Dan Colegate, regular ERIC blogger, recalls his early childhood experiences dealing with soiling accidents at school. 

As I hid my bowel incontinence throughout my years of formal education, school toilets came to offer both a haven and a hell for me. If I could just get to a toilet unnoticed and be the only person in there then I felt safe and secure. I could clean myself up and maybe even wait there a while in the calm and quiet safety of the cubicle. On the other hand, if I was stuck in class with a big accident threatening my underwear elastic, stuck out on a football pitch trying to run around or even if certain other pupils came in while I was halfway through clean up....well, then I hated them for how distant and frightening they seemed.

To be blunt, having restricted and very visible access to toilets throughout school is what really cemented my determination to hide my accidents and the tactics I used to do so for the first 3 decades of my life.

School urinal"School toilets came to offer a haven and a hell for me"

Hiding my accidents

Way back before starting infants school at 4 years old, although I was already trying to hide how often and how bad my accidents were, at least I knew that everyone around me already knew about them. I could hide dirty pants under my bed or lie about whether I was 'dirty' or not, but getting caught meant nothing more than a telling off. At home I could come and go to the toilet and spare pants drawer as often as I pleased. Who was counting?

Starting at infants school changed everything. Intuitively I knew with cast-iron certainty that if just one of my new, noisy classmates found out about even one of my many daily accidents then I would almost certainly spend the rest of my school life as a social outcast. The 'smelly kid'. A 'tramp' as the slang was back in the 80's. I couldn't let that happen.

I knew with cast-iron certainty that if just one of my new, noisy classmates found out about even one of my many daily accidents then I would almost certainly spend the rest of my school life as a social outcast.

However, in order to keep my accidents secret at school the biggest challenge by a long way was how to get to the toilet as often as possible without drawing too much attention to myself. The last thing I wanted was classmates starting to remark on my toilet habits in any way. I certainly couldn't ask to go every time I leaked a little bit or I'd spend my entire day going to and from the toilet. Plus, even the act of standing up and releasing the smell of the accidents I was sitting on before walking past seated classmates terrified me.

I had to find a way to minimise my toilet visits.

Finding a routine to manage accidents

As a result what I settled into very quickly at infants school was a habit of making pant liners out of a dozen or more layers of toilet paper while I was in the toilet. The principle was that I could now let my accidents build up far more and still be able to get my underwear largely clean on my now less frequent visits to the toilet. In a few weeks it became a habit that would stay with me. Over the years making and changing these liners became so automatic that sometimes I'd find myself switching a paper liner even if I hadn't had an accident and had only popped in for a pee.

Toilet paper rollDan had to find ways of scheduling toilet visits during the school day

At the same time as using paper liners I started to modify my behaviour in class to avoid going to the toilet as much as I could. I took to sitting with one foot under my bum to act like a plug and hanging around the toilet at the end of playtime to make sure I was as 'clean' as possible before going back in. I also became a habitual clockwatcher, doing internal calculations continuously. My internal narrative would sound something like "well it's play time in 28 minutes and I'm in quite a mess, but I've already been once this morning and I'm only leaking every 3 or 4 minutes plus we don't need to standup in this class so I think I can make it to break". Thankfully I usually gambled correctly.

Sometimes I did get it wrong. Perhaps a bigger than usual leakage, or worse still, watery stuff. Then I just did what I could to survive, asking to go to the toilet in desperation and walking stiff hipped as I tried to walk from the knees down so as not to disturb the precarious mess. Once out in the corridor I could splay my legs and hobble to the toilet to see what damage limitation was possible.

I also became a habitual clockwatcher, doing internal calculations continuously.

But the relief once I entered the toilet was immense. As I said at the start of this post. They were both haven and hell. Just being in the toilet made me feel immediately safer. There was nothing that could go wrong in that room, or at least if it was just me any way.

In my next post next month I will reflect on how my experiences of school toilet changed as I got older and, most importantly, as my classmates got older as well.

Sharing my experience

This is only a very brief part 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.estheranddan.com

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