You often hear people say I laughed so hard I almost wet myself, in fact, I’ve used the same expression many times myself.
What I’ve never admitted publicly before is on one occasion I actually did laugh so hard I wet myself.
It was horrifying because I was only in primary school, about 9 or 10 years old. A small group of us, obviously trying to amuse ourselves in the school holidays, were huddled around a public phone, all trying to listen, while one of us dialled the very easy number of a company that was constantly advertising on TV.
The ad said to ring the number and ask for My Jolly. I’m not sure what we found funny in asking for Mr Jolly or what conversation we thought was going to ensue but we all found it hilarious when the call connected and before I knew it I had a trickle running down my leg.
Luckily I was able to dart away and clean myself up and avoid the embarrassment so no one was any the wiser…except me of course and now you.
That experience became indelibly etched in my brain and put me on notice.
The first time I’d seen anyone wet their pants was in 3rd class at St Joseph’s Primary School at Narrabeen, when a boy closer up the front of the class asked to go to the toilet and the nun teaching us refused and chastised him for not going at lunchtime.
He was too scared to disobey and rush out to relieve himself but he couldn’t hold on forever so it didn’t take long before he wet his pants and the floor. To add insult to injury he was caned for it. Needless to say the stigma and subsequent bullying he had to endure was cruel and shameful.
Both of those experiences very early in my life certainly framed my awareness of bladder control, which has been put to the test by a number of urinary tract infections I’ve contracted over the years.
It can be very isolating but you might be surprized to learn that according to the Continence Foundation of Australia, close to 5 million Aussies suffer from incontinence.
It affects men and women of all ages and backgrounds and can have a major impact on our quality of life.
More than 70 per cent of incontinence sufferers are women and many experience problems during pregnancy, after childbirth and menopause. Obesity, diabetes and even heart conditions can be contributing factors.
Austin Urology Institute in Texas has a clever slogan, ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you but leaking when you laugh is no joke’.
It’s not just laughing; coughing, sneezing, lifting, jumping and chronic constipation can also make us lose control over our bladder.
A friend recently joked that she was at an age now where she’d swapped ‘mind over matter’ for ‘mind over bladder. She’s never far from a loo whenever she goes out and often wakes up through the night to take frequent trips to the bathroom.
The good news is incontinence can be treated, managed and in many cases cured.
Start with your GP to get everything checked out.
One of the most important and easy exercises to routinely do is your Pelvic Floor. These are designed to improve muscle strength and help support your internal organs as well as improve intercourse.
If you’re wondering how to locate your Pelvic Floor muscles, next time you urinate, try and completely stop the flow mid-stream and then release.
Another way is to clench the muscles you’d use to stop yourself from breaking wind but keep your buttocks relaxed and breathe regularly.
Now that you know how to locate them, try and contract and relax those muscles as often as you can.
A great way to prompt you to do your Pelvic Floor exercises regularly was passed onto me by a gynaecologist, with four daughters. He always taught them that when they were in the car and came up to a red light, instead of impatiently waiting for it to change, do your Pelvic Floor until the traffic light turns green.
I do the same thing when I’m on the train or bus; I start my pelvic floor exercises when the train pulls up at a station or the bus pulls into a bus stop and I stop doing them when they move off again. It’s amazing how all those short amounts of exercise will add up. And what’s more, you can do them anywhere and no one else will know.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you drink less then you’ll have more control over your incontinence.
Actually, it’s quite the contrary.
My GP taught me that dehydration can cause constipation and bladder infections and that if you’re worried about overloading your bladder, to sip small amounts of water regularly throughout the day but he advised me to limit my fluid intake later in the night to avoid having to get up once I’d gone to bed.
Faecal incontinence is the loss of bowel control.
There are an enormous number of reasons why this can happen and therefore, imperative that you seek medical attention to rule out anything serious and to learn how to manage it. The solution might be simpler than you think.
I started off this article by sharing an embarrassing incontinence story with you and I’ve had a similarly unsettling experience relating to number twos that fortunately had an amusing ending but I’ll spare you the gory details and me from having to relive it.
Instead, I’ll share a story I hope will amuse you about a courier friend of mine, who surprized me recently with a ‘fart-noise’ ringtone on his mobile phone.
He explained that he delivers lots and lots of documents to lots and lots of high-rise offices in the city, which means he spends a good part of each day endlessly riding up and down in all sorts of lifts and he loves seeindg the look on people’s faces whenever he gets a phone call.
Wishing you good health and happiness always x susie
Susie Elelman AM
TV & Radio Broadcaster