Friday, April 16, 2021

Silently facing ‘an ungodly, unmanly thing’

     “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.

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  1. I've heard of it, mainly through the Ann Landers column, back in the day. She, too, called it "bladder shyness"--and there were multiple letters from men who confessed an inability to urinate "under pressure"...mainly in the public bathrooms of crowded places, such as theaters, concerts, or sports venues.

    When there were a lot of antsy men in line behind the urinal, as well as other men doing their business on either side, they lost the ability to do their business quickly, thus pissing off (pun intended) those behind them. The open metal troughs at Wrigley suddenly come to mind.

    One reply about this topic was unforgettable. The writer said to visualize a running faucet...or a large waterfall. Worked like a charm. Problem solved. Other letter-writers then responded with testimonials, saying that this head trick worked for them, too. What a whiz-bang solution.

    Funny how some things will stick in your cabeza--and stay there forever.

  2. Something else I can rejoice that I'm not afflicted with. When I had an angiogram a few years ago, my cardiologist fed me a whole bunch of water to test how my heart would handle the additional load. All well and good, but later in the recovery room, lying flat on my back, warned to move as little as possible for fear that the artery in which the tube had been inserted would open, I had to get rid of all that extra water, annoying the attendant nurse by calling every few minutes for a fresh bottle to fill. Glad I didn't have paruresis or even know about it then -- I think my bladder would have literally burst had I been even a little bladder shy.


  3. “Not to put too fine a point in it, men take a lot of pride in their penis..."

    Please, please, don't put a point in it, fine or not.

    An interesting report about a topic I'd always thought was kinda odd, which is part of the problem for the sufferers, it would seem. I don't have bladder shyness, but I'd say I've got a bit of colon shyness, if you get what I'm saying...

  4. Thank you for sharing this. It's so good to see people being honest, and receiving support.


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