Dan Colegate has lived with bowel problems all his life. In this blog he talks about the impact this had on him growing up as a teenager and having relationships.

Hands in a heart shape

In my previous blog posts I've always tried to balance the negative and positive aspects of my experiences of incontinence as they occurred during my childhood. There is, however, one topic that I've been sort of putting off writing about because there really isn't too much of a positive balance during my childhood years. There is a balance. It does exist, but it would only be years later that I would, in a round about way, benefit from this particular childhood challenge.

Coping by hiding the issue

When I was a teenage boy hiding my incontinence at school, I found ways to participate fully in pretty much all activities. As I've mentioned in other posts I did well in class, had a good group of friends, took part in PE and swimming classes, got involved in out of school activities etc. I had to put a lot of thought and energy into doing so and paid an emotional cost that would only become apparent years later, but at the time I was just happy that nobody seemed to notice that I was sitting in my own mess for most of the school day.

But there was one big exception. Something which felt like an unconquerable hurdle. Something other boys could apparently do and I just felt I couldn't...I'm speaking of intimate relationships.

An 'unobtainable world' 

By the time I was fourteen the majority of my friends and acquaintances at school were either in or had been in some sort of intimate relationship. Not too intimate in most cases, we were still young of course. But whether it was a week-long period of holding someones hand, a bit of kissing and cuddling, maybe a trip to the cinema, it was world that seemed unobtainable to me. No doubt, in hindsight, the vast majority of rumours and stories about who was with who, who had been with who etc.. were massively embellished, but this was perhaps the one area where I couldn't think of a strategy that would allow me to participate. After all, with so much of my energy being poured into hiding what was happening in my underwear even the most remote prospect of having someone else go near them one day was terrifying!

Young couple backs turned I had this barrier I couldn't figure out how to overcome. 

Hormones kicking in

Not that at the age of fourteen I expected getting a girlfriend would lead immediately and inevitably to that specific level of close physical intimacy, but I still figured that was the ultimate goal. It was certainly what my friends and I spent a lot of time telling jokes about and guessing who really had lost their virginity and who was just claiming to have done so. It was, you could say, the hot topic. And yet I had this barrier I couldn't figure out how to overcome. My underwear had poo in it most of the time.

I had this barrier I couldn't figure out how to overcome.

Holding back

The conflict, however, was that I also happened to be a teenage boy who had learned to derive a great sense of personal satisfaction and self-image from 'doing well' and from never letting my 'problem' hold me back. Rather the opposite. I liked to think I was doing well 'despite' my 'problem' and that my achievements were even that bit more special because of the accidents I was hiding. Yet here was an area where that wasn't the case. Psychologically at least I couldn't pretend I wasn't directly afraid of my accidents when it came to the idea of relationships. As the months passed by every time I saw a couple together at school or a friend fell into a new relationship I I felt lonely and left out and I was faced with this mismatch between my successful self-image and the reality in front of me.

It may sound far fetched but I seemed to somehow manage to turn off my libido.

The result was perhaps the biggest self-delusion of my childhood (if not my life) and probably also a large part of the reason I carried on hiding my accidents for as long as I did. I simply stopped thinking about it and buried myself in other things. It may sound far fetched for a teenage boy but I seemed to somehow manage to turn off my libido.

Closing myself off to sex

When I was a young boy and still attending hospital outpatient appointments to discuss my accidents (where I would habitually lie and downplay the severity of my difficulties) my consultant once told my parents "one day, when he is older, he'll get interested in girls and things and seek out the help he needs for himself". Well, I just never allowed that to happen. During my teenage years I closed off to the prospect of relationships so far that once, when I was eighteen and about to go to university, a female friend asked me directly if I wanted to "have sex" and I didn't even notice. My response was "not now, I'm watching tennis".

Dan Colegate in hospital
Dan spent a lot of time in hospital during his teenage years

Life in a relationship

As I said at the start of this post, unfortunately there is no easy and quick reflection I can drop in at this point to balance the challenges and fears I felt about relationships as a teenager with bowel incontinence. I will say that I'm now in my mid-thirties and I am now in a relationship. Actually, I have been in one for fifteen years and counting, although physical intimacy is still an area I struggle with a lot even though I now use Peristeen to manage my incontinence.

How talking could have helped 

However, I still wanted to raise the issue of physical intimacy and relationships here in this blog post because it was the one area during my childhood where I really couldn't find a way to 'cope', so instead I just shut down. Perhaps, in hindsight, if I had sought help at a much younger age this wouldn't have happened, or if I had been more inclined to discuss my feelings with family and doctors at the time. It's pure speculation in my case of course, but I really do feel that talking would have helped a lot in this area.

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