For most people, bathroom habits are intensely private and seldom discussed, which I suppose is ironic considering it’s one of the few things every human being has in common. It’s also why so many people with inflammatory bowel disease delay going to the doctor – and, like me, end up in hospital before finally being able to get a diagnosis.
The fact is, discussing what comes out, especially when it’s abnormal, is embarrassing for many of us. It’s also why we don’t like to talk about our illnesses. People often ask me, ‘But how did you know you were sick?’ or ‘How did you know you were lactose intolerant?’. I usually allude to it by saying, ‘Oh, I had terrible symptoms that you don’t really want to know about…’ but of course they do, and they ask! And you know what? We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about it! We didn’t ask for this disease, and we sure as shit didn’t ask for the symptoms. ‘Well, I started crapping blood every day,’ is, I suppose, the accurate answer. And when I give it, it really shuts people up 😉
Following on from this is the actual act of going to the toilet to do your business. For me, for most of my life, this was something that I only ever did at home. It was very private and I didn’t talk about it, unless there was a problem. In fact, I believe there’s a huge psychological component to it: My bowel would literally shut down when I was away from home. I remember going on overseas trips in my early 20s and going for a week or longer with zero activity – simply because I didn’t feel comfortable.
I remember feeling so humiliated when, age 21 or so, my stomach was assailed by a Mexican feast, and I spent so long in the bathroom at my then-boyfriend’s apartment that he put a whole fresh pack of toilet paper outside the door as a joke. I always tried to avoid the dreaded ‘number 2′ at boyfriends’ houses – or anyone’s house for that matter. And public places? Forget it!
Even further back, I remember leaving for school in the morning, needing to ‘go’, and thinking, ‘Now it’s going to have to wait until I’m home again.’ And it did.
Of course, all of that largely changed when I developed UC. Suddenly, despite the power of my subconscious, my ‘second brain’ managed to overcome it to a significant degree. I had no choice but to answer the call when the flares knocked (and knocked and knocked) – no matter where I was. The worst place was my sister’s wedding – right there at the reception, in my gorgeous bridesmaid’s dress. That was my first flare in fact.
The flip side of this has been a conscious effort to try to go whenever I feel the urge – wherever I may be. I’ve come to learn just how unhealthy it is to hold it in, especially when you have an already damaged gut. I loved this post by gutwrenchingtruthaboutcrohns called ‘Pooping in public… and adults with no sensors‘, and now it always pops into my head when I’m in the bathroom at work and I just gotta…
Luckily I haven’t encountered any rude people (and of course we all like to think that leave hardly a trace behind us), but I do think that ‘going’ in a public place is difficult for many people – especially girls, and especially anyone who, like me, has an intense germ phobia about public toilets! Hovering when you pee is a fairy easy skill to master. Hovering when you have a flare takes significantly more practice!
Interestingly, during the worst of my flares last year, I’d go to the toilet several times in the morning while I worked from home, and innumerable times during the night, disturbing my sleep. However, no matter how severe the flare, my BMs mostly (not completely) held off during the four or so hours that I taught at a school each day. I walked there every day – half an hour each way – and then taught for about 3 or 4 hours. And apart from the odd occasion, my colon usually played nice while I was in front of my class. Or maybe my lessons were just so boring it fell asleep (it had been up all night after all).
So that always felt to me like the psychological component creeping back in. Obviously it’s impossible to completely control a serious digestive disease with one’s mind (unless you’re Dynamo or David Blaine maybe). But, speaking only for myself, I know there’s a huge brain connection and so healing myself is as much a psychological journey as it is a physical one.
It also means that when I go to the theatre with my mom, like I did tonight, and I’m in the queue for the toilet with a gaggle of well-preened older ladies, I just have to bite the bullet and do my shiz, no matter how inconvenient it may be. Because if I don’t (and sometimes, even if I do – like tonight), I have to sit through a 2-hour production with unbuttoned pants and audible fireworks in my belly while the bloat monsters play basketball in my stomach.
I don’t know why it happened tonight but after I came home and enjoyed some QT with my loo, I felt a million times better. It makes me think it’s something I ate (I promise I only had a few bananas today), and that it could actually maybe (sigh) be the cauliflower. Investigations ongoing.
The point of all this is that going to the toilet is the most basic of human activities; the one thing we all have in common; and that when you need to do it, just do it. Holding it in is never healthy – and as we all know, ‘better out than in’ 🙂
While searching for images for this post, I came across this hilarious piece entitled A lady’s guide to pooping in public. I highly recommend you give it a read – perhaps when next you’re spending 5 minutes in the loo 😉 And her solution to the public poo conundrum? The best EVER. Read it.