While incontinence is experienced by many people of all ages and genders, it's still regarded as taboo and remains a very little discussed topic. And even though chatting about your bladder leaking over dinner with friends may seem an unlikely topic, being open with friends about symptoms can reduce stigma, shame and help you continue to engage in social activities you enjoy. And who knows, you may learn that you're not the only one in your circle experiencing some of the same issues.
Many people with incontinence reduce their outings and social activities due to leaking or fear of leaking, and may develop behaviours such as always looking out for a toilet, or limiting physical activity.
Here are some ways to talk to your friends about incontinence to help everyone understand, feel less alone, and continue to participate in life:
- Remember that chances are, some of your friends may have the same symptoms as you, and may even have some helpful advice for you! There are 50,000 Australians (or around 1 in 4 women in the US) with similar bowel and bladder concerns.
- Think about asking a supportive family member or friend to be with you when you’re telling other people.
- Make sure you’re in a safe space where you feel comfortable having the conversation.
- Ask your health specialist all your questions regarding your condition. It's easier when it's medical and you'll feel more confident to answer your friends if they have questions regarding incontinence afterwards.
- Remember: even though you might find it a bit embarrassing to talk about, starting a conversation with people close to you can make you feel better and give you that extra level of support.
- Look for support groups online. The Perifit community is a great start! It’s a great way to access stories and recommendations from people with similar experiences.
When it comes to situations that may trigger or lead to an incontinence episode, here are some ways to phrase your concerns to allow you to still enjoy social activities, without having to avoid the situation altogether:
- Rather than avoiding social activities such as a walk, try to be honest and suggest more accessible options for you; “Unfortunately my pelvic floor isn’t quite up for that at the moment, could I catch you for coffee afterwards instead?”
- “When we make plans for the day I may need to make a few extra toilet stops.”
- “I am working with a pelvic floor Physiotherapist at the moment and they recommended I try pilates/yoga instead of HIIT training, would you like to try it with me?”
- “I’m sorry I can’t help lift this box as my pelvic floor doesn’t take heavy loads well, is there another job I can help you with?”
- “I’ll be more comfortable if we sit somewhere closer to the bathroom, is that okay?”
Conversely, if a friend is expressing concerns for their continence, reassure them that it is common, but not normal, and there are professionals and non-invasive techniques that can help to reduce symptoms! Don't forget that we are all in this together and there are tons of avenues of support for you during this time of your life.