Dan Colegate has had bowel problems his whole life. In his latest blog post he looks at how dealing with bowel incontinence has shaped him as a person.

Growing through adversity

It's often easy, when I recall my childhood experiences of bowel incontinence, to focus on the negative memories. In just a few seconds I can bring to mind dozens, maybe even hundreds, of examples of particularly bad accidents that still stand out among the tens of thousands I've dealt with. If I take the time to think about it then I can practically still feel the sting of peeling the fabric of my underwear away from the weeping skin on my buttocks, hear the rustle of my mum unpacking an enema early on a school day morning or smell the overpowering scent of my dirty underwear bucket as I slopped out the contents. 

Dan Colegate as a child Dan as a child

Thankfully, however, these are not the overriding memories of my childhood and I very rarely have a reason to bring them to mind. Family holidays, cricket on the beach, football on the park, Christmas mornings, sleepovers at Nana and Grandad's house etc. These are the prominent memories of my childhood and, although each of them is touched by accident management in some way, that is not the part I tend to remember. 

It wasn't all messy pants and emotional damage

Growing as a person

Which brings me to the point I want to try and make in this blog post. Although I would never have wished to be bowel incontinent and am aware that my life would have been very different if I hadn't been, I'm not sure I would want to change anything either. For all of the obvious downsides of being bowel incontinent as a child, just like with any challenge at any stage in life, there are also plenty of places where I feel I grew as a person in response. Put simply, it wasn't all messy pants and emotional damage.  

Experiences that shaped me

I'll start with a few practical examples. Based on the vast majority of my peers at school and the people I spent time with outside of the classroom, I doubt I would have been such a determined and studious pupil if I hadn't also been dealing with my accidents at the same time. It was like having a small but ever present force reining me in slightly when it came to acting up and getting involved in the more outlandish schemes for mischief. I wanted to avoid attention, or at least have good attention in the form of praise, not attract more of it by getting told off. 

I doubt I would have been such a determined and studious pupil if I hadn't also been dealing with my accidents.  

Overcoming hurdles

I also became quite a pragmatic and practical problem solver precisely because I viewed every public accident and awkward situation as a problem that needed solving. I became very good at breaking the cleanup process down into stages to be dealt with one by one: deflect attention away from myself, move from my chair while shielding it from the crowd, generate a reason to leave the room, what is the best route to a quiet toilet....etc. I also became very good at accepting that a perfect outcome was often not possible and learned to quickly judge which were the best compromises if I still wanted to achieve my goal, namely to keep my accident hidden. Both of these traits would stand me in good stead at university and guide me down an academic career path later in life. 

Dan Colegate  - graduation day                                                                        Dan on his graduation day  

A positive outlook

Character wise I became an independent young man, comfortable and confident making my own decisions and looking after myself. I tended to have a positive outlook and assumed that most things would turn out OK for me in the end as long as I worked hard for what I believed I wanted. Coupled with a home environment that emphasised the values of hard work and loyalty I threw myself into team sports, pushing myself physically as hard as I could and even found myself in various leadership roles as a result. Provided I was in an environment I felt I had enough control over I became happy to be the centre of attention for positive reasons. 

A different life 

I tended to have a positive outlook and assumed that most things would turn out OK.

I don't mean to imply I'm hardworking or good at reading only because I'm bowel incontinent. Childhood and life in general is far too complicated to make such sweeping statements. But the point is that had I not been born with a condition that left me bowel incontinent I would have had an altogether different childhood and so been an altogether different person. It is not as simple as saying that “my life would have been 'better' if I hadn't been bowel incontinent” because I'm just not sure that's true.  

Dan Colegate hill walking       Dan is now in his mid 30s 

Not wishing my experiences away

Now that I am in my mid-thirties I have reached a stage in life where I would never wish my childhood experiences of bowel incontinence away. You could say this is because the bad parts and the good parts are just too closely linked together, but I think it goes even deeper than that. Having now spent time as an adult reflecting on my childhood experiences of bowel incontinence, one of the main lessons I've taken away is that there wasn't really any such thing as 'bad parts' and 'good parts' in the first place. There were only ever 'parts', or events, that arose every day and so provided opportunities for growth.

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.com

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