April 14, 2005
The Tragedy of Avoidant Paruresis
BY Dave ("Care Bear")
Originally, I had planned a long, very detailed explanation regarding the where’s and why’s of my time away from this column, but in the end, it got late, (and I got distracted)and I realized that it really didn’t matter. What does matter is that I still care, Chicago, deeply, truly, and with all my heart. And even if I really didn’t, you would never know, and it wouldn’t change the fact that I’m willing to pretend that I do. So quit your yapping and make with the questions already! Speaking of questions, it’s time I got back to answering them...
Do I know others with this hang-up? You gotta be kidding me with that. If you think being pee shy is a rarity, then you haven’t been paying much attention when you’re out and about. Why do you think you have to wait for those stalls to open up? Not everyone who uses them is getting high, getting laid, or taking a dump. Sure, you seem to be more shy than most, but I’d bet good money that it’s a lot more common that you (and many people) would guess. Next time you’re in the can waiting for more private accommodations to become available, take a break from worrying about your impending performance and notice what everyone else is up to. If it’s quiet enough, I think you’ll be surprised at the number of guys who take more than a few seconds to get that urine flowing. And if you can’t listen in, check out the body language. See the slightly tensed shoulders? The staring up at the ceiling? The deep breaths and ever so subtle shifting of position? Those guys are pee shy! (Well, ok, they might have some sort of prostate problem, or be crazy drunk, or possibly distracted by the many, many important things they have yet to accomplish that evening, but in any case, they’re all making an effort to do what everyone feels should just happen naturally.) I notice it all the time here at the office (my day job office, not the ultra high-tech ChicagoPride.com office.) Sure, some guys just walk up, whip it out, and let it fly, but a surprising number stand awkwardly, slightly tensed, clearly concentrating on getting that damn bladder to cooperate. On their website, the International Paruresis Association (No…I didn’t make that name up. Apparently, paruresis is the disease—their choice of word, not mine—that you are afflicted with. You can check out their website at http://www.paruresis.org/ and see for yourself.) says that “recent studies show that 7% of the public” suffer just like you do, though the section I’m quoting doesn’t reference the actual studies, and I think if you broaden the definitions to include people who feel mild to moderate concern or anxiety, the numbers increase greatly. In any case, you, (here comes the big reveal) and I, are not alone. Sad but true, The Care Bear has had his own battles with pee-shyosis.
As for why some guys are pee shy and some guys aren’t, I don’t think there’s one answer for everyone. If I had to guess, I’d say that at its core, it’s tied to the fact that a big part of potty training involves making us horrified and ashamed about the pee-pee and poopies that our young bodies are constantly squirting out. They are the evil, dirty excretions of bad boys and girls, and they must be contained, until they can be properly disposed of, at all costs. As we grow up, we wrap that childhood shame and fear in adult anxieties and rationalities concerning performance issues, privacy issues, penis issues, etc. Regardless of the causes behind it, with some time and effort, you can get over your problem, or at the very least, get it under control. The IPA (see above) mentions therapy, workshops, support groups, and even medication as possible treatment options, but unless you’re talking about truly crippling social anxiety when it comes to taking a piss, I would say there’s no need to bother with any of that. In the end, it all boils down to a case of mind-over-bladder, and as such, the key to success is tricking the mind into focusing on something else so that the bladder can get down to business. For me, what worked best was trying to remember the German I took in high school. As I stood at the urinal, I would mentally recite the German alphabet or conjugate the few verbs still in my head from my studies way back when. Sometimes, I would try to remember the story of the one German book I had read, Kein Schnapps fur Tamara. (Which translates to No Schnapps for Tamara. And in case you’re curious, she didn’t get any Schnapps because she was dead.) Eventually, pissing at the urinal became (somewhat) second nature, and it (usually) doesn’t bother me anymore. But no matter what it was that I was thinking about, what made it work was that it kept my mind busy and therefore unable to fixate on who was hearing what. So here’s my advice to you: Find something that you can mentally work on the next time you’re standing at the urinal (math equations, a foreign language, show tune lyrics.) Next, pick a public bathroom that is loud enough so that even if you can’t piss at all, no one is really going to know that you’re faking it. Bars are usually good for that kind of thing, especially ones with dividers between the urinals (like at Sidetrack.) Have a couple of drinks, hold it as long as you can, and when you’re about to bust, head to the john and go straight for the urinal. (Don’t give yourself anytime to talk yourself out of it.) As you stand there, focus on your mental gymnastics, and if all goes as planned, you should be pissing up a storm in no time. Worse case scenario, you stand there pretending for a minute or so, and then head to the other end of the bar and grab the first stall you can. If at first you don’t succeed....well, you know the drill. You have to keep working at it, but trust me on this one, it will get easier. And before you know it, you’ll be peeing like a pro.
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