Hello. If you’re reading this and aren’t being one of my friends and being polite, I’m Fionntán. I’m from Belfast. That’s about as far as I’ll go, I’m being stricken with the thought of ASL and cringing at my teenage years and chat rooms.
Anyway, As you may have deduced by my title, I have an ileostomy bag. Or Shit bag. Or the beg as my friends and I have come to lovingly know it as. It is both my saviour and the bane of my existence. It’s been one of the more defining points in the last 9 years of my life. In fact, it probably is the defining point.
The reason I want to write about it is because any time I tell anyone I have it, it sparks this reaction of shock (sometimes awe) that me, a fairly fit, slightly overweight, outgoing 20 something has a bag. Alot of people have no idea what they are (despite bowel conditions being one of the most common illnesses in Western Europe). It is incredibly common.
Then come the questions. I’m incredibly frank. I ask people if they want to see it (they normally say no but two unnamed friends asked to touch it one drunken night). But people think that in some way it makes you an invalid. They ask how the fuck I still play hurling and football? A fair amount of fellas think it makes me impotent or couldn’t imagine me getting a girlfriend.
I was one of the unlucky few. I got a disease called ulcerative colitis. This is a disease, similar to Chrone’s Disease, only localised to the bowel. It create ulcers in the offending organ and create havoc. The shit’s is not the word my friend. It’s like the War, constant gunfire. A war in the trenches (bogs). I was one of the unlucky few because mine was severe and was uncontrollable. I got incredibly ill, spent alot of time in hospital, and got incredibly depressed. My life was such a misery I was almost suicidal. My then girlfriend couldn’t handle my mental and physical health and we drifted apart. I don’t blame her, we were only 18. And I found solace in drinking with my friends, only exasperating my condition. And this all started when I was 17. 18 months later I was told I needed surgery, they weren’t sure what would happen, but I needed it. I said fine.
I’m no optimist, I often expecting the worst so whatever happens could only better. But after 3 hours of surgery with complications, I woke up with no Large Intestine and an ileostomy bag. (I like to imagine the surgeon pulling it out of me like some fucked up indian rope trick, only with loads of poo).
It was probably the hardest time of my life. I was 18, still a virgin, and now some handicap. Who the fuck would want me? But my friends rallied around me, my family were amazing, and I tried as hard as I could to deal with it. When I thought my love life was all but over, I found a friend who became my girlfriend. The nicest, gentlest girl I’ve ever met and I fell in love straight away. She didn’t care at all about my bag. She never asked me questions about it like everyone else. She hit me more than once forgetting it was there. And she pulled me through the hardest time of my life and is probably the reason I ever got through most of it in the first place. Not to say my friends weren’t amazing. Rab was never away from my door (best mate, rocket). He visited me in hospital despite his incredible phobia of them. New friends like Kev wanted to be around and help and listen, even though we barely knew each other. I made my friends for life at this point. It took a long time to get me back on my feet at this point, but they were always there. Laura (the girl) and Kev got Bloc Party to essentially write me a pity story because I missed the gig in hospital. The bought me ticket to Babyshambles and babysitted me the whole way through (still had the staples in). They were amazing.
My ma, as with all irish mothers, fussed over me immensely, probably riddled with guilt thinking it was her fault (irish guilt). Would do whatever. My Da was the irish Da, worried outwardly at the time then act like nothing else is happening except the horse racing and football. I didn’t expect anything different. It was probably what was needed. I enrolled at Queens to do Irish a year behind my friends, but made some great friends there along the way too. I don’t believe in fate, I wouldn’t say it happened for a reason, it’s been horrible, but it changed the direction of my life which was in many ways better than I could have imagined.
I’m not saying it was all sunshine and happiness once the initial pain was gone. Things were ok. But alot of things went wrong and alot of things are unresolved. But it’s time to deal with that and try to move on, it’s here forever. It’s part of me and always be. But now I will not let it define me.