The Girl Who Wanted To Be Invisible

Glenna Gill

I look at the clock. It’s almost midnight, and I have to go again.

I’ve visited the bathroom seven times in the last two hours. The need to urinate is constant, urgent, and unrelenting. Every time I come out of my bedroom, I pass by my father who has a worried look on his face. He’s probably counting every bathroom trip right along with me. Neither of us knows how to make it stop.

I’m twelve years old, and it feels like I spend my entire life in the bathroom. My bladder is always burning, and I hold the rest of my body so tightly I can barely move except for nervous body shaking. There is no greater shame in my life than having to excuse myself from classes, parties, and shopping with my friends because I have to go again.

The first time it happened, I was at my friend Karen’s slumber party. My friends and I were determined to stay up all night, me for the first time ever. I didn’t let my exhaustion show, knowing I’d be able to go home and sleep in my bed the whole next day. Falling asleep in front of my peers would have been a fate worse than death. I couldn’t let them think I wasn’t cool.

It was close to 2:00 a.m. when I feel like I have to go to the bathroom. I step over my friends’ sleeping bags on the way, but when I get there it burns and nothing much comes out. I think it’s weird, but I’m too tired to care. A few minutes later, snug in my sleeping bag, I feel like I have to go again, and this pattern repeated itself three more times. I try to slip away unnoticed. It works the first few times, but by the fifth time the girls have questions.

“You have to go to the bathroom again?” My friend Patti says this loud enough for everyone else to hear. My heart sinks at being teased by one of my best friends.

“Maybe I’m sick?” I offer this as an explanation. I know as well as my friends do that this is not normal. I’m terrified my friends will see me as abnormal now. I return to the bathroom, again and again, feeling more sad and ashamed every time I leave the room.

My dad finally comes and picks me up the next morning. By then, I’m a teary, nervous wreck. I don’t tell my father what happened because saying it out loud would be too scary. I don’t want to admit something is wrong with me. I imagine my friends gossiping about me in my absence, wondering what’s wrong with me. It makes me so different, and the last thing I want to be is different. I have the best dad in the world. He’s my only available parent since my mother left, but I was afraid he would think I was weird, too.

After the sleepover, my bathroom problem doesn’t go away. If anything, it’s gotten much worse. My family notices how much time I spend in the bathroom, and I’m taken to the family doctor by my aunt. The doctor is close to 80 years old, and when he tries to unbutton my pants to do an examination, I scream and back away. My aunt apologizes to the doctor for my bad behavior.

The doctor decides I have a bladder infection and gives me antibiotics. I take them diligently until the bottle is gone, and even though the burning is less, the urinary frequency doesn’t stop. The fear I feel over constantly having to pee takes control of me and doesn’t allow me a moment’s rest. I would have to rearrange my entire life around bathroom trips. Nobody else has to go so much. Why do I?

Those were the darkest days, the days where I felt so ashamed that I stopped calling my friends and going places. I’m worried that I won’t find a bathroom in time and have an accident. It was all I could think about even though it never actually happened. Still, as far as I’m concerned, I’m merely one outing away from doing it and everybody laughing at me.

Who wants to be friends with a girl who can’t control her bladder like a two-year-old?

School becomes out of the question. There’s no way I can handle a full seven hours a day running to the girls’ room while everyone else is in class, probably talking about me and my constant absences. My father comes up with the idea to talk to the principal about it, who gives me permission to just walk out of class whenever I have to go without asking the teacher.

I am horrified by this suggestion. The last thing I want is to get up and leave when everybody else has to ask. It makes me strange, an outsider in a world where there’s nothing more terrible than being different.

On the days I’m forced to go to school, I spend the time trying to make myself invisible. I have daydreams where I have the power to freeze time, so I can go to the bathroom and get back in my seat without anyone seeing. Then I would unfreeze time, and nobody would be the wiser.

Another daydream I have is that our desks in class are divided by partitions where we can’t see each other between them. That way nobody could watch me going back and forth all day. The reality is too upsetting. Everyone can see everything I do, and I feel like I’m being constantly watched. I don’t know what’s happening to me.

Thinking back to those days when I was younger, I want to take that little girl and give her a hug. I’d tell her that she wasn’t abnormal compared to anybody else. I’d sit her down and explain what the word “paruresis” meant. Over time, I learned that word meant fear of going to the bathroom or even having an accident with other people around. Paruresis is also one of the most common phobias out there, so I truly wasn’t alone like I'd always believed.

Looking back, I had been going through a lot in my life during that time. My mother left me and my father and moved to another state. My father worked nights at a hotel, leaving me alone and afraid in the apartment. As a result, I felt constant and severe anxiety day and night, which only made my bathroom problem worse. I lived every day in a flight-or-fight response, my muscles tighter than a drum. All the tension and tightness in my body caused me to actually have to urinate more often, which in my mind confirmed my fears that I wouldn’t be able to hold it.

Something that really helped me was talking about it. Not one person heard about it from me for years until I finally trusted my best friend with my worst secret. I tell her I feel like a freak. She doesn’t treat me like one and tells me it’s no big deal. Those words were enough to loosen the chains I’d put on myself. People really weren’t judging me the way I thought. I could eat and drink like a normal person and not worry if I had to stop in the bathroom.

My best friend suggested a therapist after high school. She further pointed out the correlation between the stress in my life and the constant need to pee. She said some people had stomachaches when anxious. Some people broke out into hives or had terrible headaches. My anxiety caused me to feel like I had to urinate, and it wasn’t my fault. Once I understood this, it was easier to identify the anxiety and not let it have control over my body. It was slow-going but totally worth it.

It may surprise you that writing this article was scary for me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m still afraid of being different. The problem has gone away to a great extent, but the shame of those years has stuck with me even to this day. Still, telling the truth about ourselves is the most important thing we can do. If somebody had shared their stress issues and had similar fears, it would have gone a long way toward healing me. Bringing our anxieties out and laying them bare actually helps us get better.

Please never be afraid to reach out and release the fear you hold inside. It’s only as big as we let it be, and exposing it makes it smaller and weaker. Connection with others is our greatest weapon. I wish I’d known that a long time ago.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL

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