I saw this tattoo someone posted yesterday. It was script across the forearm: “Better a bag than a box.” I just stared at the image; stared until tears welled in the corner of my eyes.
When I was twenty my disease got bad. I ignored the pain for a long time. I kept thinking that if I ignored it or kept busy, it would go away. After countless scans and doctors’ appointments, a week-long hospital stay with a feeding tube, an abscess, and a healthy dose of reality, I found myself sitting in a surgeon’s office. Believe it or not, I can’t remember the exact words he used. I can see images from that day: him pushing a Kleenex box my way, sitting on a lone bench in a ginormous clinic all alone, crying. I can even see the drawings he did to describe what would happen next, but the words…they escape me. He wanted to perform surgery, one that would result in a temporary Ostomy. It was not a suggestion, it was more of a do-this-or-live-out-whatever-days-you-have-left statement. I was just a kid, what did I know about it? What did I know about anything?
I felt like a victim. I was angry, I was afraid, and I was alone. I went through with the surgery, but not as a survivor; not even as a girl who yearned for a future, but as a kid who was faced with an impossible choice. Being sick, to me, is as normal as breathing. I wouldn’t know any different, yet I cannot even begin to describe how much I hated myself, my disease, or my bag in the months that followed. The surgeon was true to his word, the Ostomy was only temporary, and I wish like nothing else, that I could have known then what I do now. I was so mad at the world that I didn’t take the time to understand or appreciate this magic, this chance at a life, at a future. I spent so much time hiding away in my apartment and blaming all my problems on the bag that I never got to be thankful for it.
It saved my life. That surgeon, saved my life.
After thinking all of this, I thought, “Who would tattoo something so powerful and personal on themselves?” And then I realized: I would. That image at the top of the page is my tattoo. My personal and powerful. Tattoos are not supposed to make sense or be for others; they are a way of sharing with the world a little bit of ourselves. Thank you, Shawn, for being willing to inspire me, to inspire others.
“Wear your tragedies as armor, not shackles.” *Author Unknown*