Incontinence and emotions

Understanding why incontinence affects you emotionally can help you learn to feel better about yourself, to tackle your bladder or bowel problem more positively, and to relate to those close to you more easily.

Are you the only person with this problem?

Bladder and bowel problems and incontinence are very rarely discussed and so it is easy to feel that you are the only person that has a problem. Yet statistics show that you are likely to know others with similar problems – and who also probably think they are alone. Those who confide in friends or family normally find that their problem is accepted in a sympathetic and matter-of-fact way. Often, the person they are confiding in knows of someone else who has a similar problem.

Will everybody know that you have a continence problem?

You may be worried that others will notice that you are wearing a pad or a leg bag or that your incontinence causes an odour that others will notice. This is rarely the case. Others will not notice the slight bulge that a pad or a leg bag sometimes causes for the simple reason that they are not looking for it. As well as this, most are far too caught up in their own thoughts and conversation to notice such things!

Ask yourself this; before you developed a bladder or bowel problem did you ever notice anyone else wearing incontinence aids? Probably not.

Urinary incontinence should not cause a problem with odour. Urine should not smell strong when it is fresh, so wash well daily and change wet pads or clothing frequently to prevent odours from occurring. Faecal incontinence causes more of a problem but with proper protection, good personal hygiene and changing promptly after a leakage many problems can be avoided. It helps to have a shower with a removable head, or a bidet, so you can comfortably get plenty of clean water to the area. If you are out and about, take a ‘cleanup kit’ along with your spare pads and clothes – large wipes, body lotion, and sealable disposal bags.

Will others think less of you if they know about your problem?

It may be useful to turn that question around and to ask yourself whether you would think less of any of your friends if they became incontinent. Imagine a friend or family member has this problem: you would want to do anything you could to help – and you would probably hate to think that they may have been hiding such a problem from you out of shame or embarrassment.

Sharing your problem

Incontinence is an embarrassing problem and you may want to keep it a secret but by doing so you are cutting yourself off from the support of family and friends that you would call on when you have any other problem. For some people, keeping their bladder or bowel problems a secret can become so important that they end up not going out and not having visitors – cutting themselves off from those they love most.

Sharing your problem with close family or friends means that they will understand better why your behaviour may have changed recently and it will enable them to help when they can. Remember that people want to help those that they are close to. Often the help they can offer is simply being there for you, being willing to listen and able to understand when you are unhappy or frustrated. Telling a few close friends or relatives about your problem can make things easier in other ways. Because they know about your problem they will understand when you have to go to a toilet frequently or when you take slightly longer than you used to – they can help you to plan for this and can ‘cover up’ for you.

Taking control

Once you have decided who to tell, plan when and where to meet and what you are going to say. You will have to explain the nature of your problem and why it has happened and discuss how it affects you. Think about how much you want to tell each person: you are still entitled to your privacy. Think about how the person you are talking to might be able to help and tell them.

Just as it is important to share your problems and receive the support of others, it is not essential to tell anyone and everyone. Choose carefully who you want to share this part of your life with.

Taking this approach can help to put you in charge of your incontinence, rather than it being in control of you.

Why does incontinence affect us so deeply?

Even though it is remarkably common, incontinence itself is a taboo subject. It is associated with infancy or with the loss of faculties, which can sometimes accompany old age. As such it is often unhelpfully regarded either as a subject for cruel jokes or as shameful or degrading. Few people can remember actually being potty-trained as children, but the importance of becoming ‘dry’ and ‘clean’ and ‘grown up’ is impressed upon us at that time and remains with us.

Most people will remember the reaction of other children to anyone who ‘had an accident’ at school or who was known to wet the bed. Some people remember better than others because they were the ones being laughed at or teased by the others. All these things stay with us right into adulthood. The importance placed on becoming dry, not having accidents and not wetting the bed in childhood can cause problems later in life. When any of us becomes incontinent even to the slightest degree we can immediately become embarrassed, even ashamed.

Another reason for the taboo, which surrounds incontinence, is that it involves the genital area. This means that it gets mixed up with taboos, which surround the sexual organs, especially amongst older generations.

What can be done?

Remember you are not alone. Do not worry that others will think less of you because you have a bladder or bowel problem. Imagine that it is a friend or relative who has the problem rather than you: ask yourself whether you would think less of them, or whether you would want to support them. Consider sharing your problem: do not push away from you those who would want to help.