Dan Colegate has had bowel problems his whole life. In his first blog post for ERIC he describes how he hid his problem for almost three decades.

Dan ColegateDan is finally able to talk about his bowel problems after nearly 30 years of hiding.

My bowel incontinence journey is a lifelong one. It is a condition I have had since birth. In fact, I was born with ‘imperforate anus’ - a type of Anorectal Malformation (ARM) - the exact opposite of bowel incontinence. My life was saved at birth by an emergency ileostomy and some months later, when I was strong enough, I underwent further surgery to correct and construct the defective and missing parts of my anatomy.

Although this left me with a hole in roughly the right place, it never gave me much, if any, control over when I emptied my bowels.

As far back as I can recall I've had very little awareness of needing to empty my bowels and little ability to stop doing so once an accident begins. Nor did my bowels tend to fill and empty in discrete events either, but rather as an unpredictable series of many small movements throughout the day, usually into my underwear.

Hiding my secret

For the majority of my 34 years I’ve kept my daily accidents a secret. Even as a four year old I remember hiding my dirty underwear from my parents and lying about my accidents to them and the doctors.

Dan Colegate as a child

Dan as a child

Slowly but surely, as I grew older, started school and gained increasing independence, my hiding became easier and more effective.

Even as a four year old I remember hiding my dirty underwear from my parents and lying about my accidents to them and the doctors.

At infants school I devised a strategy for hiding accidents by making pads from strips of folded toilet paper and using them to line my underwear. After one or two large or a series of small accidents (basically whenever I feared the accident would get noticed), I'd go to a toilet to switch the tissue which had hopefully held the worst of the mess. This was a strategy I continued to use into my late twenties.

Managing alone

By the time I reached comprehensive school I was dealing with my accidents completely on my own: hand washing dirty pants in the bath at home; buying replacement underwear with paper round money; and investing a lot of effort into making sure nobody knew about them.

If my parents or family were aware that I still had some difficulty, I certainly wasn't going to let them know the frequency or extent of it. Opening up to anyone outside of the family, including doctors, was out of the question.

I reached a point where even I believed I didn't have a problem, at least not one anybody could do anything about, so it was pointless worrying about it or trying to fix it.

Opening up to anyone outside of the family, including doctors, was out of the question.

My life was otherwise normal and successful. I did well at school, got four A-levels, a first from Oxford University, a PhD at Durham University, worked at Cambridge University, and then started my own business.

Dan Colegate - graduationDan on the day of graduation - still hiding his secret

Outside of study I played sport, including team sports where I hid my accidents during communal showers by catching them in my hand. I even managed a long term relationship that has now reached almost 15 years.

Yet throughout all of this, the idea of asking for help didn't cross my mind.

Seeking help

I finally sought medical help for my bowel problems in my late twenties. Not because I suddenly felt I needed help, but through a combination of encouragement (aka nagging) from my life partner Esther and an inexplicable, unshakeable low mood.

What followed was a series of appointments, surgeries, surgery reversals and eventually my current management solution using a transanal irrigation kit, which allows me to empty my bowels in a more controlled way and far less frequently, thus drastically reducing my accidents.

Dan finally got help for his bowel difficulties in his late twenties

I'm very happy that I now have fewer accidents, but the biggest change in my life is the fact that I can write about my experience.

After almost three decades of hiding, I finally feel able to open up about my incontinence.

After almost three decades of hiding, I finally feel able to open up about my incontinence and, in doing so, start noticing and addressing the emotional and psychological effect so much denial, deception and lying (to myself and others) has had on me over the years.

Sharing my experience

This is only a very brief overview of my incontinence journey. There is so much more I want to say. That is why I'm excited to have the opportunity in the months ahead to write more about different areas of my journey as a guest blogger for ERIC.

It is only recently that I discovered ERIC and the wonderful work they do for young people with continence difficulties and their parents. I'm grateful that they have offered to let me share my experiences of growing up hiding my incontinence.

I plan to write every month. 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.motorhomeadventurers.com

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