Ever since I was six years old and was walked in on while on the potty by a neighbor boy, who announced with exuberant laughter “I hear you peeing!”, I have had bathroom issues. These issues snowballed over the years into a full-blown case of primary and secondary paruresis. When I was in a bathroom out of my comfort zone I would often feel like I was sitting on a time bomb that could go off at any moment. I had better be ready to run if someone knocks on that bathroom door or starts jiggling the handle. It was a feeling of being unsafe. Logically I knew that wasn’t true, but try telling that to my pelvic floor muscles which seemed to have a mind of their own.
In my training as a health coach I learned that safety, love and belonging are three emotional needs that all humans have. Since I have suffered with paruresis most of my life and kept it a secret for a very long time, there were many times I didn’t feel safe (in bathroom situations) and certainly didn’t feel like I belonged.
In middle school I can remember tagging along with a group of friends when they all went to the girls room, but I couldn’t do what they were doing, and it was evident they did it without a second thought. I could not comprehend how they could operate that way. Eventually I didn’t even enter a stall. “I don’t have to go right now” I would say, as my bladder yelled to my brain, “Liar liar pants on fire!” I couldn’t tell my friends. It was easier to bear the physical pain than risk the unknown. Certainly I was the only person, or at least the only girl in the world, with this problem. I just couldn’t risk being that different. I already felt like I didn’t belong, but I didn’t want others to know. This feeling continued as I grew up, went to college, took jobs. I never belonged with other women, who go to restrooms in packs—talking, laughing, and peeing like Olympic gold medalists, like a garden hose on full blast. Eventually I just avoided restrooms. They weren’t safe for me and I didn’t belong in them with successful urinaters.
When I found the IPA in approximately 2002, my life started to change. I found out I was not alone with this problem after all. Not only that, but I read that recovery was possible. Once I wrapped my head around the possibility that maybe I could start to improve, I attended a workshop and made progress! Letting my secret out was freeing! And being in the same boat with a group of men and women just like me bordered on a spiritual experience. It was powerful!
When I became a health coach and decided to help other women with paruresis, I felt like all my suffering was not for nothing. It has a purpose now. Though I am still a work in progress, I offer a safe place and sense of belonging in my free monthly support group.
I urge others with paruresis to attend a workshop, join a support group, or get one-on-one coaching. There is help out here. Please reach out. email@example.com
- Andrea Weyant, Women’s Support Coordinator (3-15-23)