The Long Road of Uncertainty
By Billy D., 29
I have been dealing with incontinence for the last eleven years. It all started when I was born with an underdeveloped bladder. I was a late bedwetter into my teenage years. I was fifteen when the problem slowly improved. At that point, I believed my bedwetting and incontinence were a thing of the past. Sadly, this was not the case and it started up again right around when I turned 18. It was becoming a reoccurring struggle to get to the bathroom in time, to avoid an accident. At this point, I knew it was time to discuss my condition with my physician, and I knew the answer before the doctor read me the test results.
I was developing incontinence and the doctor put me on an incontinence treatment plan. She suggested that I start wearing protective underwear or briefs as soon as possible. That was a very low point in my life, and I did not want to fully accept the situation. For a while, I was in denial that I did indeed need to wear incontinence products. I always kept telling myself, “I am only 18, why would I need protective underwear?” In the fall that year, I was already accepted into a four year University and would be living on campus. This fact brought me more anxiety and worry. A lot of possible situations were swirling around my brain. For example, that semester, I had four back-to-back classes with very little break in between. What if I used my incontinence underwear during class and need a change following? Most of the time I barely had 5-6 minutes between classes, and I honestly did not know if that was enough time to change. A lot of the time, it was not. By my 3rd class, I normally got the opportunity to change since the bathroom was very close to the classroom. So, in my backpack I carried extra supplies with me and would change in an unoccupied stall. But this was not my only dilemma.
Once I got back to my dorm room another problem arose. In my room, we had a total of 4 guys. So, I would plan my changes accordingly and get dressed in the bathroom for bed so they would not see my protective underwear. Thankfully since I was the one normally on trash duty, they never discovered my secret. Only a couple people knew of my incontinence at this time, my best friend and my longtime girlfriend. But other than that, my condition was widely unnoticed. Another reason I had anxiety was that I came to school on a sports scholarship, since I was a soccer player in high school. The situation finally occurred to me; I will need to wear protective underwear underneath my soccer uniform. I was extremely self-conscious that someone was going to notice the product bulging or the waist band rising above my shorts. I also was concerned how the product was going to handle a more active lifestyle. Was it going to mold my body well and stay in place, or was it going to be bulky and act like a diaper? Thankfully overall my movements were not hindered by my protective underwear. But instead of showering right after a match in the team’s locker room, I would go to my dorm and shower. This was my best option since I did not want my team mates to know I needed incontinence products.
It also dampened my mood that I rarely got to hang out with my friends and teammates on the weekend. They would go out shopping at the mall, they would sometimes get the latest fashion designer underwear. On the other hand, when I needed supplies, instead of a department store my Saturday was spent in a medical supply shop. Instead of choosing designer brands and colors, my choices were manufacturer, absorbency rating, and did I want a package or a case. Thankfully the medical store employees were all very nice to me and understanding. They even said instead of me coming down every month for supplies I could order my supplies on the phone and someone from the store delivered them to me, outside my dormitory. Usually, I ordered a case or two of protective underwear and cleaning cloths at a time.
On the weekends me and my girlfriend would either go out for nature hikes or go to the gym and I had similar dilemmas to face. One, I needed to wear my incontinence products under gym attire - would the product stay comfortable during the work out? Sometimes I noticed during riding the stationary bike that the products barrier leg cuffs start to chafe against my inner thigh, which caused slight discomfort. Another situation was if we went out hiking or biking remotely, where was I going to be able to change into a fresh pair of protective underwear? I always changed into a fresh pair before we left but by midway through the activity, my product had already been used. I would have to make a choice; do I double back toward the parking lot and change in the bathroom, or do I finish my ride/hike and hope my product does not leak? Instead of taking up more time, I normally went on and hoped for the best.
Until this day 11 years later, incontinence still plays a major role in my daily routine. But over the years, I have learned to accept my incontinence and my reality: I wear protective underwear full time 24/7. For the first few years, I was in denial, like why did this happen? I did not need or want the underwear. But then over time I reminded myself which would be worse - an accident in public, or wearing protection with likely no one judging me? My doctor even put me into contact with a local support group about incontinence and it really helped reduce my anxiety over my condition. This group met once a week and we shared stories about experiences and our struggles. The group changed my life and perspective. The other members were highly inspirational in that this was a condition, but it should not control my life. After years of wearing, I fully accepted that my diagnosis is not improving and that I will likely be in protective underwear/briefs for the rest of my life.
My protective underwear needs have changed my lifestyle routine but have not halted my daily activities. For instance, wear loose fitting clothing, always make sure I have a change readily available, and other concepts. Now when I am at the office, I keep a small gym bag in the car with changing supplies including protective underwear, wipes, and powder, and a second changing kit in my desk drawer. I have set a daily routine now that during my breaks and lunch time I head to the restroom to see if a change is required. One of my only struggles now is that sometimes I need to go to the bathroom on a different floor, since the men’s bathroom only has 2 stalls. Anyone with time constraints knows about these challenges: if my break is only 15 minutes I cannot wait long for a stall to open.
Over the last 11 years, I have realized incontinence does not mean uncertainty it means management. Yes, I am incontinent, but that does not change who I am. At the end of the day, I am still the same person. But I must manage my daily schedule with my incontinence in mind. One of my latest examples me and my 3 buddies took an extended weekend fishing trip. We all stayed at my friend’s cabin, and before we left, I made my mental checklist: 1) Number of pairs of protective underwear, should I take for 3 days. 2) Where is the best location to change? 3) What are the cabin sleeping arrangements, in case I need a nighttime change? My journey of incontinence has not been easy but has become manageable.