hyperfocused on reading
Wonder Women

On Ignoring My Body’s Needs

Here at Lily Bird, we feature personal stories written by smarty pants women from our community. That’s because telling your bladder who’s boss is better as a team sport. These women get you. They’re in your corner. And they’re here to remind you that your body isn’t broken. Hey, bodies age, bladders leak, and movie sequels bomb. Right?

This week Katie’s got the scoop on what happens when leaks get intertwined with mental health.

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I’ve struggled with bladder leaks my whole life. They never creep up on my entirely unawares. I get a warning, often more than one, where my body will send out signals that it’s about time I got up and went to the bathroom. The problem is, I also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and hyperfocus is one of the symptoms. I’ll find myself pushing off the need for another 10 minutes, another 30 minutes, an hour. “I’ll go when this movie is over,” I tell myself.

Then I forget.

Next thing I know, I’m suddenly scrambling to the bathroom hoping I can make it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes, I don’t completely. Then I have to deal with the awkwardness of deciding if I’m going to rinse my underwear in the bathroom sink, using hand soap to wash it, or if I’m just going to pretend nothing happened. I’ve hidden it for years.

I’m suddenly scrambling to the bathroom hoping I can make it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes, I don’t completely

I was a teenager when I perfected the art of ignoring my body’s needs, though then it was more about another type of need: my need to eat. I often hyperfocused on reading, or a computer game, and pushed aside my need to eat or to hydrate. Sometimes I would only eat one meal a day when I was engrossed in something, disassociating completely from my body. The eating disorder this enabled took me years to recover from. It also prolonged my difficulty in being able to recognize when I need to use the restroom.

I know that, for me, this is a manifestation of my mental health issues. My ADHD manifests in such a way that it was misdiagnosed for a long time: as manic depression, as borderline personality disorder, as general anxiety. I was far too embarrassed as a teen to tell a therapist about my issues with bladder leakage. If I had, it might have led to an understanding of my hyperfocus issues and a proper diagnosis. I wonder if I might be better able to manage my body’s needs now had I been properly diagnosed earlier on.

I wonder if I might be able to manage my body’s needs now had I been properly diagnosed earlier on.

As it is, though, I’ve had to learn how to take care of what pretty much amounts to diaper rash in order to get by. Since I can’t predict when I might have an incident, it feels odd to wear a liner of some kind. I’d only need it 10% of the time, if that. But it’s also embarrassing to wonder if people can tell your clothes smell faintly of pee. It’s made me spend more time at home, where washing up properly isn’t an issue.

Acknowledging that this is a symptom of my mental health issues and it’s not a personal failing has helped me learn to laugh it off. It’s scary to talk about with others, no matter how comfortable I become with my disassociation and related mental health struggles. Wetting yourself, or even looking like you have, is a punchline in so many comedy movies. It’s difficult not to feel like you’re the one being laughed at. But part of recognizing you have an issue is being willing to admit it, and then, to ask for help. While I may not be all the way there yet, this essay is part of that journey. I hope it helps you with yours, too.

By Katie F.
Katie is a 34 year old queer writer and nerd who really needs to learn what her body wants… even if that means tearing herself away from the latest computer RPG or a book on medical history. She lives in the Bay Area with her two cats, Foucault (who also has bladder leakage) and Marquis (who does not).

Want to share your own story about leaky laughs or dribble dilemmas? Give us a shout at hello@mylilybird.com.