by April Noel
Standing with urine-soaked pants in front of your 3rd grade peers sounds like a bad dream. Well, it really happened to me. And more than once. It all started during recess when the teacher wouldn't allow me to use the bathroom. I had an accident and was so embarrassed. This set up a pattern for me, knowing that if I had to go and I couldn't get to a bathroom, I would probably have an accident and end up embarrassed.
As a child, bathroom anxiety—worry about locating restrooms quickly enough when I had to pee—was a normal part of my life. My family was used to my constant urge to use the bathroom, but it wasn't until I was 12 years old that my mother took me to see a health care professional after we had a plumbing issue at our house. While our bathroom was out of commission, we used the bathroom at the neighboring airport office just across our yard (we were responsible for looking after the airport as part of my family's job). As we walked back to our house after using the bathroom for the first time, I felt like I had to go again. We returned to the bathroom. And as we walked back to the house the second time, I panicked and told my mom that I needed to go again. This went on for most of the day. Knowing we didn't have a bathroom was obviously a trigger for me.
Shortly after this, I received advice from a health care professional about behavioral changes, such as not drinking acidic juices, and the symptoms subsided for a while. My bathroom anxiety seemed to dwindle during high school and college, as I was so busy that I didn't have time to think about it, but it came back. I was married soon after college and had four kids in seven years. Between my 3rd and 4th child, I noticed how often I was going to the bathroom, but I decided to live with the frequency and just stay close to a bathroom at all times. Since I had already visited a health care professional about my bathroom issues as a child, I figured this was just something I had to deal with. I was wrong.
I have overactive bladder. Now that I'm in my 40s—and know why I go to the bathroom so much—my bathroom anxiety is under control. I still am mindful when in public about where the bathrooms are located. I even opted for VIP status at a concert because it included access to a separate lounge with a bathroom. I also looked at the concert schedule beforehand so that 10 minutes before the intermission, I could leave my seat and get to the bathroom before a line formed.
I usually don't have any leakage, but I wear liners every day, just in case. I also joined a support group on Facebook to get suggestions and support from others. And now that I'm a teacher, I can speak out about school policies that may cause someone embarrassment like I experienced as a child.
My husband is super understanding. He travels a lot for work and always hopes I can join him. I remind him that if I'm with him, we will have to stop a lot more often. But he tells me all the time that he doesn't mind. We heard a story one day about the advice Queen Elizabeth II had been given by the Queen Mother. Everyone expected it to be something profound, but basically it was to always use the bathroom when the opportunity arises. So now, anytime we go on a long drive, I say to my husband, "I'm going to take the Queen's advice!"
I feel fortunate that my case is somewhat mild, as I've heard a lot of stories from women who are suffering much more than I am. For me, if I can distract myself, I can usually hold out from using the bathroom. The more I think about it, the more anxious I become. And once the urge comes on, I feel like I may not be able to hold it.
What I've learned over the years is to be prepared.
When I'm traveling, I bring a survival kit with me, which contains my crocheting, various books, and downloaded podcasts to listen to. This keeps me distracted.
Knowing my schedule and the layout of where I'm going is hugely helpful.
I always locate bathrooms in advance if I'm going to be at a large venue.
I plan where to stop on a road trip. I'm also considering taking a portable toilet in the car with me for long trips.
At concerts, movies or stadiums, I do my best to get an aisle seat.
I know these tips won't work for everyone, but for me, the more information I have, the better prepared I can be. And then, the better I feel about the whole situation!