Our regular blogger Dan Colegate looks back on family holidays as a child and coping with bowel incontinence whilst he was away from home.

Boys playing in the sea

Family holidays were one of the highlights of my year during childhood. Not that most of our holidays were too exotic, just a standard UK fortnight by a lukewarm beach. Every summer myself and my two brothers would be whisked away by mum and dad to a static caravan somewhere on the coast of Devon or Cornwall.

Family holidays were one of the highlights of my year during childhood.

For a couple of years we even experimented with having a caravan of our own that we would tow for the 6 or 7 hours it took to reach our destination, although that experiment came to an abrupt end when it was blown over in a Cornish Gale on the same day we found ourselves flooded into the campsite! Yet, strangely, these are some of my best memories, alongside the obligatory activities of fishing for crabs in the harbour, playing cricket on the beach, forming strong but fleeting friendships with other children on the site and dancing like a lunatic doped up on sugar and caffeine at the evening cabaret...you get the idea. We all laughed a lot.

Keeping my secret

Yet there was also a darker side to these holidays and one that I've never spoken about before. Perhaps I didn't want to sully the memory by admitting them, I don't know. You see, as much as I loved these family holidays the change to my routine made keeping my bowel incontinence a secret that much harder, leading to some terribly low moments as well.

'My business alone' 

If you've read any of my other posts then you'll know that by the age of around 10 I was largely dealing with my leakages on my own and would only even acknowledge them to my parents if forced to do so. As far as I was concerned the frequency and severity of my accidents was my business alone. I could just about live with mum and dad knowing about some "small accidents from time to time", but not the true nature of them or what I was doing to hide them, such as stuffing my underwear with tissue and handwashing my pants in the bathroom sink on a near daily basis. 

Motorway

So it was that although I looked forward to our annual getaway very much, I was also nervous as the time came to leave. First there was the enforced, often agonising car ride punctuated with only infrequent service station stops. Each time I would dash off as fast as I could to the toilet and clean up whatever had built up as best as I could before having to climb back in, cramped alongside my two brothers, and try to act as natural as I could as the leakages accumulated once again. 

I would dash off as fast as I could to the toilet and clean up whatever had built up as best as I could.

Coping with a confined space 

Then there was the caravan itself. Living in a house I had learned to cope with, living in a plastic tube with a tiny toilet and no sound insulation was another matter entirely. Having to do anything related to accident management felt incredibly conspicuous and made me feel very vulnerable. Also, where was I supposed to hide my soiled underwear without my own bedroom or an airing cupboard or a toilet cistern to put them in? 

Beach life and beach toilets 

Holiday activities also caused issues. Running around like a crazy monkey fuelled by sugary drinks was one thing, but it was our long days at the beach that caused the biggest challenge. Having to tramp for what seemed like miles across damp sand in order to reach the nearest, dilapidated beach toilet was such an off-putting prospect that I often had to simply wade into the sea periodically to try and clean up my swimming trunks. I coped, but time on the beach was far from my favourite part of family holidays.  Beach hut

Dealing with the unexpected

I could go on, but I think it best I get to the point. In case you are wondering why I am sharing these memories in this article, the reason is two fold. Partly I wanted to share a few personal and specific memories related to family holidays in the UK. However, more importantly, I also wanted to make the following point. That when it comes to an intimate, often embarrassing medical condition like bowel incontinence, it's rarely the frequent, day to day challenges which cause the most difficulty. In my experience that was the easy part, the repeated occurrences which I learned to cope with increasingly effectively over time. For me it was always the unexpected, the unconventional that caught me off guard. Essentially the less regularly I found myself in an event or situation, the less I could rely on my coping strategies. 

When it comes to an intimate, often embarrassing medical condition like bowel incontinence, it's rarely the frequent, day to day challenges which cause the most difficulty.

The 'toilet map' in my head

It's only in recent years, for example, that I've come to realise just how much of a toilet map I hold in my head. I can return to a village or even a large city several years after my one previous visit and still recall exactly which toilets I used, which landmarks I can use to locate them and even what they looked like inside (did they have toilet paper, a lock, how many cubicles etc.) I also realise now that this isn't just passive information that I remember, but information that part of my brain is constantly scanning for and recording. Even if I don't make use a toilet I'm still noting down where it is, just in case.

Being on high alert

So although our family holidays were, and remain, wonderful childhood memories, they also marked times during the year when I had to be on my most alert. I could never fully relax, never knowing when a big leakage might suddenly need dealing with and it's the same approach I used in new situations for the rest of my life ever since.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions for things you would like me to cover then please don't hesitate to get in touch by commenting below, via Twitter @IncontinentDan or via my website at www.estheranddan.co

Information and support

Help is available for young people who are living with bowel or bladder conditions - take a look at the dedicated section of our website for teenagers