Matt* (name changed) has shared his story with Bridge readers.
Not everybody ‘outgrows’ bedwetting
I used to consider my bedwetting the most shameful secret I had to carry. I’m 32 years old now, and in my 20s I did everything I could to make sure no one else worked it out. There were definitely giveaways. For one, I was a young guy living in a share house and washing my bed linens twice a week…
Years later, anybody who knows me well is aware that I still wet the bed. Keeping my incontinence a secret is a ship that sailed a long time ago.
The fact is that some people wet the bed while others don’t. Some people grow out of it, and others don’t. I just happen to be one of the ones that didn’t. It goes without saying that I’ve tried everything I can to stop wetting the bed.
For a long time, I thought it was normal and that most people had occasional bedwetting problems. It only happened about four times a year, so as a young teen, I didn’t really think about it. I tried to ignore it and continued with the ‘bury my head in the sand’ approach until a girlfriend brought it to my attention. By then, it was getting more and more frequent.
I didn’t see anybody for my issue until I was 18. I had treatment for a suspected infection but that didn’t stop the bedwetting. Afterwards, I didn’t go back to the doctor until age 21. That time, I really wanted to get help. The doctor referred me to a urologist, but I will never forget how silly and small I felt when I called to make an appointment. “We only deal with children,” they said. As though I needed more reminding that this was something I was supposed to have ‘grown out of’.
Growing up, I obeyed the unwritten rule in my household that this wasn’t something to discuss. I just wish the approach had been different. If my kid was wetting the bed, I wouldn’t try and ignore it. At night, I transformed into a mouse that changed the sheets silently at 3am or stayed awake during sleepovers with friends so that I wouldn’t fall asleep and have an accident.
My biggest fear was my friends finding out. Eventually when I was 17, they did, and the taunts and bullying started. That period of my life damaged me for good. I was so hurt that people were having a laugh at my expense. It made me stronger though. I often think that if I could cop that and come through relatively unscathed, I don’t need to worry.
Incontinence is certainly something that makes people uncomfortable. I have anxiety and depression and I speak freely about my mental health. But when you mention wetting the bed, people get this ‘look’ – almost like they must react that way so everybody can see they don’t have incontinence.
I have experienced incredibly cruel actions from people who just don’t understand incontinence or think it’s something to laugh about. A few years ago, my housemate’s partner took a photo of me after I had wet the bed and posted it to Facebook. It made me feel incredibly vulnerable and never want to live in a share house again. What gave me a little bit of comfort – and hope – was that people who I didn’t even know were defending me online and saying what she did wasn’t cool.
My condition makes dating and relationships difficult. In fairness, it really is a lot to ask of anybody. These days I’m very upfront and tell a new partner that I may wet the bed but have prepared adequately with continence products like plastic sheets and a pull-up.
Yes, I’m a 32-year-old man and wear a pull-up to bed. Deal with it.
Sharing my story
I’ve found that telling others about my incontinence can make a difference. I was working with a woman and after I was honest with her about my bedwetting, she actually told me that she had the same issue. I was one of the first people that she told. I really want to be a person that people can trust to confide in. That’s a good way to see yourself.
I’m choosing to share my story with anybody who wants to read it. Anyone who is going through the same thing will understand on a totally different level. My message to you is to keep calm and carry on. You’re a soldier. The people who judge have no idea what you go through daily.
If you’re experiencing incontinence, you’re not alone. Call the free National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 to speak with an experienced team for information, advice and support.
This story was first published in Bridge magazine. Subscribe to Bridge online.