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Dan Colegate, regular ERIC blogger, examines how he learnt to hide his soiling accidents from a young age and why it felt safer for him to go into denial than ask for help.  

Over the past 2 months I've shared some of my experiences around school toilets as a young man growing up hiding bowel incontinence. Last month, I ended by raising a couple of important questions. Couldn't something more have been done to help me use the toilets at school and, if so, why didn't I ask for help?

Dan Colegate as a child

Dan as a child 

Masking my problem

To try and answer these questions I'll start by mentioning again that from a very young age, even before I started infants school, I was already trying to mask the frequency and severity of my soiling accidents from my parents. Somehow I had convinced myself that accidents were 'bad' and needed to be hidden. I hated talking about them and would only grudgingly admit I'd had an accident if asked directly and it was either undeniable or I believed someone might actually check. 

I had convinced myself that accidents were 'bad' and needed to be hidden

Even if I had been more willing to speak about them, since I was so young I didn't have the awareness or ability to fully explain the nature of my 'accidents' anyway. What I usually experienced as many leakages of varying size over an extended period of time didn't really fit the idea of discrete 'accidents' that people tended to assume I was having. 

Allowances and coping mechanisms 

Naturally, during my early schooling at infants and junior school my parents let my teachers know that I still had some 'accidents' and that I may need to use the toilet more often. As a result certain modifications were made. I had access to a spare pants drawer at infant school for example and at junior school I was allowed to use the teachers changing room if I needed to change my underwear. Plus I was unlikely to be told off for asking to go too often since there was a genuine medical necessity. 

School changing room

Yet as useful as these allowances were in theory, none of them addressed the fact that even after a change of underwear it could be just seconds before I had another leakage. It may have been nice to have a reset when the toilet paper pantliners I made had failed badly, but it wasn't as though a change guaranteed me cleanliness for any length of time. It wasn't like I could relax afterwards. Added to this there was the fact I felt so self conscious making use of them, especially the teacher's changing room. It happened to be positioned right at the back of the assembly hall and I once walked out of it in the middle of morning assembly. Not an easy event to explain to inquisitive friends. 

From the outside I looked and behaved like any other child

Getting through the day 

By the time I was halfway through junior school my coping tactics, such as toilet paper pantliners and timing my visits, had become refined enough that although I was having just as many leakages I was able to get through the day without making use of the concessions offered. So much so that by the time I went up to comprehensive school I'm not sure whether the teachers were made aware or not. It's not like I was asking for extra help or even making use of what was being offered any more. 

From the outside I looked and behaved like any other child. My parents knew I still had some accidents, but even at home I was increasingly dealing with my soiled underwear on my own in secret to maintain the illusion that 'some accidents' was all that it was. 

Going into denial 

Without realising it, by the time I started comprehensive school two things had happened. Firstly, even I was starting to believe there was nothing wrong with me and that I really didn't need any help. Secondly, I was far more embarrassed and afraid to admit what I was doing to cope with the leakages than I was about the leakages themselves. I felt I could never admit that I spent most of the day sitting in dirty underwear, washing my pants at night in the bathroom sink and lying to my parents whenever they asked “how many accidents today?”

Hand washing

"I felt I could never admit that I spent most of my day sitting in dirty pants" 

Could more have been done to help me? 

Could more have been done to help? Well, in short, yes. Special toilet access, a store of underwear at school, access to a private shower, a pass to use the 'off limits' toilets at break times etc. Changes were possible. Except the truth is that I would probably have hardly made use of them, if at all. My early experiences of special privileges had made me feel so different and conspicuous while at the same time clashing with the illusion I was trying to project (that I was even beginning to believe myself) that I didn't need help. Instead I made do with my own improvised solutions. 

My early experiences had made me feel so different and conspicuous  

Somehow I managed to muddle through undiscovered. However, it was only many years later that I came to realise how much all those years of hiding and denial had affected me emotionally and psychologically, a topic I'll return to in future posts.

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