From punishment to permission: When listening to your body is okay after all

Using the bathroom is something we all do, multiple times a day. Some people may call this a ‘Water Closet’, ‘Restroom’, or ‘Ladies’/Mens’ Room’. If you had to think about how many times you use the bathroom in a typical day, would you know the answer? Four times? Seven times? Some of you may not even think about it. Well, I do. Even though I’ve never given birth, my body sometimes likes to act like it has.

Over the past two to three years, my pelvic floor hasn’t always been that strong. It all started a few years ago when I went through a period of high stress and I got into some habits that were hard to shake. I would go to use the bathroom as soon as I felt the urge, and my body became used to it. It was starting to affect my work life and my social life, and it was frustrating. Why can’t I just hold on like a normal person?

It was affecting the type of exercises I would do and the food and drinks I consumed. I would become nervous if I was about to go on a long hike, or travelling in an unknown place, or, worst of all, step into a meeting at work. Before I knew it, I was talking to a doctor about it, a nutritionist, and a women’s health physio. All of them gave me different strategies to alleviate the issue, get stronger and back to my normal self.

While I try and avoid the ‘J-word’, I can’t help but say it has been a journey! And throughout this journey, there have been two distinct moments that really shifted my mindset, one for the worst, and one for the better.

The first was about two and a half years ago, when I had just started a new job. One day, we had a team meeting which was scheduled to go for an hour. Before I went in, I made sure to use the bathroom and not drink any giant cups of tea. The meeting was going fine until, at the 45 minute mark, I really had to use the bathroom. I wasn’t interested in sitting there in agony so I got up, walked out, used the bathroom, and came back into the meeting. Later that day, my manager asked if I was okay, and I said I was fine. She told me that going to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting was rude, unprofessional and I should make sure it never happens again. I was devastated. I’d only just started this job and I’d already messed up, big time. What was the rest of the team going to think of me? That night I cried the whole way home and to be honest, that moment made the situation worse. I spent most of my time in that job feeling paranoid, dehydrated, and uncomfortable.

Fast forward two years, and I find myself in a different job, sitting in a meeting. By this point I’ve been to multiple appointments with healthcare professionals and I’m a lot better at managing the issue. Nonetheless I still have my days where things don’t always go to plan. Sitting there in this meeting, I needed to go. At the 45 minute mark, I spotted a women across the table from me pack up her things and stand up to leave. Great, I thought, we can leave at the same time. We walked out together and once out the door she asked me, “Oh do you have another meeting as well?” Feeling complimented that she thought I was as senior as her I said, “No, I just need to use the bathroom!”. She gave me a smile, put her hand on her heart and said, “Good on you! I don’t think people do that enough. All well and good being in an important meeting, but if your needs aren’t being met, what’s the point?” I agreed with her and we both carried on with our days.

Later that day, I reflected on how much her comment meant to me. She wouldn’t have had a clue what ‘journey’ I’d been on, but she didn’t need to. That small piece of permission to take care of yourself, even at work, made me feel normal again. Yes, I think the ideal situation at work is to be present , engaged and listening. But if you are sitting there needing to go, feeling uncomfortable, all of that becomes even harder to do. Everyone has a body, and it’s important to listen to it.


Featured Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash



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