Brie's Story “Poops, I Did It Again: True Tales of an Angry Colon”

I have pooped my pants in more places than I can count. Some have been in exotic locales, like theatres, restaurants, fancy stores, and airplanes. Some have been less dramatic, like in the grocery store, out for a walk, or in the car.

Brie Henderson_001.jpg

It’s not like I do this for fun. It’s not like I want to see how many places I can soil myself in public to set a world record. I have ulcerative colitis. For those of you unfamiliar with this condition, it basically means that ulcers form in your colon and it becomes so irritated and inflamed that no matter what you consume, you need to poop immediately. Sometimes, you even have to poop when you have had nothing at all.

My bout with this shitty (haha) disease was particularly nasty. I tried every medication under the sun. Pills, infusions through an IV and steroids - nothing really seemed to work. The only thing that stopped me from pooping anywhere from 20-40 plus times per day were painkillers. However, I continued to live my life to the best of my ability; I just took lots of bathroom breaks.

During this time, I had accidents. Lots of them. In fact, it got so bad that I took to carrying a bedpan and wet wipes in the car so I could just poop on the road. It saved time and I had less anxiety knowing all I had to do was reach under my passenger seat and I had a portable car toilet waiting.

Brie Henderson_015.jpg

This would get a lot of people down. I mean, I wasn’t thrilled with the situation. My whole life revolved around whatever my bathroom situation was at the time. If I was at a picnic, for example, I just had to sit there and starve. That or find a handy clump of bushes to hide in for the foreseeable future. If I was in a show that night, I didn’t consume a damn thing after around 3:00 p.m., just to be safe.

Being an actress and making up my mind that I was not going to give that up, I began to write down my more memorable poop stories. It started as a kind of therapy, just laying it all out there. Then, one day, I went back through and read them. I laughed my ass off. I mean, poop is funny. I started toying with the idea of turning these stories into a one-woman show. I had always wanted to do one, and if Eve Ensler can talk about vaginas on stage, why couldn’t I talk about poop? And thus, “Poops, I Did It Again: True Tales of an Angry Colon” was born.

I entered it in the Kansas City Fringe Festival as an experiment. I sold out almost every show and won my venue for overall attendance. After that, a friend connected me to a producer in Los Angeles who was interested. I already wanted to go out there and take classes at the Groundlings School, so I found a sublet and headed out west.

I was not well during all of this. I was still in incredible pain, pooping multiple times per day, eating painkillers like Skittles, and looking slightly puffy because of the prednisone I was on. But I kept moving. I threw myself into my Groundlings School training as best as I could and put on a hell of a show at the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Boulevard. I filled that house and gave it my all.

But I couldn’t help noticing I was getting sicker. I was barely eating, some days I could hardly get up to go to class, and I was in so much pain. I lived off of Ensure and pills and I drank liquor to dull my senses. I finally decided that enough was enough; I had to stop my classes and come back to Kansas City to see my doctor.

I got off the plane and my doctor told me to come straight to his office. He took one look at me and said I needed to be hospitalized, right now. He did an emergency colonoscopy and said that my colon was in danger of rupturing, which would take me into a whole ‘nother sort of hell.' He brought in the best surgeon around to chat with me. She was gorgeous and smart and I respected her. She basically said they needed to just take my colon out. All of it, the whole shebang. The disease stopped at my small intestine, so none of that was affected. I was lucky there. She explained that with my colon gone, I would not be in as much pain, I would be able to eat again, and my disease would be virtually gone because the infected part would be taken out. The only downside: I would have to poop through a little nub of small intestine called a stoma that stuck out my side into a bag that was attached to me.

I honestly didn’t give it much thought. I was so miserable, I told them to take that stupid colon away. That organ had betrayed me and made my life a living hell for over two years. I could poop in a bag. I’d pooped in way worse places, and at least this would be contained. Plus, after nonchalantly sticking her fingers up my butt, my surgeon told me I had very strong anal muscles. She said that after I healed, we could turn my small intestine into a pouch, hook it up to my butt and I would poop sort of normally again. I said okay, they knocked me out, and when I woke up, I had a stoma that I christened Rosebud (because that is what she looked like) and I had a pouch of my own feces to tote around with me wherever I went.

Once again, many people would find this depressing. But honestly, I was so relieved! I didn’t poop out my butt at all anymore! In fact, I didn’t even know when I was pooping. I could go out to eat, leave the house, and, since I could only wear dresses or things with an elastic waist, I had the perfect excuse to live in yoga pants and leggings everyday. I got my strength back, and I found out that my one-woman show had been accepted into the New York International Fringe Festival. I was going to get to perform my show in New York City! Rosebud and I gathered ourselves and set off to tell my story yet again, this time on the East Coast.

After that whirlwind, I had my second surgery, where they made a pouch out of my small intestine, took out my rectum, and hooked that new hybrid organ to my butt. I still had Rosebud while I healed, and the only big downside was that, since they used most of my small intestine, Rosebud got smaller and didn’t stick out as far. For me, this was bad because it was hard to get a tight seal on the bag now, and she leaked liquid poo out on my stomach on more than one occasion!

I had my final surgery at the end of January, 2017. I am still learning how to poop again. I do not have the most “normal” of diets (I have not had a salad in months), and I probably still poo more than the average person. Sometimes I have cramps or I will eat something that my new pouch doesn’t like and I will be chained to the toilet with painful, ass-burning diarrhea. I still take my painkillers to keep from pooping too much in public. I have bad days, and I have good days. But I am still here.

I have become a different person through all of this. I have learned a lot about myself. I have grown to be so strong. I know pain and I know I can endure. I am not fearless, but things that used to scare me or seemed important just aren’t anymore. I have more body confidence now, with my scars, than ever. To me, my body is a beautiful thing that kept fighting and is still fighting.

I found out that I can write, produce and direct, and I truly am a great performer. Actors question themselves all the time and we are terribly insecure. I used to be that way. Now, I go to an audition and I just do my best. I get excited, not nervous. I know I am good. For whatever reason, this disease which could have broken me, made me tough, confident, and more tenacious than ever. If I hear a “no,” I just find another way to get what I want.

I think it is a choice people face. When something truly horrible and life-altering happens, you can shut down. You have an excuse. No one would blame you. Or,, you can fight. From the moment I wrote my first story down, I felt better. I kept performing, even through the pain and poop. I refused to give up, ever. That’s not to say I don’t take a day now and then to be miserable. You are allowed to wallow and feel bad sometimes. Just don’t make it your way of life.

I feel like my show, which started out as therapy for me, ended up actually helping people. I have had countless strangers come up to me afterwards to share their own experiences. They have confessed their most embarrassing stories and told me they thought they were all alone. But you are never alone. Everyone is going through shit, be it literal or figurative. And you will get through it. It may not be perfect, it may not be the way you wanted it to happen, but you will get by.

So, embrace your imperfections. For me, laughter is the best medicine. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at other people. Don’t be afraid to share, because hiding only gives your fear power. You got this, whatever “this” means for you. I know, because I’ve got it too.