Looking back, there were signs of what was to come, even in high school. Sometimes, out with a date and driving around town, I’d be desperate to go to the bathroom but far too bashful to ask him to stop at a gas station for me.
I remember talking with my friend Ann about how often we had to go. She must have had the same thing, but we didn’t know it had a name. Maybe it didn’t back then. Now I know the caffeine in those Cokes wasn’t the best thing for “holding my water!”
Having to use the bathroom all the time isn’t such a big issue when you’re at home or if you work in a place where the restroom is close by, but on car trips it’s definitely a problem.
I started doing the sport of curling at the age of 30, and driving to the tournaments (a.k.a. bonspiels), I was the one who asked to stop at nearly every rest area. Groans and “Not again!” plagued me.
I had never heard the term “overactive bladder” when I was dating or when I started curling competitively and was traveling to bonspiels.
But in the early ‘90s, I started to see a few ads about “bladder issues” and possible drugs or absorbent products that could help. It was a revelation to learn that what I was dealing with was an actual condition with a name.
Still, I was too embarrassed to mention my symptoms to a doctor, so for a long time I didn’t have a real diagnosis.
At one point, I finally mentioned it to a female doctor, and she admonished me to be careful to change pads as soon as they were wet to avoid yeast infections. She also suggested that I try using compounded hormones for my symptoms. (No, they didn’t work.)
Another time, I told my gynecologist when I got a pap test. He suggested taking Premarin, which I ended up using for a long time. It helped with some things, but not my urgency issues.
Unfortunately, it felt like there were few definitive answers. My overactive bladder was difficult to treat, and it just got worse.
For 23 years, I owned a small business. At work, I was only a few steps from the bathroom, which was really helpful. Later, I sold the business and went back to school to become a landscape designer. After that, I went to work for a company in the suburbs.
Suddenly, I was the (female) head landscape designer overseeing a crew of men as we installed a design in a yard. But I was still having OAB issues, so I’d have to drive the company dump truck to a gas station every hour. What a nightmare!
Then there were the trips to the Winter Olympics, first in Torino, Italy, and then Vancouver — foreign countries, with long lines for security, no public bathrooms in transportation terminals, and very few (or none) in some venues. While in Italy, I had to miss one day of events to stay in the hotel and do laundry.
Italy was a turning point for me.
I could have told my good friend what was going on, but there were two other friends of hers traveling with us, including a man. I just couldn’t admit that I was having such severe urgency and that I couldn’t control it.
After we got home, I finally confided in my friend about my OAB, and when we went to Vancouver, it was so much better. She understood and even helped me find obscure bathrooms we could use.
The inconvenient timing of my urges also created problems for my husband, Tim, initially – even though I’d always make sure to use the bathroom before leaving home. He was also embarrassed by my sudden need to examine products on the bottom shelves any time we were in a store, too.
Fortunately, he came to understand that I wasn’t really shopping. The truth is that I knew that if I could just squat down for a minute and let the feeling pass, I could make it to a bathroom.
Once I explained to him what it’s like and that I don’t have any control over it, he was able to handle it and be helpful. His understanding has definitely made things so much better.
My success with explaining it to Tim and to my curling friends made it easier to tell other pals. It turns out some of them also had urgency issues, although maybe not to the same degree as I do. But my life got a lot easier when I finally started talking about it.
I still had some difficulty being completely open with all my friends. They didn’t understand why a person who seemed to be in pretty good shape needed to sit down for a minute, several times a day, while we were sightseeing or shopping in a mall. (FYI, it’s easier to stop leakage that can accompany the urge to go if I’m sitting).
But how can anyone understand what’s happening if they don’t know what’s wrong? For me, I’ve learned that it’s important to be able to tell my family, friends, and co-workers “I need to take a quick break,” and know they understand.
Now, anytime I’m in a new situation, I need to think about two things: who needs to know and how much do they need to know to understand and be helpful?
For a long time, it was hard for me to talk to men about it, but I’ve learned that many of them have issues, too.
Most everyone has heard the terms overactive bladder and incontinence, so simply saying, “Before we venture out, I want you to be aware of a condition I have that requires some special accommodation,” has often been a good approach for me.
When you can find the courage to openly admit your issue, discuss what it’s like, and how you have to accommodate the sudden urges, your quality of life will improve.
At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed about having a medical condition that requires some adaptation and support.
We need to figure out the best ways to function in our own lives — and sometimes, we may need help. At the very least, expecting some understanding isn’t asking too much.
I can laugh and tell stories about it now, but for a long time, OAB robbed me of being able to enjoy many aspects of my life. The shame and fear of being found out, of having “accidents,” and trying to cope were stressful.
Learning to manage and talk about my incontinence has been a huge help. And I hope anyone else who’s going through this will be able to learn to do the same.
Twila Yednock is a retired florist and landscape designer, who lives an active life that has included curling and skydiving, along with a lot of gardening, due to her love of everything involving horticulture. In retirement, she has been an active volunteer for the Simon Foundation for Continence, working to help folks learn to manage life with incontinence, and seeking cures for incontinence of all kinds. Born in Illinois, she now lives in Tennessee.