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Growing Up With Paruresis - My Shy Bladder Story

Updated on November 14, 2011


This is the story of me growing up with what I eventually discovered had the medical name, Paruresis. It’s a name that I did not know existed until I was in my early thirties when one day, sitting at the computer making sure no one was watching over my shoulder, I typed ‘shy bladder’ into a search box, which may well have been Lycos at that time.

The Big Discovery

This was a term I heard someone use when, ironically, I was in a hotel’s toilet after being asked out for a drink with some friends at that time. I remember going to the toilet myself first. It was empty so I took the chance (must have been feeling brave) to try to use the urinal. Five seconds after I had just started to pee, one of my friends walked in and stood beside me. After a few seconds of him trying, he said, and I think jokingly, that he had a shy bladder. This came as a shock to me and my mind started racing, asking myself if is this is the name for what I have. Of course I didn’t say that I had a problem as I thought he was just pulling my leg. He did manage to have a pee and I managed to finish mine as I was too far into it to stop when he came in.

The phrase ‘shy bladder’ stuck in my mind and that’s what I typed into the search box when I had the chance a few day later.

What I found absolutely blew me away. I discovered it had other names too, including bashful bladder and shy kidneys, but to my amazement it had a medical name - Paruresis. What I had, had a name, and I knew other people had it too. Just discovering this made me feel much better.

I even found a forum where other people who’s nerves get the better of them when it came to urinating in certain situations, wrote about their situation and problems, and where others gave advice and just be there for each other. It was a total eye-opener for me. What made it a double eye-opener was when I read a post from a lady who was bursting for the loo whilst on a flight but would not use the toilets on the plane for fear of being heard by someone.

Not only was I gobsmacked by the fact that women were sufferers, (because I was ignorant enough to think that only men were affected), but by the extent of other peoples suffering. After going through a few of the posts on the forum I felt quite lucky that I had a relatively mild case of paruresis.

Happy that I could now give what I had a name and no longer felt I suffered alone, I decided it was time to break the news to the woman in my life that I eventually married. I called her over to the computer and showed her the forum, asking her to read about the problems and the anxieties that the forum users had. She was surprised that people had anxieties about and fears over using the loo, but at the same time didn’t understand understand why they had a problem in the first place as it wasn’t a problem with her.

I then told her that I had this problem, felling nervous about using toilets, but only at work and when out socialising. Quite frankly, she couldn’t understand why anyone would have a problem going for a pee, but astounded that people all around the world did.

I felt I wanted to help so I decided to register a domain name. I then got started making a simple website, writing about myself and some of the things I found out about paruresis. I then joined the forum that I had been reading, made a lengthy post introducing myself and stating that I was starting a website. I put the link to my new website in the post. To my horror, the next day I was booted from the forum and accused of only wanting to promote my website. I was so annoyed I scrapped the website idea and forgot about the forum.

Coping With My Paruresis

For at least another decade, just like the previous decade, and some, I put up with my problem. I would try to be brave at times, and mostly fail. If I was out with friends in a bar, I would always hope like hell that the cubicles were ok to use, and more importantly, empty so I could go into them for a pee. On many occasions they were not empty. In fact most of the pubs around me only had one cubicle and at the weekends when the place was busy, I’d often put off going to the toilet because of my nerves getting the better of me. When I really had to go, many times I would have to walk back out because someone was in the cubicle. This led to me trying to keep an eye on the number of people walking in and out of the men’s toilets so I could work out if it was empty or not. When I thought the coast was clear, I would try again.

Going out and having a few drinks with friends, socialising and all that was supposed to be fun, and to an extent it was, but every time I had to battle with my anxieties.

The Pretence

Like I said, I had a mild case of Paruesis. I did not have any difficulty at all going for a pee in my own home, nor in a house belonging to someone else. My anxieties were only a problem when using a public loo somewhere, such as a pub, club or airport etc. On some occasions I was successful in urinating at the urinal when out somewhere. I achieved this when the toilet was empty and I was sure that I had enough time to get started before anyone else was about to walk in. How did I know I had time before any one else was going to come in? Because when I was heading to the toilets, I would always be glancing over my shoulders to see if anyone else was behind me, following.

Anyone with paruresis, male or female, will know how I felt when I say from the minute you feel you need the to go for a pee to the eventual walk to the toilets the anxiety builds and builds. By the time you are walking into a public toilet the nervousness felt is at its peak. It’s a horrible feeling - one I had to live with nearly every day. Other people are worse than I was. Their anxieties are so strong that they are forced to go back home to their safe, private toilet.

I tried to be as brave as I could when going to the loo, but when out drinking with friends, and you head to the toilet, quite often someone will decide they want to chum (come with you) you, as they happen to need a pee too. Whenever this happened, sometimes I managed to do it, but only if it was a close friend and I felt confident enough to try. However, if someone else was in the restroom too, and/or I didn’t feel I could use the toilet standing next to my friend, I would back away from the urinal, claiming that I needed more that just a pee, and head to the cubicle. This pretence became a common practice; if I thought I could get away with it I would have a go at peeing at the urinals, but if I was disturbed or felt I couldn’t go, I would tell a little white lie about needing to sit down for this one!

