Sian Confidential: I’m so anxious I’ve developed a phobia of using the toilet
I feel like I’ve got nothing to look forward to except pain, embarrassment and a husband who will get fed up...
I have always been a worrier and have suffered anxiety on and off since I was about 13 years old. When I was about 16, I started having problems going to the toilet or having what felt like diarrhoea. I also started with pains, wind and cramp. My doctor said it was probably IBS and there isn’t really a cure, apart from monitoring what foods set it off. I’m now 34. I have developed a phobia of using the toilets at work and public toilets in general. I can be woken up in the middle of the night with the need to go. It’s just plain embarrassing. My husband is pretty understanding, as it has also affected our relationship. It’s hard a lot of the time to relax with him when we get intimate. I work in a busy law firm and we are in the office most of the week. Despite being at work, I’m finding that I’m feeling depressed and isolated, my symptoms are getting worse and I feel like I’ve got nothing to look forward to except pain, embarrassment and a husband who will get fed up. I’ve got two beautiful children and I’m not really there for them as I am either anxious or numb.
Feeling numb can be a sign of depression: where you don’t feel any happiness or joy, but you can feel anxious and restless. Equally, it can be a state of anxiety where you feel removed from reality, something we call dissociation or derealisation. Both are fixable and you might want to consider checking in with your GP. However, there are things you can do for yourself. Firstly, I have worked with people with IBS for over 13 years. What I’ve found is that every one of my clients also suffered from anxiety or stress. When I worked on reducing these factors, they found that their IBS symptoms greatly improved and almost disappeared, to the point of maybe one or two episodes a year.
The first anxiety to rid yourself of would be the fear around using the toilet and your bodily functions. Everyone goes to the toilet, even the queen, and no-one produces lavender sachets! Toilets are there to be used. Some of us women need to take a leaf out of a man’s book; my husband would proudly march to the toilet at work and on inter-city trains with a newspaper under his arm, alerting all who cared (and people don’t) what he was off to do for 20 minutes. Learning about breathing and relaxation techniques – whether it’s meditation or hypnosis – can help the digestive tract to operate in its optimum state. Digestion stops or is hindered by, anxiety. It’s part of the survival mechanism called ‘fight or flight’ (and would be worth Googling). The body needs all of its energy to go to the muscles to run or fight the threat when this system is activated by anxiety. Digestion takes up huge amounts of energy, so is temporarily shut down. It makes sense to me that a sluggish, paralysed digestive track is going to cause someone toilet problems. Absorption is not optimised either during anxious times, leaving the body less nourished. Fatigue and low mood can ensue. Talk to your hubby and let him know your fears. Good communication is the keystone to a happy partnership.
People feel like what they focus on. It’s pretty obvious, really. But if your thoughts are doom and gloom, misery and pain, you will feel this acutely and you’ll get into a vicious cycle. However, if you focus on the fact that you can reduce your symptoms, do some of the things I have suggested, and know that you can actively turn this around by changing thoughts and behaviours, then your mood will shift. Be proactive, because the less anxious you are the better your digestion will work. Let me know if you want further help in managing your anxiety – either I or one of my colleagues can help.
Sian is a cognitive behaviour therapist and also a clinical hypnotherapist, having trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London and the College of Clinical Hypnosis. Four years ago Sian relocated her Harley Street practice to her native North East after 26 years in central London. Sian now runs her private clinic in Gosforth and also owns a training academy to help organisations with stress reduction. Sian’s approach is to help people become their own therapists, whether they come to see her for panic attacks, depression or OCD (she covers a wide range of emotional and behavioural issues).
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