‘I was shamed for using a disabled toilet’ Woman with stoma pens open letter for others with an invisible illness

Learning to live with a condition no one else can see
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  • Around 13.3m people in the UK have a disability, but more than 95 per cent of them cannot be seen. Jess Logan battled with long-term hidden conditions, but through her determination not to hide away and to educate others, she found her tribe...

    My wonderful ladies,

    From the outside, I look OK. But we all know what it’s like to suffer with a burden that no-one else can see.

    Before April 2017, I was healthy, fit, looking forward to marrying my fiancé Dale, aged 28. Then, one day, I got an upset tummy. And spotting blood in the loo, I knew it was serious.

    As doctors ran tests, I was in agony. In the July, I woke up screaming in pain. ‘You have severe ulcerated colitis,’ they told me in A&E. A form of inflammatory bowel disease, my colon and rectum were full of ulcers.

    I’d need to have emergency surgery. And after that, a stoma – a bag attached to my tummy to collect my waste. Distressed, I couldn’t believe how quickly life changed. ‘I’m here for you,’ Dale promised. He was supportive, but it was tough. When the nurse showed me the stoma bag after surgery, I felt disgusting. Back home, I tried to keep going, but complications led to more surgery, longer recovery.

    Woman diagnosed with an invisible illness pens open letter to her fellow female fighters

    Then, in November, I went on my first proper outing with Dale, my mum Ruth, 54, and dad Kevin, 57, to a firework display. Only, as I left the disabled loos, a woman glared at me. She tutted as I washed my hands. Because I didn’t look disabled, she was judging me! Feeling ashamed, I quickly scurried away.

    It wasn’t the only occasion I’d been judged. ‘Nobody knows what I’m going through,’ I cried to Dale. ‘I know, it’s OK,’ he soothed. But, fed up with the disapproving looks, next time I lifted my top and exposed my stoma bag. Some people said sorry.

    Other times, they just walked away sheepishly.

    Dale and I married in April 2018. I clung on until our first dance, but by 8pm, I was in agony. Throwing up, I took myself to bed. More surgery followed to fix a twisted bowel, and again in July, during which doctors used part of my small intestine to create a new rectum.

    The stoma was removed and, after a year, I could use the loo again! But by January 2019, I felt run down. Then, last July, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. I had to quit my job, was prescribed antidepressants. And Dale and I parked plans to start a family.

    But, needing a purpose, I decided to enter a Galaxy Beauty Pageant. And I’m so glad I did, because it’s where I started meeting all of you. So many gorgeous, inspiring women.

    More pageants followed – and, through it, our team of fighters emerged. You spoke about your own troubles.

    Woman diagnosed with an invisible illness pens open letter to her fellow female fighters

    Mental-health issues, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, breast cancer, autism… And when I told you all I’d designed t-shirts, asked if you’d model them, you all rallied. The photoshoot in February this year was unforgettable. We all have our own struggles, but the burden is so much lighter when we come together.

    Invisible illnesses shouldn’t force us to hide away. So I want to say thank you to each and every one of you. Without you, I don’t know where I’d be.

    Love, Jess x

    Jess Logan, 27, Tamworth