Living with Incontinence

CW: Pregnancy

I know my blog has a far-reaching reputation as a bastion of glamour, elegance, and good taste, so I thought I should bolster that further with yet another fun post on bodily functions.

Despite attempts by brands like Tena to normalise incontinence, it remains a deeply embarrassing thing to suffer from. I think society associates it with either children, and therefore childishness, or age, and therefore senility. When people do give serious thought to it, the discussion tends to focus almost entirely on people who have recently given birth and suffer incontinence as a result. In reality, however, people of all ages and biological makeup suffer incontinence.

Broadly speaking, there are two types: stress and urge. Stress incontinence is where it happens as a result of some sort of trigger to the bladder – sneezing, coughing, laughing, running, lifting something etc. Urge incontinence is where you can’t control your bladder’s urges and it just goes, regardless of the inconvenience to you. I speak from the perspective of someone who has suffered both since I was around five years old. I’ve lost bladder control from almost every conceivable action. I wet the bed relatively regularly all through childhood, and with gradually decreasing regularity into early adulthood. I lost control and wet myself at school, at church, on excursions, at the beach, in shopping centres – anywhere I went there was a chance it could happen.

Now I’m in my late twenties and the situation has improved dramatically, without any sort of useful medical intervention. I had a multitude of tests as a child, none of which resulted in anything other than a diagnosis of urinary incontinence and some horrible-tasting and useless medications. It isn’t related to my endo, although I do have endo on the urethra, and many people with endo do report incontinence as a symptom.

What I want to share with you are some useful tips I’ve learnt over twenty years of dealing with this pesky condition.

1) Pads and protection

This may seem super basic, but honestly, just giving up and wearing pads or undies designed with built-in protection (such as Icon, my preferred brand – good for light leakage only, though!) made such a difference. I used to be a Tena devotee and I think they are probably still the better brand for really big problems. However, as things have improved for me I’ve been able to move to the thinner, cheaper Poise. Importantly, these items are all able to deal with a period as well, but have better wicking and odour-disguising properties.

For those with issues at night, Tena and Poise both offer thicker pads or nappy-type options, but I’ve never found those terribly comfortable. A better option for me was a washable waterproof pad by Slumberdry that I could slip into bed and would protect my sheets if things went wrong. When you’re half asleep and exhausted, you don’t want to have to deal with a full bed change – these pads are great because you just whip out the wet one, chuck a clean one on and go back to sleep. Whilst I no longer used one, these were amazingly helpful when my overnight issues were at their worst.  They are marketed for children (once again, a false impression about incontinence) but there is no reason adults can’t use them.  The only downside for couples is you might find they protrude onto your partner’s side of the bed. These are also a great, discreet-ish option for travel that fold easily into a suitcase and save you the embarrassment of having an issue on hotel bedding.

2) Keeping supplies on hand

Throughout all my school years, my mum made me take a little bag with spare undies and a plastic bag for the dirty knickers in it to school just in case I had an accident. It was deeply embarrassing but also extremely necessary. It’s not a bad idea as an adult, either. There are a myriad of situations in which spare underpants are useful – maybe it was a hot day and you had to run to catch the work bus and by the time you get in you are just so sweaty, or a sister gets her period unexpectedly, or you spill coffee all over your trousers, or you get hospitalised and there’s no one in town to bring you an overnight bag. Clean undies are just really useful things to have. I carry a little bag of Poise, too, just in case.

3) Make knowing the location of the loos a priority

If you are going somewhere for the first time, take note of public loos. On long road trips, mark of petrol stations for regular, pre-emptive bladder strikes. Walking through a shopping centre, note any and all signs that point to the water closet. Preparation Prevents Piddling all over yourself, as the saying goes.

4) Don’t wear jumpsuits, playsuits or rompers

Just don’t. They are cute and all, but getting caught short by your own clothing isn’t cool. Been there and very much done that.

5) Tell people you can trust

It is embarrassing as all heck to tell someone you have poor bladder control, but having a stalwart sidekick who will watch your back, hustle you to the toilet, or sacrifice a jumper to tie around your waist if things don’t go according to plan is such a valuable and heart-warming thing. They’ll be the one to raise the issue of toilet stops on a road trip to hide the fact that it’s always you who needs to pee, double check that you packed enough underwear, and translate that panicked look you get when you laugh too hard and feel something let go.

These are all good tips for parents whose children suffer incontinence, too. Keep them well supplied and give them the tools they need to be able to handle a quick bed change at night – you’ll get more sleep that way too. Check toilet locations, and give them easy-to-escape from clothing. With their permission, tell their teachers so they don’t get refused permission to go to the toilet at school, or get detention for being late to class because they had to pee again. Most of all, build their confidence. Don’t let them feel dirty, defective or unworthy, because other children will do that plenty if their secret comes out.

Anyone else have any tips or tricks? What have your experiences with incontinence been?

2 thoughts on “Living with Incontinence

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