Lean, Mean Fighting (a Shameful Bag) Machine
… a Veteran’s story befitting of this month - raising awareness for mental health, IBD, and small businesses …
This bag-restricted, Marine Vet, who has haphazardly chased good deeds to overcome his daily shame, guilt and embarrassment of wearing an ostomy bag, is finally ‘Coming Out!’ No, it’s not that kind of ‘Coming Out’ party ;) But, rather, I’m showing off my annoyingly burdensome ostomy bag to stop the hiding, stop the lying, and start turning my pain (and the pain of 100s of 1000s of others who endure the daily grind of having an ostomy bag) into hope and happiness.
I’m feeling a bit like the movie character, Jerry Maguire right now. Like him, my conscience has been tearing at me alot lately, and now, I’m up late writing a diatribe to get some issues off my chest. Well, actually, it’s more like “off my waist and leg” ;) for me. I’m optimistic that this story may provide some helpful direction to those suffering from IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease - namely Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis) and its mental health side effects. Perhaps this short story may breed confidence in them to not give up on their aspirations, to pursue their passions despite the obstacles before them. And, hopefully this will be a part of the process of me taking back control of my “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” - the tenets I espouse to kids through my Flag Steward nonprofit project, but have not been fulfilling myself. I’m now liberating myself from the shame, fear, loneliness, and sins that I allowed my years of IBD and ostomy bag struggles to drag me in to.
Four days ago, two dark events I endured from 10 and 25 years ago came back and slapped me in the face. I was freaking out, coming out of my skin, pacing around, talking to myself out loud, wanting to put my fist through a wall - all while reliving a couple harrowing medical experiences that I haven’t dealt with properly from a mental health perspective.
The first and more traumatic event was about 10.5 years ago. I was a 106-pound shell of myself, waking up in the ICU with a bag, literally a human ( like a doggy ;) poop bag attached to my abdomen - the result of emergency surgery to remove my colon riddled with 16+ leaking holes that had poisoned and very nearly killed me. I know I should have been thankful to have a second chance at life and I try to keep that in perspective today, but my weak body and mind were playing tricks on me back then - deciding whether to stay or go in this sad, new life. Slowly, methodically, and with a little boost of antidepressants for a month I began a nearly 6-month path to get my body and mind into a workable frame again.
So, why was I replaying this event? Well, for the past couple months I’ve been providing advice and support to an IBD buddy of mine recovering from an even more traumatic bowel surgery experience. It’s felt good lending my help and experience to assist his recovery and I’ve thanked God that I had 20 more years than he before my surgery. But, this has also opened up my mind to reliving that event and now facing the reality that I haven’t fully dealt with it and continue to fight it each day by way of my ostomy bag. Thankfully, my IBD buddy is taking the necessary steps to get stronger of mind and body that I, a stubborn, tough military guy, failed to fully complete.
Unfortunately, and as usual of late, my wife and youngest daughter were there to witness my breakdown 4 days ago and take the brunt of my verbal tirade. Thankfully, my wife, Julie, an amazing pediatric cancer nurse who’s seen many families at their worst dealing with traumatic medical conditions, calmly and lovingly talked me down. As I grinned and bear down to get through the rest of the day and listened intently at our priest’s homily at mass that evening, I realized that God is by my side and that my time for hope and happiness is very near. I just need to take steps to make it happen. And, this letter is part of that process.
I have been living out Romans 5:3 for the past 15+ years, but in the wrong way. Basically, Romans 5:3 states that: Suffering produces Perseverance, Perseverance develops Character, and Character delivers Hope. The problem has been that my endurance and patience in dealing with my shameful, life-controlling ulcerative colitis and then ostomy bag (emptying it 6-10 times per day and fixing leaks a few times per week), has been developing a poor character within me. I have been reclusive, short-tempered, revengeful, and selfish at home. This may seem way off-base to others who think of me as nice, mild-mannered guy who seems to volunteer for too much at schools - thanks to Super Julie ;). But the reality is, I have been that way because doing good, volunteering, and leading projects outside the home has made me feel good. And, hearing the “attaboys” for my efforts has helped me get past some of the fear and constant drudgery of my bag.
The drive to be in control of my life, to overcome the bag telling me what and when to do it, and feel good about my daily efforts outside of the home has caused me to neglect my family, especially my wife and mom. It’s not fair to them that I’ve taken advantage of their love for me - making them part of some of the ugly parts of my daily grind and shame, and for that I ask for their forgiveness. In fact, I’ve often put my Flag Steward nonprofit efforts, to build more informed, inspired, patriotic student-citizens, ahead of my digital media contract work that pays the bills at home. And, yes, volunteering my time and efforts is what’s needed to get a fledgling nonprofit going, but at some point a sustainable product / service and revenue stream to support the nonprofit's mission needs to be enabled. And, finally, I believe that time has come.
As you can tell from this letter, I’ve never been good at asking for help in overcoming obstacles - always thinking I can do this myself. I'm strong enough and smart enough to beat anything that comes my way. Ooops - isn't that the thinking that laneded me in the hospital for an emergency colectomy ;) Well, Jerry Maguire thought and acted the same... until his all-night-long epiphany writing and near breakdown when asking Cuba Gooding, “help me to help you. Help me, help you.” For better or worse, I’ve always tried to tackle issues on my own. But, I’ve learned that’s not good for me or my health any longer.
So, I’m asking the same thing of my fellow Americans that Jerry Maguire asked. Please, “help me to help you” experience our American Flag like you never have before. Finally, I’m (our nonprofit is) ready to offer and distribute a simple, but unique product that can generate revenues to support our nonprofit efforts with schools and scouts - giving me an opportunity to answer my call to serve others while fulfilling, not neglecting, my family responsibilities - all while embracing my ostomy bag life ;) With the help of a tech partner, we’ve developed a new age way to engage with Our Flag and all the lessons it can relay. It’s called an “Awakened American Flag” - which is comprised of a high-quality, durable 3’x5’ U.S. Flag combined with a location-activated digital app transmitting Old Glory’s daily stories - all for just $29 at launch. The content is strictly nonpartisan and intended to inform and inspire citizens by recalling the tragedies and triumphs on America’s road to becoming truly indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
So, please, GO HERE, to the “Patriot Poppy” store, to review the videos demonstrating what an “Awakened American Flag” can do for you. And, hopefully, you’ll be compelled to buy one and engage with it daily. The flag sale proceeds will support further development and distribution of our Flag Steward nonprofit project, especially our “pre-Pledge Tribute” programs within schools and scouts. This will enable me, and hopefully Veteran employees we can hire, to work with and serve citizens across the country. It will also help straighten me back to being a better husband, son, and father - able to be comfortable enough do things of my own free will without any resentment or shame of my ostomy bag. And, more importantly you’ll be helping a Veteran on his road to taking back his life - moving on from hiding out as a gross Bag Steward to being a proud Flag Steward.
PS - I know some are wondering … if the bag is so bad how can he workout and stay in shape. There are unseen issues with the bag that I deal with back at home after my workouts. In in small workout doses, I’ve learned to deal with the bag limitations and benefit from the endorphins driven through me. It’s all part of my daily therapy to keep a sound body and now a much healthier mind, free of bag shame.