This election has been a cause of distress for many, Crohnies and ostomates included. No matter what your individual views are on each candidate, there is a degree of uncertainty involved with any transition of leadership, let alone a change as drastic as the one we are now facing with our newly elected president.
Knowing full well that change can be stressful and anxiety-producing for us as Crohnies and ostomates, how do we face and battle that anxiety? How do we accept outcomes we may not support? And most importantly, how do we combat any fear-mongering attitude that may be directed towards our “bathroom disease” and ostomies? Do we ignore the stares, grimaces and derogatory remarks? Do we allow fear to scare us and not leave our homes? Or do we fight back?
For me, I am not at all about fighting or violence, but I am all about love, awareness and acceptance. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, we will never engender love. We will never further awareness or create acceptance for our conditions or the realities involved in managing our Crohn’s and our ostomies. But how would standing up for ourselves and our health issues manifest? We have to hold our heads high and be proud of what makes us unique rather than be ashamed of our differences. We have to come out of our IBD closet and own who we are. So, the next time that TSA agent screens me privately at the airport and looks at my ostomy bag with disgust, I will continue to say, “This bag gave me life again. You can frown upon it but hey, we all take a dump one way or another!” And the next time someone asks me, “You have to use the bathroom again?” I won’t feel guilty that I’m chronically ill. And the next time I need to use a wheelchair at the airport, I won’t feel ashamed while passersby stare me down. And the next time I need to park in an accessible spot while shopping for groceries, I won’t feel embarrassed that I can’t walk long distances carrying heavy bags.
Even though we have a so-called invisible illness, it certainly isn’t invisible to us. So, we don’t have to accept another’s reluctance to understand or empathize with our plight. We don’t have to feel guilty for someone else’s closed-mindedness. That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to feel consumed by a fear of the unknown given the impending transition facing our nation. But it does mean that we need to make peace with that which we cannot control, something we are all masters of with our Crohn’s and our ostomies. In this process though, we have to always remember that America is our country just as much as it is the next person’s, disabilities aside.
We must thus create an identity for ourselves that rises above the hate and breeds acceptance. It might now suddenly seem OK to shame people for their differences, but it is not OK to sit back and take it if we want to exact change and create acceptance for our disabilities. I think now, more than ever, we need to spread awareness by joining hands with other patients and organizations such as the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and the United Ostomy Associations of America. I believe we need to come forward and share our stories, our photos and our accomplishments with each other just as Bethany Townsend, the model with the two ostomy bags, had done two summers ago. Now, more than ever, we need to celebrate our differences and wear them proud.
Politics can unfortunately divide us, but at the end of the day, it is up to us to stay united. It is up to us to band together and own our Crohn’s and own our ostomies in order to eradicate hate and fear. So whether or not we are happy with the results of this election, don’t ever let anyone make you feel inferior. Whether we are men or women, Muslims or Jews, brown or black, gay or straight, blue or red, Crohnies or ostomates, we are all proud to be American. And I believe what America has always done best is unite us, so it behooves us to let our differences bring us together, not divide us.
While hate might now be the name of the game, I choose to keep loving. I choose to keep acting as a champion of my cause and others. I choose to weather this storm because that is what we Crohnies and ostomates do every single day of our lives. This is me, America, take it or leave it, and I am here to stay, disabilities and all.
Originally published in The Mighty on November 18th, 2016.