I have a dear friend who always finds the perfect greeting card. This year, her "happy holidays" card to me - which had nothing to do with the holidays at all, and was really more of an every day card - talked about how when you see someone yawn it makes you want to yawn, and yet, some people have trouble peeing when others are already peeing. It was funny, and she thought of my "pee work" when she saw it. Although the card was intended to be comical, it inspired me to write about a condition.
Shy bladder, bashful bladder, pee-shy, urination anxiety... these are all terms that are sometimes used for a condition called "paruresis". Paruresis is a social phobia of peeing when other people are nearby. The fear often prohibits the individual from urinating in public, in the homes of other people, or even within his or her own home if there are other people near the toilet or in the house.
Like incontinence, the diagnosis is dependent upon the perceived degree of severity. In the case of incontinence, two women may leak similar amounts of urine during their menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes. To one woman, this is a huge problem and she seeks treatment. For the other women, it is a minor inconvenience that she doesn't feel the need to treat. Likewise, there is no formula for determining if you have paruresis. Instead of asking an expert if you have a shy bladder, you have to ask yourself.
At the high school I attended, the boys' restrooms were missing doors on the stalls. The girls' restrooms didn't have this problem. I remember thinking in high school how sorry I felt for the boys that they didn't have that privacy. I felt (and still feel) that I would have a very difficult time using the facilities if there weren't doors on the stalls. Is it paruresis? Well, it never actually affected my quality of life because (thankfully) I didn't have the face the potential problem: I've always found women's stalls with doors on them. So I would say that it was not paruresis. However, if I'd had to go to school for eight hours each day without any bathroom privacy ... who knows. Perhaps I'd have adjusted. Or maybe it would have become a major problem for me, in which case it would be paruresis.
The card I mentioned earlier talks about the irony of two bodily functions reacting so differently. I also notice another irony ... we like to eat with people, but empty our bladders and bowels in privacy. I can't say why it is that putting the food into our bodies is generally a social event, but emptying it out is such a personal one. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the level of privacy needed is different from person to person. When someone needs more privacy than they can get in everyday situations, it becomes a problem. That problem is called paruresis.
The experts might say that I'm oversimplifying this condition. And I probably am. But hopefully this gives you some idea of what this condition is, and how to determine if you might have it. As with incontinence, the main message is to know that it isn't a "normal" condition that you have to live with. There is help and hope if you choose to reach out for it.
Published On: January 07, 2009