After years of trying, I gave up. I started going straight to the cubicles to pee. But as it turned out that was not as anxiety free as I hoped. I started worrying what other toilet users were thinking about someone using a cubicle just to have a pee. It seemed like my paruresis was going up a level. I started worrying about the noises peeing in a toilet made. But it was not uncommon to hear other guys going into a cubicle and just pee, full flow and noisily. I realised I had nothing to worry about and that it was quite normal to do this, as others were, but I made up a list of excuses I could use if I was ever questioned why I went to the cubicle and not the urinal. On that list, which I kept in my head, were excuses like, ‘the urinals were too busy’, ‘I needed to tuck myself in’ and ‘I needed paper to blow my nose’.

In all that time no one had ever questioned me. I did not have to worry about a thing, so I stopped trying to control the flow of urine and pee onto the side of the toilet to lessen the noise.

Growing Up With Paruresis

Looking back I realised I had paruresis since I was 5 years old. I remember the very first time I felt uncomfortable using a urinal. I was at Primary School. It may have been the very first day of my school years. I found I needed a pee so I went to the toilet before class started. Some other boy had the same need and came into the little boy’s room not long after me. He stood beside me. This was the very first time I had to share a toilet like this and a strange feeling of uneasiness came over me. I gave him a look. I was not happy that he stood beside me. It made me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t like it. Fortunately in the boy’s room there was a half partition wall. On the other side of the wall was a second white ceramic trough urinal. I walked away and moved around to the other side. There was no one there and I managed to have a pee. From then on, every time I needed to go to the loo when at primary school, I would use the urinals around the back, but if someone was there, I would use the cubicles instead.

All the time, during my school years, from the age of 5 through to 16, nine times out of ten I would not use the ugly trough urinals at either my primary school or secondary school when others were around.

I didn’t know why I felt that way, no idea at all, and to this day, I still don’t. I have racked my brains to think of something that had happened to me when I was little, but I honestly can’t put my finger on any physical or emotional issues I had at all. I can only imagine that it’s a genetic disposition, in my case.

The Worst Years

The worst years for me was when I was in my late teens until my early thirties. It was from the time I left school at the age of 16 and started work until I made the ‘shy bladder’ discovery when I was 32 years old. During this period I had to deal with the toilets at work and at the weekends I would go out with friends, drinking, playing pool and darts, go to the discos and clubs, take girlfriends out and do all the things a young guy would get up to at that age. But every single time I would go out or every time I needed the toilet at work, I had to battle with the gut-wrenching anxiety attacks that build up inside of me. Not once, not even once had I told any of my friends or any member of my family that I had this problem. How could I have? It was too embarrassing, and I had no idea how to describe what I had or how it made me feel.

My biggest fail was when I had been asked if I wanted to go to a football match. It was a big game and thus far I had never been to a game before. I decided to go. Before the game, the usual thing to do was go for a few beers before the game. I was bursting for the loo when in the pub but it was far too busy. I didn’t go. Then at half time I could hardly stand it any longer so I had to go to the toilet at the football grounds. The queue was massive! I eventually got to the front, stood at the urinal, tried to have a pee. I waited and waited but it just would not happen. One of the guys that stood next to me gave me a curious look. I had to walk away. The pain I went thought for the next couple of hours until I got home was immense.

A decade after my eureka moment things started to get a bit better in the sense that I had settled down more, not going out so much and therefore not having to worry about using public restrooms. When I did go out things were just the same, the only difference being that I knew what I had and could give it a name. I knew my enemy.


Now in my forties and having put up with paruresis for 40 years, I realised that when older, I would be visiting the toilet more frequently. It’s a part of being old, apparently. I also wanted to do something about the anxieties. I certainly didn’t want to put up with them for a further 40 years - if I live that long.

I searched the web for information and found a highly acclaimed program for dealing with and overcoming anxiety disorders. I enrolled, and soon I began to understand what the anxiety attacks meant, and that they were in fact harmless. Using the powerful techniques taught by the program, I could overcome them easily. I was halfway cured.

I then found out that behavioural therapy was another highly effective way of overcoming paruresis, so I sought out a program that would help with my physical behaviour. I was already half way there mentally, I just needed a step by baby step action plan.

Because having a bashful bladder is a psychological problem that causes a physiological response (that is, being unable to urinate no matter how hard you try), effective treatment involves dealing with you mentally and physically.

Check out this video


If you are reading this and you are suffering from shy bladder syndrome, shy kidneys or whatever you call it, you do not have to live with it any longer. It is treatable. I urge you to take action now and get a life for yourself that is free from the anxieties you are going through. I had a mild case. If you are worse than me, for your own sake take action and get your paruresis cured now!

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