6 July 2015

When you've gotta go...

Anxiety manifests in a multitude of different ways and one that can be a cause for some teasing is 'toilet anxiety', from which I've suffered for as long as I can remember.

In my case, this isn't, as you might think, a contamination issue and is entirely unrelated to my OCD; I'm simply worried about not being able to get to a toilet when I need one.

It seems that this is quite a common problem - in its mildest form, at least. For those who are badly affected, however, this can severely restrict their lives. It may influence their choice of job, result in them avoiding social engagements, or even lead to agoraphobia.

I believe my anxiety originates from a bed-wetting incident that happened in late childhood - when it really shouldn't have! I was certainly old enough to be embarrassed and to conceal the incident. To this day, if I wake up and feel the slightest need to go to the toilet, I have to visit the bathroom, for fear of being caught short.

Image courtesy of Keerati/
I also plan carefully in other areas of my life, for example, avoiding drinking anything in the hour before I undertake any journey longer than half an hour, and relieving myself at the very last moment before departure. 

Sometimes I go to more extreme lengths. A few months back, I heard that there were travel problems en route to my boyfriend's - a 45-minute drive away - so packed an impromptu in-car toilet of empty water bottle and funnel! I have no idea whether I could have successfully employed them, but just knowing they were to hand reduced my anxiety.

A couple of adventure holidays have presented particular difficulties.

While on a ship in the Arctic, we made trips out either in small Rigid Inflatable Boats, with no facilities, or on land, accompanied by guides carrying guns to warn off any polar bears that crossed our path. On land, you couldn't make a toilet stop without an armed guide standing over you - a prospect that was just too embarrassing to contemplate.

Unfortunately, the tour leader only announced the itinerary for the day after breakfast, so I had to dehydrate myself until I found out what time we'd be going out...and then sprint for the tea urn the second he revealed that we'd be onboard until lunchtime.

During a holiday in Iceland, where both the population and vegetation are sparse, squatting behind the tour group's minibus was often the option.

Needless to say, I announced 'I'm going behind the bus' every time we stopped, in case I couldn't last through the next driving stretch. In joky response to my repeat visits, the driver took to revving the engine so that exhaust fumes belched into my face! As he looked like a Russian assassin - cropped, blond hair and sunglasses permanently attached to his face - I didn't like to complain.

Much like my OCD, I've learned to live with this particular form of anxiety. I'm aware, however, that it is possible to retrain your bladder, so that it doesn't expect so many toilet stops, thereby gradually eradicating the fear that it won't hold. 

Like so many conditions, it takes effort and application to overcome, but it can be done and it could be life-changing.

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You can find out more about the various conditions related to toilet anxiety on Anxiety UK's website.


K Braithwaite said...

Very good post,Helen.I know people who can't go outside or in a public convenience but they seem to be able to hold on.Still it can cause worry.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for the feedback, Kate. I only wish I could hold on!