles I was ready to bail completely. Every 500m or so I stopped to take a moment, hands on knees which turned into bum on floor. I was literally on my knees and seeing stars. All I wanted to do was lie down and for it to stop. But thanks to the amazing support of a lovely lady from Burgess Hill Runners and my friend Tam - who refused to leave me - I dragged my sorry self to the finish. The only thing that kept me from stopping was the thought of the handmade mug I'd been coveting for a year and the fact I don't yet have a DNF on my score card. And I wasn't about to start now.
It was a spectacular race with absolutely stunning scenery - yet the last 10 miles were a total blur. That bloody mug and medal was my hardest earned. Ever.
The morale of this story? it's probably better to have a DNS than feel like that ever again. I'll be ok and I'm sure my next race will be better.. in the meantime.. in the words of Batman