Been there, done that and got the t-shirt? Well read on as we get a few words with the man behind the t-shirt that caused a storm last year in the Crohn’s world, so much so that Abandon Ship Apparel had to re launch it due to the overwhelming demand on it’s first release. Without further ado GCASFM would like to welcome Robbie Murrie to our first month of Prescription.
Robbie, welcome to Prescription One of GCASFM Magazine, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m Robbie and I’m the PR and Sales Co-Ordinator for Abandon Ship Apparel. I’ve worked for the brand for 3 years. You may also have guessed that I have Crohn’s disease.
You’re a ‘Crohnie’? How old you are, and how long have you been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease?
I’ve just turned 32 (although you wouldn’t know it to look at me). I was diagnosed with Crohn’s a month before my 21st Birthday so, 11 years.
Do you remember your first thoughts when you were told you had the illness?
After a year of being sick and never knowing why, it actually came as a relief to finally give it a name. I had no idea what Crohn’s disease was but I was happy that the mystery had been solved.
What medication are you taking for your Crohn’s? Do you feel it is helping your levels of health? Have you had any periods of remission?
I take 150mg of Azathioprine and sometimes I can take between 5 – 10mg of prednisolone dependent on things like joint aches and pains. It’s hard to say if certain medications help because I know sufferers have taken their care fully into their own hands but my anxiety would never let me do that because I feel that if you have are going through a period of “good” health then it’s like walking a tightrope to ensure it lasts as long as possible, so I wouldn’t want to tweak my routine. My Crohn’s has actually been fairly under control the past couple of years, it’s not been without its hiccups but it’s the best it’s been since diagnosis.
Is there a dedicated Crohn’s team at your local hospital? Do you have regular consultation and a good support network?
There’s a gastro doctor and a dedicated Crohn’s nurse who was actually a great help. I only really attend an annual appointment with the nurse as I just felt like the specialist I was seeing (like others I’d seen in the past) wanted to open me up and give me a colostomy bag and just be done with it, which just isn’t what I wanted to hear: I’d rather fight.
What sort of impact has Crohn’s Disease had on your life? Have you had to have any surgery? Do you still do the things you did before your diagnosis? How do people react to your illness?
It’s had a massive impact on my life. Entering your 20s is difficult enough for a number of reasons, but to do it with this new, horrible illness was very daunting for me. I was rushed in with crippling pain and luckily operated on soon after arriving at the hospital. The next morning I was told they’d removed my appendix and part of my bowel and that I had Crohn’s disease. After a couple of days spent trying to come to terms with it all I took a turn for the worse and was rushed into surgery again. This time it was much more serious. I woke up the next morning drugged out of my eyeballs and my stomach looked like something from the beach scene of Saving Private Ryan. Apparently I screamed in horror but I don’t remember much of that whole week after in Intensive Care. I’d almost died and ended up with a colostomy bag and a fistula to drain off all the poison from septicaemia. I don’t want to drag on too much about it but almost a year later the bag was reversed and since then I’ve had a few abscess operations and all the usual awful procedures but nothing like I went through that first year. I’ve started playing ice hockey again this past year, which I had to give up before because of Crohn’s, and it’s been great to feel like a teenager again. I’ve noticed over the years that when I mention I have Crohn’s I rarely have to explain what it is anymore, it seems there’s been a great deal of awareness raised since my diagnosis which is great and I hope the new generation of sufferers get the compassion they deserve.
Exercise and diet? Is this something you pay full attention to with your Crohn’s? How have you adapted your daily routine in relation to food and maintaining your body?
If I’m being honest, for years I was pretty cavalier with my diet and didn’t want Crohn’s to dictate my lifestyle. I suppose when I was sick I was miserable anyway so I found comfort in being able to eat what I wanted. I’m a little older now and keep an eye on what I eat. I really enjoy cooking and try to eat healthy (with a few slip ups here and there). Since getting myself back on the ice I’ve taken a lot more interest in my fitness, which has also had a positive effect on my Crohn’s. I’m still always learning what works for me and what doesn’t, for example I ate two snickers ice creams recently and ended up in bed for a week, big mistake.
