My father was a very social person. He was friendly, and well liked, and for much of my childhood, our home was filled with visitors. We also had a pool, so throughout the summers, people would be around visiting with him outside.
There was a time when we had many people over. I think we were having a barbecue, and visiting around the pool. I might have been about six years old
There I was, six year old me, using the main floor washroom, when a knock came at the door. “Is there anyone in there,” the man asked – but as was typical of me, I could not speak. He knocked again, and opened the door… he apologized, and I was humiliated.
The fallout from that moment in time has been lifelong. First of all, even when I am home alone, I always lock the bathroom door. I have to. Second, since that moment, I have had trouble using bathrooms when there are other people around.
I suppose that wasn’t helped by the fact that when anyone got up to use a bathroom, my father liked to tease, “we know where you’re going,” in a singsong voice. For little, sensitive me (with too big of an imagination) that was traumatic. I suddenly got the idea that every time I used a bathroom, someone on the outside was picturing me going in there.
All throughout my school history, public bathrooms were off limits. Most days, if at all possible, I would wait until I went home to use the bathroom – and then was thankful when my family were on a different floor. It was terribly uncomfortable to go through a six hour day without, well… but I could not bring myself to go in there with the rest of my class.
Public bathrooms are such… unprivate – that is not likely even a word, but it suits how I feel about them – places. When I have no comfort in bathrooms with solid walls and doors when people are anywhere near, how could I ever be okay with these?
I began having nightmares about public bathrooms when I was very young – often in which the stalls either had no doors, the walls were so high there was no point in having them, or men and women shared the same bathroom. Horrible, horrible dreams.
Even in people’s houses, I struggled to go when other people were around. Already I had trouble eating around people – likely because most foods made me gag, and I didn’t want people seeing that – but for this reason, I was afraid to drink when I was away from home, also.
So leaving home left me uncomfortably struggling against using the bathroom, dehydrated from refusing to drink, and hungry from not being able to eat. Being home, from what went on there, and the teasing I mentioned above, was also harsh.
While I would use a bathroom rather than wet my pants, it was often several extremely uncomfortable hours before I would finally give in, and the shame over that – just using the bathroom – was such that I was afraid to go out again.
Although I have grown much since then, and no one I know now teases people about that, I still avoid using the bathroom whenever I am out – and at home? We have three bathrooms for three people, and pretty much stick to our own. I still have a lot of trouble using my (en-suite) bathroom when my husband comes into the room.
It is likely something I will never outgrow.
And the nightmares? Still plague my dreams multiple nights each month, and leave me with the same feelings of terror.