I had a sadistic teacher in high school who mocked and ridiculed every pupil who dared to attract attention.
I was petrified of needing the toilet during his lessons because I knew he would verbally abuse me for asking permission. So, I worried about German lessons all day in advance.
And my body reacted to my anxiety with an overwhelming urge to pee as soon as the lesson started.
I suffered through those 50 minutes, digging my finger nails into the palm of my hand, so the pain would distract me from my screaming bladder. But too often, I was forced to raise my hand and face his derision because I couldn’t hold on any longer.
It made me feel pathetic. Like my body betrayed me. Worked against me.
I started to mistrust myself and my ability to control my actions (and bladder). As a consequence, I developed toilet anxiety, which haunted me during my teens and all the way through my twenties.
Whenever I had no immediate toilet access (for example when travelling in the car, in the cinema or on hikes), I needed to go every 15 minutes. And it wasn’t just in my mind. I really desperately, urgently had to pee! Every time.
Ashamed of my irrepressible bodily reactions, I tried to hide my anxiety from everybody else.
When I was out with other people, it took all my strength to keep it together. To stop my anxiety from swallowing me whole and my body from humiliating me. All while maintaining a composed exterior.
So nobody would know how weak I was. How inadequate. How much of a failure.
But my mind was consumed by worries about the nearest facility access, absorbed by suppressing the feelings of panic, overwhelmed by the almost impossible task to act “normal”. And every outing was torture.
So, I avoided activities that involved other people whenever I could. Locked myself into my small flat where it was safe. Where I wasn’t at risk of humiliating myself and my bladder behaved.
For many years, I missed out on life. I merely existed. Imprisoned by my anxiety. Suffering in silence and isolation.
Until one liberating (but terrifying) step changed it all.
I had been bowing to my anxiety for 10 years, when I decided I had enough.
I was fed up with observing life from my solitary confinement. I wanted to participate, be free to experience new adventures and share them with others. I wanted to live. Without limitations and compromise.
And I wanted it NOW.
But, despite all my efforts, I couldn’t find a quick way to overcome my toilet anxiety that didn’t involve medication. Still, I was determined to reclaim my life. Unwilling to return to my prison.
I knew I had to overcome my anxiety eventually. Take the time to uncover the root causes and eliminate them one by one to eradicate the fear for good (and I did, but that’s a story for another day).
But in the meantime I needed a way to still enjoy my life. And I soon realised that I only had one option if I wanted to spend time with friends, function as a part of society and have some fun.
Despite my anxiety.
My anxiety was holding me hostage, because it had leverage.
It kept me confined to my minuscule comfort zone because it threatened to expose me to other people. Tell everybody that I was scared, nervous, insecure. Too weak to even control my bladder.
The damned snitch!
I had been hiding my anxiety from others for 10 years. Every day I battled to conceal my overwhelming emotions and panic, so people wouldn’t see the real, damaged, inferior me.
The constant worry that others might uncover my dark, pathetic secret robbed my sleep at night.
What would they think of me if they knew about my anxiety and panic attacks? Would they shame me for being weak, not “normal”? Would they be disappointed if they discovered I didn’t have it all together?
Would they be annoyed with me for needing the toilet every few minutes? Would they reject me for the limitations and compromises my anxiety imposed on them?
The incessant worries about my toilet anxiety and other people’s reaction to it were exhausting. They caused immense stress and pressure and skyrocketed my anxiety to unbearable levels.
I had to remove the leverage. And there was only one way to do it:
Accept and confess.
Imagine somebody blackmailed you. Sent you pictures of your life’s most mortifying moments. The ones you don’t want anybody to know about. For fear of being judged, mocked and rejected.
Imagine you were asked to pay £50,000 or he’d release the pictures on the internet for the entire world to witness your humiliation. What would you do?
If you think about it, you would only have two real choices (I am not counting hiring a hitman to silence the guy).
You could pay the money and live in constant fear that your secrets might be revealed nonetheless.
Or own up to them. Spill them, let them all out. Expose yourself before somebody else can.
Remove the leverage.
Anxiety was my blackmailer. For years, I had given in to its demands and paid the price. It was time to take back control and live on my own terms.
I knew that my toilet anxiety, to a large extend, resulted from my fear of humiliation. And it was time to face it.
All my life, I believed that I only deserved other people’s love, respect and approval if I was normal, perfect, faultless. My toilet anxiety therefore was a disastrous defect that would render me worthless in their eyes.
So I hid it.
But the relentless stress and pressure of maintaining the pretence (and the fear of being outed at any moment) plummeted me into a spiral of worry and panic. Which, in turn, pushed my toilet anxiety out of control.
I had to break this catastrophic cycle.
And I knew I had to start with boosting my self-worth. I needed to overcome the misconception that I only had worth if I was perfect. That every flaw and imperfection would obliterate my personal worth.
Hundreds of times I must have affirmed “I AM worth”. I began to understand that our worth as individuals is nothing we gain, gather or earn. That it is an intrinsic, inherent part of who we are.
My toilet anxiety changed nothing about my real, inner worth. Because it was an unchangeable, absolute part of my Being.
Knowing my true worth helped to accept my shortcomings. I suffered from toilet anxiety. And, at least for the moment, it was part of me.
Yet, it was nothing to be ashamed of. I was ok. Just the way I was. Because I WAS worth nonetheless.
But still, the thought of telling others about my anxieties was terrifying. As I prepared to expose my darkest secret, I worried for days, ruminating about all possible scenarios, outcomes and reactions.
I imagined them laughing, pointing their fingers, turning their backs on me. Telling their friends what a pathetic loser I was.
But I could have never imagined what actually happened.
“We never would have thought that you suffer from anxiety! You always seem so calm!”
My friends looked at me sympathetically. I stood in front of them, face flushed.
We had been planning a trip to Vienna which was a 3-hour car journey away. I had scrambled together all my courage, silently affirming my worth, clinging to my goal of a life without limitations. And confessed.
“I suffer from toilet anxiety. So, if you want me to come, we might have to stop at every service station on the way.”
There it was. Finally out in the open.
Panic grabbed me while I waited for a reaction. Anticipating humiliation, my breathing was heavy, my heart raced. Every second of silence felt like a lifetime.
Come on! Say something!
“Ok, no worries!” They smiled at me. And went back to their search for a cheap and conveniently located hotel. As if nothing had happened.
For a moment I was stunned.
Then, relief washed over me. I felt light and liberated. My burden had been lifted, the leverage removed.
And I was still accepted, respected. I was still the same person in my friends’ eyes.
I WAS still worth.
After my initial, petrifying confession, my toilet anxiety halved in intensity over night.
I drove to Vienna with my friends. And the knowledge that we could stop at a service station at any point without an issue, without being a nuisance or annoying my friends, calmed my anxiety enough to reduce the pee breaks to two.
For quite a while still my anxiety was a constant companion.
But I kept accepting it as a part of me. I kept confessing it to others and remove the leverage. And every confession was easier than the last.
I finally could be part of the fun, experience the adventures. Be free to live my life without limitations and compromise.
Overcoming anxiety is a process. It takes time, determination and perseverance. But in the meantime, you can have a life. You can escape your prison.
By removing the worry, stress and pressure that result from hiding your anxiety. And by accepting that it doesn’t change anything about your true, inner worth.
You deserve love and respect. You deserve a life. With or without anxiety.
Because you ARE worth. And always will be.
Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Download her free guide Instant self-worth: an easy 4-step solution to heal your self-worth in under 5 minutes a day” and start to boost your confidence today.