I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been there. The relief when I rush into a public bathroom, and it’s empty. When it’s not, the frantic can I hold it? I can hold it. I can’t hold it. The timing myself in unison to flushes, or coughing, or launching the hand-dryer and dashing into the stall. Holding my breath after I finally let go, waiting to see if anyone noticed. The sinking feeling when I realize there’s no toilet paper. The sound; the smell. Timing my escape so I can make it out of the bathroom before anyone else comes in.
And if, god forbid, all my best-laid plans fail and I open that stall door, and in the mirror above the sinks, I catch the eye of the woman washing her hands. Will she be glancing sidelong at the person next to her, suppressing her giggles? Will she look away in disgust? Disapproval that I was using the disabled toilets? Will I overhear her making fun of me to her friends in the chip isle?
Will I be embarrassed? Ashamed? Will I wash my hands in haste and then flee as quickly as possible? Leave the store, nevermind that I came in for items that were an hour ago essential? Will I drive home and dive under the covers?
I used to. But not anymore.
Since when did the giggles or the side-glances of a few ignorant people become more important than my self-respect? Why was I, the one who has to live daily with my illness, walking on lavatory eggshells? Creeping about like some kind of fecal criminal?
Those looks and that laughter say a lot more about those people than they do about me.
What they say, is they are lucky. They’ve not yet had to face something in their lives that has forced them to develop empathy. Or maybe their parents didn’t teach them any manners. Or, maybe, they’re just sad, small people.
So why did I give them the power to shame me? Were they even aware of that power? After all, they’d not taken it – I’d gifted it to them on a porcelain platter.
Although I don’t remember the exact moment it occurred; I am no longer ashamed. I refuse to be. I have been through too much. I respect myself too much. I know not everyone feels this way. But why not? Why be ashamed? We can’t fight stigma and ignorance of our condition if we perpetuate it ourselves. Being ashamed makes it shameful.
I have to live with myself, not those people. People who, ten minutes later, won’t even remember me.
Would I be embarrassed about having cancer? Or, having survived it, be proud? So why be embarrassed about your IBD? Is it the stigma surrounding chronic illness? Or the fact it’s, y’know, bum stuff?
Now, I look them in the eye. I may make a self-depreciating joke. If they make a snide comment, I tell them. I tell them I have Crohn’s disease. I explain I’ve had four major surgeries in the last few years. That I am missing my colon. That I risked my fertility for my continence. That I take medication that may eventually kill me. But I won’t apologize. I have nothing to apologize for.
I will be regal, my head held high, my trumpet blaring. I, for one, will take my seat on the throne like a Queen.