After years of suffering from a variety of health issues, I now realise that they all link to my past, most illnesses are psychological after all. As a sufferer of irritable bowel syndrome for the past few years, I’ve recently found out that gastrointestinal problems (GI) may be second only to depression as the most frequent long-term result of child sexual abuse. As many as 71% of female children and adolescents who experience forced sex with an adult for more than two years may later develop GI disorders.
About four years ago, I was in a stressful work environment and began having difficulties urinating. I felt very embarrassed as my underwear was constantly soiled and I eventually had to go to the doctor for medication that helped control the involuntary urine loss. The doctor told me I was suffering from urge incontinence; it subsided a little when I left the stressful work place. Sexual abuse survivors have a significantly higher incidence of genitourinary dysfunction symptoms including stress and urge incontinence and voluntary urinary retention.
Over the past year, through talking to fellow survivors, I’ve realised that toilets are a significant trigger and have been the common place where I have experienced seizures. These psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) brought on by a trigger are an expression of repressed psychological harm in response to trauma such as child abuse. A flashback I experienced involved sitting on the toilet while my cousin held the door handle because there was no lock, on the other side of the door was a perverted man who wanted to enter.
I’ve since discovered a medical term for a phobia called paruresis, which is a fear of urinating in public. This phobia causes urinary retention due to avoiding public restrooms. Sexual abuse, public embarrassment or another traumatic event may trigger the condition.
Many women are unaware that they, too, are subject to paruresis; articles about women and urination emphasize other female urinary dysfunctions, such as urinary incontinence or frequent urination. Some people cope by deliberately holding in their urine, by refraining from drinking liquids, or locating unoccupied or single-occupancy public bathrooms.
Upon reading about this I realised why I had another medical problem only last year that literally changed my life. I was working in a closely confined space and therefore avoided going to the toilet on a regular basis, especially as the toilet was so close to the office space and you could hear the running water. I’d often hold it in for hours on end, arriving home busting for the toilet. I was also restricting the amount of fluids I was consuming to stop the need to urinate so much. Inevitably, after four months, I became desperately ill and I’d developed kidney stones. Thankfully, after six weeks, the stone passed and I didn’t need treatment. This drastic health change served as an impetus to change my lifestyle and I moved to a different company in a new location.
Being in so much physical pain was a trigger to the pain I had gone through all those years ago and I became very depressed. Upon reflection, I’ve realised how serious it could have been and how fortunate I was that I didn’t need any sort of medical intervention. Now that I’m aware that I am subject to paruresis and have suffered from kidney stones, I am very careful to drink enough fluids and urinate when I feel the need. My new work environment allows me more privacy and I feel a lot more comfortable.
It’s shocking to discover how many of my psychological and health problems stem from my abusive past. Survivors have to relive their past in order to get over it and as well as behavioural and psychological problems, many physical symptoms can develop too. Being aware of these problems can certainly help a survivor deal with them and gradually get better, which is why I wanted to share my own experiences here.