Dating in the midst of a global pandemic is no easy feat in general. For TikToker Harrison Kefford, taxing health concerns and an ostomy bag have amplified his romantic anxieties.
"What if someone that I see on a dating app has seen my TikToks and thinks, 'Oh, well, I'm not going to be interested in this guy anymore, because he comes with all this baggage,'" he tells Yahoo Life.
Kefford, 27, has a stoma and utilizes an ostomy bag in order to expel waste, following complications with Crohn's disease and primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC, which affects the bile ducts. A stoma is an opening from an area inside of the body to the outside, and is used to treat digestive and urinary diseases. An ostomy is the procedure used to create a stoma, and an ostomy bag is the outer attachment that collects waste.
Stomas are not always permanent and the need for an ostomy can occur at any age. Kefford was first diagnosed with PSC at 18, which he marks as the start of his health concerns.
From there, the Melbourne, Australia native found himself tossed into a whirlwind of doctor visits and operations.
"My Crohn's diagnosis, which is related to my stoma and stuff, that was five years ago, and it's been a hell of a ride. From like, five years up until, like, now in terms of like, three months ago, when I had surgery, subtotal colectomy and an ileostomy to get my stoma, which is the bag."
He initially decided to document his journey with the illness on TikTok after a breakup last year.
"I was seeing a girl and she didn't really say she stopped seeing me as a result of the 'stuff wrong with you,' but that's the idea that I got and I was like, 'Well, you know if this person can't accept me for my stuff and they just don't like the way I look, because I've got these things then like, I'm sick and tired of hiding and not really telling the world about my stuff,'" he says.
This realization prompted Harrison to begin posting informational, humorous and transparent videos about his condition and the ups and downs that come with dating with a "poop bag."
"I was laying on my bed and I just saw this video that this girl posted about normalizing things about themselves that the rest of the world doesn't really like talking about," he says of the start of his social media admissions.
Overnight the views began to pile in.
"I remember I went to sleep and I started noticing that I was getting a fair few likes, it was getting up to like 500. I'm like, 'Wow, this is pretty big,'" he said of the unexpected attention the video received.
While his account started as a way for him to vent about the various ways Crohn's has complicated his dating and social life, it quickly bloomed into a full-fledged career.
"I woke up the next morning, and the post had been viewed over 100,000 times and had like 10,000 likes."
This was the beginning of Kefford's rise to TikTok fame.
"The next few videos did really well and I really noticed the following started really picking up about six months down the track and it keeps blowing up every single month."
Kefford now has over 45,000 followers on TikTok and has accumulated over 2 million likes across his videos.
Being vulnerable on the internet in any capacity can be a nerve-racking experience and Kefford admits there were times that he worried his videos would sully his dating odds.
"My biggest reservation that I had was like, people on dating apps or people that I see, I have no doubt in my mind that people that I've been interested in have seen my TikToks, because they have been viewed millions of times," he says.
These reservations and desire to present as "normal" have been a part of Kefford's journey since the beginning.
Prior to TikTok he recalls feeling like he had to hide his illness and the accommodations he required in order to be a "regular" person and maintain social normalcy while out with friends, at times, going as far as rationing his medication.
"I would take steroids because steroids are good for quickly treating gut health if you're having a flare up, so when I was with someone I would take prednisolone probably like four hours before I would see them, If I knew I was staying over I would take some pred before bed and I knew that nothing's going to happen I'm not going to need to go rush to the toilet middle of the night or whatever," he says.
However, Kefford soon realized that this method of maintaining relationships was not conducive to him living his most authentic and fulfilled life.
"Over a period of like months, it just wasn't healthy for me at all because I'd get home and I wouldn't take my [prednisolone] because in my head I was like I can't take it when I get home because I won't have enough again when I'm going out and I need that so I can go out and feel normal and feel good and that is a really warped way to think," he says.
Now, however, he has a community of followers who inspire him to keep sharing his journey.
"The thing that really sold me was reading the comments that I got on the first few posts. It felt rewarding, connecting with people that are going through similar things."
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