"He has seen me at some of my lowest points and he basically wanted to raise awareness and help out a friend"
You are working for a very successful clothing brand. Was it your idea to create an awareness t-shirt? Who came up with the slogan? Were you surprised by the success of the release? Has there been a positive response to them?
The idea actually came from Richard, a Director of the brand. Rich and I have been friends for many years; we’ve also lived and worked together too. He has seen me at some of my lowest points and he basically wanted to raise awareness and help out a friend. The saying came from a documentary about Crohn’s and Colitis that I used to make everyone watch, so it made sense. Rich also has it tattooed on his hands: he really does love me! I was actually quite surprised but the support was amazing and I was so happy to read the comments people left sharing stories, be it their own, or their family and friends’. It was a great feeling to know that these tees were on their way to people who were going to wear them with great pride while they continued to battle this disease, or wear it to support a loved one.
You gave a percentage of the sales to Crohn’s & Colitis UK. How important do you feel it is to make more people aware of the illness?
Awareness is so important, as I said before, I’ve noticed more and more people over the years know what Crohn’s is and that can only be positive. I’ve had previous employers who don’t believe I’m sick, and I’ve heard the phrase “you don’t look sick” enough times to last a lifetime; or worse, “I’ve got an upset stomach, I get it”. The more people are educated on this disease then hopefully the easier it will be for newly diagnosed people to lead a relatively normal life in the working and social world.
How did you become a part of the Abandon Ship family? Have you always been part of this industry?
I have worked with Richard (Director) in 3 of my previous jobs, we have always had a great working relationship, which was made even stronger by the fact we were friends before we were colleagues. I’ve also worked in fashion retail since I was 18 so he knew my experience would be an asset to the company as well as having a familiar face on board.
How do the rest of the team at Abandon Ship embrace your condition? Has it ever been an issue with your job? What do you do to make your day more tolerable at work? Can it be a stressful environment?
They’re all so supportive, we have a real family atmosphere within the brand so you feel real concern when someone is sick and it’s no different for me, the guys never put any pressure on me when I’m dealing with my Crohn’s which is a blessing for me, I can just concentrate on getting better. I don’t really have to adjust my day at work because this is such a great environment I have the freedom to deal with Crohn’s as it comes with no judgement. Working here carries the same stress as most workplaces but I don’t feel it affecting my illness because it’s such a happy environment and that has been so beneficial. In the past I have dreaded being sick at work or calling in sick when I can’t make it in, because I knew people I worked with in the past either didn’t get it, or just didn’t care, which can make you feel very lonely when you’re in that environment.
When you’re not working, what do you get up to in Glasgow? It must be hard work being involved in a very social industry?
I’m a bit boring to be honest, I live with my girlfriend and spend a lot of time watching TV, playing my PS4, going to the gym, playing hockey or spending time with Betty the French Bulldog! Sometimes it’s difficult when we’re travelling to do a tradeshow, then going to the events in between when I’m feeling fatigued.
What can we expect to see from Abandon Ship Apparel this year?
Expect an awesome winter drop late this year but we’ll also have some great tees coming your way with a few rad collaborations with some of our favourite artists. We’ll be popping up at a few events being our usual belligerent drunken selves too so look out for that!
We’re looking to launch t-shirts this year. Do you have any advice?
I’d say always be true to yourself, don’t make something because you think it will sell, because people can see through that in a second. If you believe in what you’re putting out there then that’s half the battle won already. Make sure you listen to your customers and most of all have fun with it, if you’re not having fun then what’s the point?
Thanks so much for speaking to us Robbie. Do you have any words of support to our fellow ‘Crohnies’ reading this?
This is something I’ve been asked over the years and my answers have always evolved because this disease has surprised me a lot and I’m never going to know it all. I would say remember it’s your body, therefore you’re in charge; get a second opinion if you’re unhappy with how you’re being treated. Use the Internet to join support groups: Facebook groups are an amazing information resource and you will receive great advice from all over the world. It’s easier said than done but don’t be embarrassed, it wasn’t your choice to have Crohn’s and you have an amazing inner strength to keep fighting, so be proud that you’re standing up to it. Don’t hide your illness from your family and friends, it’s hard for them to gauge when you’re unwell and if you’re open them then they’ll want to help. Remember you’re fucking awesome, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: keep fighting fellow crohnies!