Emotions, Intimacy & Relationships

Dealing With the Mental and Emotional Effects of an Ostomy

For many people, an ostomy is a life-saving surgery. But while the health benefits can mean a new lease on life there is no denying that, for most people, it is accompanied by significant psychological distress. That means aside from the physical healing you must do after surgery you will likely struggle with some degree of mental and emotional trauma as well.

The idea of having to constantly wear a pouch on your body may cause any number of negative feelings. Some people report feeling embarrassed or humiliated by their ostomy pouch while others feel ashamed or even disgusted by it. In a medically reviewed article posted on Everyday Health entitled It Takes Guts: The Emotional Side of an Ostomy, a certified wound, ostomy, continence, and foot care nurse reports that many of her patients feel “helpless, scared, and overwhelmed.” Even more, she goes on to say that some “won’t touch or empty their ostomy bag at first – and that a handful never feel comfortable doing this…”

Reaching out to others with similar health concerns can be one of the best ways to begin healing emotionally. Attending a support group or online forum where you can share your feelings openly and honestly without fear of being judged can be life changing for those dealing with the aftermath of having an ostomy. Others may find solace in their health-care provider or stomal therapist, who can provide tremendous support to those making the transition to being an ostomate.

Just as important as finding proper support to help you deal with the mental and emotional effects of your ostomy however, try and remember that as you become more comfortable in your new skin your negative feelings will begin to fade. You may never like your pouch or feel comfortable with your stoma, but with proper support and the help of friends and family you will find a way to focus on what your ostomy has done for you and not to you.

Building Your Body Confidence After an Ostomy

Building your body confidence after an ostomy will be different for everyone. Some people may find a renewed sense of body confidence now that they’re able to do and perform tasks that would have been unimaginable when they were ill. Others may find that their body confidence dips to an extreme low after surgery and in the first months after their ostomy. There is no right or wrong. Every experience is unique, as is every body.

While there is precious little in the way of research on the topic, building body confidence after an ostomy is a reality for tens of thousands of people. Initially, you may find yourself avoiding certain activities you enjoy for fear of someone seeing your pouch or scars, or covering yourself up unnecessarily with extra baggy clothing. These things are the safety nets we create to make ourselves feel “safe” but like any other condition that causes us to have low self-esteem and feel ashamed of our bodies, acceptance is the key in regaining your self-confidence.

In March 2016 Disability and Rehabilitation published a study about body image in people who have undergone an ostomy. Researchers found that having a stoma had a negative impact on the relationship between patients and their body; but the same study reported that “gaining familiarity and perceived control over their stoma” allowed the participants to “regain a sense of being fully connected to their bodies.”

When it comes to regaining your body confidence after having an ostomy, the most important thing to remember is self-love. You and your body have already been through a traumatic surgery along with weeks or even months of recovery; the last thing you need is to be hard on yourself.

Dating After an Ostomy

Dating after an ostomy can bring with it a number of new fears and insecurities. Among ostomates, the greatest fear is usually that of being rejected by someone once they find out about the ostomy.

Reading about other peoples’ experiences dating can be beneficial and enlightening. Books such as It’s in the Bag and Under the Covers by Brenda Elsagher and Kristin Furlong’s Left Holding the Bag discuss the road to emotional recovery and acceptance, and Elsagher’s book in particular looks at dating and intimacy after an ostomy.

You are the only one who can decide if you’re emotionally ready to begin (or continue) dating and when you should tell a potential partner about your ostomy. Opinions on the latter differ considerably from person to person but there is one thing almost everyone can agree on: If a new or potential partner rejects you because you have an ostomy, they were not worth your time to begin with. But if you don’t feel ready to have a conversation about your ostomy, you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. It may take a long time before you meet someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to share your story. Be patient with yourself – you’re worth it.

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