Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Guest Post: The Great Bowel Movement
We love guest posts and we love catchy IBD names. Combine the two and you get 'The Great Bowel Movement' and their amazing post below. Their story reminds us that truly anything is possible with the right friend by your side and a relentless attitude.
Finding Purpose through Pain
After having IBD for a collective twenty years, two friends decided to do something inspiring.
Andrea Meyer, who has Crohn’s Disease, met Megan Starshak, with Ulcerative Colitis, at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Camp Oasis one summer. As any camper or counselor can attest to, Camp is a special week with a magical atmosphere, where having IBD is normal and telling potty jokes is encouraged. But after one week, we all have to go back to the real world. One year, Andrea and Megan decided to keep that magic going.
The Great Bowel Movement began as a small idea, as Andrea and Megan realized they were both really open about their diseases, and had found a place in the world by being a role model to others who were struggling with the acceptance of their diseases. Andrea had requested some kind of t-shirt to wear- one that was fun, creative, and original, and trendy enough to wear out and about, and Megan, as someone who dabbles in graphic design, was up for the challenge.
Together, they developed more than just the now-popular “Ask Me” t-shirts, but a whole brand and support system that provides both resources and a community to help others come to terms with their diseases, be courageous enough to share their stories, and to spread awareness by wearing the shirts around their communities- all with a fun and witty twist. So was born the Great Bowel Movement.
One of the biggest benefits of spreading IBD awareness is bringing credibility to our diseases and experiences. When someone says they have cancer, it’s something people are familiar with. Same thing with the other end of the severity scale, say, a common cold. People can relate; they have at least some idea of what it is and possibly what you are going through. But there are a lot of myths associated with IBD- everything from what exactly it is, why it’s different than IBS or a food allergy, and especially the severity and impact it has on our lives.
By wearing the “Ask Me” t-shirts and initiating conversations, we’re opening that door and becoming the faces of IBD. For some, you may be the only person that someone knows with Crohn’s or Colitis- so however you live your life becomes the definition of disease to that person. The type of people that tend to be open about IBD and who wear the shirts out in public are the ones who are the best role models- often times people whose struggles have been great, and who have a lesson from it or a little bit of wisdom to share- and people who are living their lives successfully and become examples of overcoming disease. The more people that do this, and the more common the IBD conversations become, we will all benefit from a collective increase in awareness.
We also love the idea that IBD is you, and me, and the friends we’ve met at camp or at other IBD events. Although there are some great advocacy and other organizations out there, and some great initiatives driven by the pharmaceutical companies, at the end of the day, WE are IBD. With the Great Bowel Movement, we are giving everyone and anyone the opportunity to be the spokesperson for their disease. We both have discussed at length that going through the experience of IBD has given us more of a purpose in life, which is to be a resource or role model for others, and through this, we’re working to provide tools for more patients who feel the same. We’re keeping a very personal voice with it, and we believe that is the best way to make an impact in our daily lives and communities.
We are taught from a very young age how to (or how to not!) treat someone with a visible disability. When you see someone, for example, in a wheelchair, you are told not to stare. But what if that person wants to share their story? What if they are proud of what they have been through? They are up against the social norms that assume all disability or illness is supposed to be embarrassing. And we, as patients of invisible illnesses, don’t have much of a way to tell our stories, since often times you can’t tell that something is wrong.
But sometimes telling our story can be the most empowering thing, both within ourselves and for the community. Maybe that girl at the mall is out in public for the first time with a new ostomy. Maybe that guy slowly running a 5K is proud that he can even run that far. We’ve got lots of things to be proud of, and lots of stories to share, and together, we can make a positive impact for IBD awareness. We’re truly working to get everyone to this point, and create an awareness “movement” (yes, pun intended!) for IBD.
After we began the Great Bowel Movement and really gained some great momentum, we realized that our brand has a secondary benefit, and that is instilling pride in those who wear the “Ask Me” shirts. We’ve received countless emails, photos, and stories from people, and it’s rewarding to hear that people are empowered just by putting on our shirts. We are changing the world, one t-shirt, one story, at a time.
One girl summed it up really well- when she was first diagnosed, she was so embarrassed about having a bowel disease that she didn’t even want to tell her parents. But she eventually came to terms with IBD, and when she put on her GBM shirt for the first time, she cried. It was a symbolic gesture that they have come to “own” their disease and their experience. It’s something they can now be proud of, and it’s a psychological marking point.
So not only do we give people the tools to become more confident in telling their stories, so that they do get a shirt and spread awareness, but the shirts themselves have become tools of empowerment in this journey. And hopefully when they wear these out, they not only educate those around them, but inspire other silent sufferers of IBD to see that you don’t have to be embarrassed about it, and get a little further in their journey of acceptance and openness. All because of one shirt.
We’re making a difference in a way that we’ve never seen before. Now everyone can be the poster child for IBD, and we’re not stopping until we’re 1.4 million t-shirts strong!
Andrea & Megan
Shirts are available here