Paruresis (/ˌpɑːrəˈriːsɪs/ PAR-ə-REE-sis) is a type of phobia in which the sufferer is unable to urinate in the real or imaginary presence of others, such as in a public restroom. The analogous condition that affects bowel movement is called parcopresis.
…Also known as “nervous bladder”. It seems like a “nervous bladder” would be squirting pee all the time, right? Nope. Just the opposite. 😦
I have struggled with varying degrees of Paruresis for most of my life. I even suspect that I know the root of it, but if I do, I am just ridiculous. Too damned ridiculous to live… yet I am still alive, so I rarely ponder the possibility of a deeper foundation for this particular neurosis. What that could be, I don’t know. If there is a deeper reason than the one I suspect – I don’t know if I want to know what it is. It must have been pretty bad.
When I was in the third grade, I went into the restroom at school and started to normally and un-self-consciously pee in the toilet. At that point several of my obviously female classmates, who were preening their snotty little selves in the large mirror that is outside the bathroom stalls (it was a typical school restroom) started to giggle “tee hee hee (name redacted) is tinkling! Whiz-whiz, (name redacted)! Tinkle-tinkle! Hoo hoo ha ha ho hee hee snort cackle! Tinkle Day! Whiz Away!”
It was the foolishness of third grade girls. Kids. Asshole kids, sure, but nonetheless, kids. I realize this. I know this. All the same, Paruresis has fucked up a nice-sized chunk of my adult life. If this incident in an elementary school bathroom is the root of it, then how in the hell have I survived my life? I can’t be that delicate – can I?!!!
The definition makes it clear – Paruresis is more mental than it is physical, but it manifests physically. It is basically the profound difficulty and/or complete inability to pee in any public or semi-public situation. I have found that whether or not you are alone or hanging out with somebody can affect the severity of the issue as well.
I can’t begin to tell you how many rock concerts and movies and other similar activities were ruined by my Paruresis. If I was at the movie or event alone it was bad, but not so bad. If I was hanging out with somebody, just the knowledge that I was expected to pee in the same only semi-private area at the same time as them (and often a bunch of strangers as well) and within a certain time constraint – well, that was it. It wouldn’t matter how comfortable I was with the person, or how badly I needed to pee. My body would just say – “fuck you! Yep! Not peeing today” and clam up. Then I would strain to pee; try to brute-force it out. I had an Inguinal Hernia repaired when I was five years old, I believe it is in at part if not entirely the reason for my chronic groin pain which I intend to bitch about on this blog one of these days. I believe that the straining to pee may have only caused more damage to the whole chronic groin pain situation.
I often have to hold a piece of toilet paper under myself in order to stop the “tinkle” sound before I can pee. I am a big, uh, fan of bathrooms with fans – the more noise-blockers, the better. If there is no fan, sometimes I resort to plugging my ears so I can’t hear the other people around me in public restrooms, or if I have it with me I will listen to my iPod on the toilet, for the same reason. If I am in a situation where I can, running the water in the sink (more white noise) can help me to pee. If the toilet is near enough to the sink, running warm water over my hand sometimes helps me to finally relax enough to pee, as well.
Paruresis is hell.
If the toilet is near enough to the door, even if it is locked – and if it DOES lock, it IS locked, be sure of that! – I will push my foot against it for an added sense of safety. If I am far away from the door, I have often found myself inexplicably wielding nearby brooms or toilet plungers before I feel like I can maybe think about peeing. As I do these strange things an odd mantra of sorts repeats in my desperate head – “the magic that works is the magic for me, the magic that works is the magic for me”. Sometimes, the magic (fan, water, broom, toilet plunger, iPod, whatever) works, but other times I have to go about my day with a miserably full bladder. Some days I have nearly cried with the physical pain and mental frustration of it.
I have no idea why I am this way – could it really be due to the taunting of third grade girls? I have been in and out of group homes and foster homes, I have been homeless twice, I’ve been on Dead Tour, I’ve crossed the country several times on Greyhound, and I have been exposed to a number of horrible people all through my life… and I also have recurring nightmares about public restrooms. In the nightmares, Paruresis doesn’t really come into play; it’s more of a sense of bleakness and desolation, a deep urban decay, hopelessness and loss, rape and murder. I can never grasp all of the nightmare, I just know that what I can remeber of it is horrifying and that the place is covered in tile… there are drains in the floor. It smells very bad there.
These things make me wonder if something happened to me in a bathroom that was so horrible that I’ve literally repressed it. I honestly don’t remember anything that should cause me to feel like I have to block doors and grip toilet plungers before I feel like I might (but probably won’t) be able to pee. Luckily for now I seldom have to leave the house and on the rare occasions that I am forced to use a bathroom outside of my house, thanks to MCS I now struggle just as grimly with goddamned air fresheners as I do with the Paruresis, so teh mere effort is very nearly always a lost cause. If I ever end up in prison I will be in an even worse hell than I am in now. I guess people have to piss and shit right in front of each other in there?!! I would fucking die. I’d go into septic shock with it. I’m not even kidding.
Once I lived in a small trailer and when my boyfriend would sleep over, I couldn’t pee until he fell asleep. The bathroom was right next to my bedroom – how I hated that! – and I would sit on my toilet and think “dude is asleep. Dude won’t hear if I pee. Dude won’t care if he DOES hear me pee – dude is old enough to have figured out that people pee! – and after everything he just did to me why should I even care if he hears me pee?!!”
All of the rationalizing didn’t work then (nor does it now). I would usually resort to taking my dog Hobo out for a midnight walk so that he (and I!) could pee in the woods. Only pee! Shitting was out of the question until after the boyfriend had gone home. This was in the late 90’s. That’s how bad I struggled with Paruresis. No ideas how bad things would be now because I haven’t had a bedfellow since 2010. (It wasn’t easy then, either but not so bad anymore that I had to go outside). It was a totally different living situation by then anyway so outside was not an option at that point. At least the damned bathroom wasn’t mere feet from the bed!!! 😮
Like I said, all of the rationalizing in the world doesn’t seem to work. I will sit on that toilet and tell myself, “nobody anywhere gives a shit whether or not you pee but you! The only one gonna be miserable if you don’t pee is you! Stop being a ridiculous, damaged little idiot and god… DAMNED… PEE!! Pee right now!!!!”
It doesn’t work. 😦
Even now, at home, I want my grandmother – who used to change my diaper – to stay away from the bathroom door while I am trying to pee. It’s not so bad at home as it is elsewhere, but even at home, sometimes, I clam up a bit. It really, very sincerely sucks. It’s been this way for decades now. Decades.
I suppose it always shall.