After just one hour on the road as we began our romantic getaway, I squeezed my thighs like the jaws of life. My husband, Doug, stopped the car at the first building where I could relieve myself.
“Excuse me, where is your restroom?” I asked the medical office receptionist.
“Do you have an appointment?” she said.
“No, but I do have a bit of an emergency.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we don’t have one,” she said, focused on the screen while balancing the phone between her shoulder and her ear and tapping on the keyboard.
“Where do you go when you need to use the restroom?” I asked, pretending to believe her BS, and stalling while I scanned the open space until I spotted the door marked “Restroom.”
“Well, we have one, but it’s not for the public,” she whispered.
“Well, I really gotta go,” I whispered back, tightening my pelvic muscles.
Then I made a run for it or, rather, a walk, with quick, tiny steps since my knees were pressed together so tightly. I wasn’t about to beg to use the toilet. But I also wasn’t about to wet my pants and the floor. I barely locked the door behind me as I struggled to hold it in and wrestle with the button on my jeans.
I ignored the seat covers like I always did while I simultaneously pulled down my panties and pants with one hand, grabbed the wall bar with the other, hovered over the toilet, and let it go. It seemed like a full minute passed before the stream stopped. When I thought I was finally on E, I slowly stood up, willing my body to relax, ensuring there was no more to come. Whew, I’d made it without soiling my sexy new panties.
I Was Tired of My Bladder Controlling My Life
As empty nesters, we had expectations for a new sense of fun and excitement with each other. I loved last-minute getaways, but I hated the planning that had to go into getting there. While I should be enjoying the ride, I was constantly monitoring my aging bladder for any signs of needing relief, even though I had a few supposedly “good” habits meant to control it, like not drinking anything to wash down my bagel the morning of the trip.
I was unknowingly 'training' my bladder to signal the urge even when there was very little pee. Imagine if your car’s low fuel warning light came on when your tank was still half full? Our bladders have a neurological 'warning light' that conversely lets us know we’re nearing capacity.
Instead, there I was, head pounding, lips dry, completely dehydrated.
When I got back in the car, I didn’t say anything. Neither did Doug. He knew it would take me a few minutes to get over my frustration. So he gave them to me but didn’t let me stew in the frustration for too long.
“Face it,” he joked, “you’re getting old.”
“No matter how old I get, I’ll always be younger than you, Mr. Retiree,” I said.
“Maybe so, but you’re the one running to pee every hour.”
In truth, getting older wasn’t what frustrated me; I was 51 years young, not yet eligible for senior discounts nor ready for adult diapers.
No matter which venue I entered, I’d case the joint like a VIP’s bodyguard. When I walked or ran in my neighborhood, I carried the key fob to our fitness center to dip in for a squat if I needed to go, and I’d plan my route so I could pass it going and coming. And every time I entered a mall with my daughter, she’d ask, “Ma, you wanna go before we get started?”
Learning Better Bladder Habits
When I returned home after that near mishap on the road, I did some research and checked in with my doctor. Turns out my urgency to void my bladder was made worse by an information void. Here’s what I learned:
- Racing to the restroom? You’re not alone. Frequent urination is more common than I’d realized. According to the Urology Care Foundation, “As many as 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women in the United States live with overactive bladder symptoms.” (And, yes, I schooled Doug that his turn might be coming.)
- Tracking your tinkles can help. Keeping a diary for a few days using an overactive bladder assessment tool will help direct the conversation you should consider having with your health care provider, because …
- Frequent urination could signify more serious conditions, like urinary tract infections, diabetes or interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome. Thankfully, all my tests were negative.
- You can relearn how to relieve yourself. If done correctly, I could “retrain” my bladder by doing Kegels, which strengthen my pelvic floor muscles to better support my bladder. “With pelvic floor therapy, women learn the correct Kegel technique so that they can control their bladder instead of the bladder controlling them,” says Cherrilyn Richmond, a women’s health nurse practitioner at Yale Urogynecology and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery in New Haven, Connecticut. As a bonus, they may increase sexual arousal by aiding relaxation and lubricating the vagina. With this newfound “strength” comes the power to plan your bathroom breaks, ideally for every three to four hours.
My New Restroom Rules
By correcting a few common mistakes, I am taking back my pee power one tinkle at a time.
Don’t dehydrate yourself. It seems counterintuitive, but it turns out that not drinking enough fluids can trigger more trips to the bathroom. The buildup of waste irritated my bladder and gave me the urge to go. Plus, the lack of fluids made me irritable and stressed.
Sit, don’t squat. I’d been hovering over the toilet forever, refusing to believe the wispy thin paper covers effectively block germs. As a result, I had created a vicious cycle. Hovering prevents you from relaxing your pelvic muscles, and when your pelvic muscles are tense, a small amount of urine gets trapped, your bladder doesn’t empty fully, and you’ll soon be looking for another restroom. Instead, consider keeping disinfecting wipes and disposable seat covers handy. Or carefully wipe the seat with enough wadded TP to shield your hands and then line it with more.
Don’t force yourself to go “just in case.” By frequenting the gym restroom while on my running route, I was unknowingly “training” my bladder to signal the urge even when there was very little pee that needed to be released. Imagine if your car’s low fuel warning light came on when your tank was still half full? Our bladders have a neurological “warning light” that conversely lets us know we’re nearing capacity. Experts note that we typically start to feel the sensation that our bladder is full about 10 to 15 minutes before we really need to void it. But if we habitually do so before that feeling happens, the nerves in the urinary tract will adapt over time to signal to our brains that we need to go sooner.
Preplan pitstops. This same warning mechanism figures in a behavior therapy called “timed voiding.” To do it, you break out that trusty diary I mentioned earlier and determine how often you typically go. If you usually hit the powder room or stall every 45 minutes, try adding 15 minutes and going every hour. Over time, you’d add another 15 minutes, and so on, increasing the interval until you only need that potty pause every couple of hours or so.
Be patient. Correcting an overactive bladder is a process. As I improve over time, I’ve learned to keep portable, disposable urinals ergonomically designed for girl parts in the car so that during our romantic road trips, I’m not caught without a pot to … well, you know. They can be used discretely, without your having to drop your drawers all the way and without squatting.
Three brands to consider:
SHE-WEE Extreme Reusable Pee Funnel, $16.50
GoGirl Travel Packs, $14.99 to $27
Tinkle Belle Collection, $21 to $39
Understanding these things and a few more strategies, I couldn’t wait to tell Doug that our carefree couples’ excursions were on and poppin’ again. I no longer had to let the flow slow our roll.