“It’s been like living like a monster in a cage, a caged animal, for the past 50 years of my life,” said Bill. “It’s affected every aspect of my life, from childhood to adulthood.”
“It was making me miserable,” said Richard. “I can’t enjoy the things I want to.”
“It destroyed the relationship I had with my father; it destroyed the relationship I had with friends,” said Russell. “It destroyed my ability to go out and participate in athletics.”
The unnamed “it” is paruresis, and in an era when it seems every possible human condition is regularly discussed in public, most readers are no doubt unfamiliar with the term. Also known as “bladder shyness,” paruresis is the inability to urinate in public bathrooms, or even in a private bathroom while others may be somewhere nearby.
“Hardly anybody who doesn’t have it knows about it,” said David Carbonell, a clinical psychologist in Chicago specializing in anxiety disorders. “This is one of those conditions people have an inordinate amount of shame about.”
The subject is so sensitive, all patients I spoke with asked for anonymity, so I use a pseudonym for anyone I identify solely by a first name.
This shame causes sufferers to lose relationships and jobs because they refuse to go into situations — dates, business trips — where they aren’t certain of having access to an utterly private bathroom.
Paruresis is obsessive, vastly magnifying the significance of the bathroom process. You might think that an airplane toilet is private, for instance. But a person with paruresis fixates on the walk down the airplane aisle to the bathroom, passing other passengers who might judge them.
To continue reading, click here.