Accepting Reality and Regaining Control of Your Life

How to choose the right coping strategy to deal with your incontinence.

One of the most difficult barriers that people with incontinence face on their road to an improved quality of life is their own reluctance to discuss the issue. According to Dr. Tomas L. Griebling, a urologist with the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Kansas City, 1 in 2 people suffering from incontinence doesn’t report his or her problem to anyone – even their own physician.

This reluctance is understandable, of course. From early childhood we’re taught that failure to control our body’s functions is a cause for shame, guilt, and perhaps even punishment. As adults, we’re taught the values of mastery, control, and discretion, and incontinence issues represent a direct attack on our ability to see ourselves as captains of our own destiny. So it’s not exactly a surprise when people with incontinence insist that, in the words of the old Blues song, “it ain’t nobody’s business but my own.”

But silence comes at a very high cost. As Dr. Ulla Botha, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Stellenbosch observes, “patients (suffering from incontinence) often start to isolate themselves and may avoid social interaction to prevent possible embarrassment. This can even lead to depression.” 

Our ever-present popular culture doesn’t help matters one bit. As Ryan Rivera, who maintains a mental health blog called observes, “Incontinence, which in most cases is a natural and treatable occurrence as the body ages, is portrayed in the media as a joke or shameful in a way that can make actual sufferers feel as though they will be mocked or dehumanized if they seek help.” Dr. Pam Moalli puts things even more bluntly: “It’s really difficult to overestimate how debilitating it is. Women will stop going out of their houses.”

Engagement, not silence, is the way forward
Given our cultural programming and societal bias toward being “in control,” it’s no surprise that incontinence issues are accompanied by so much troubling psychological baggage. But while it might be an uphill battle, choosing action – not passive isolation – is your best way forward. So please consider the following fact-based points:

  1. You are not alone. More than 25 million Americans suffer from urinary incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. It may be hard to picture a number this large, so try imagining 500 football stadiums, packed-to-capacity, filled with people, who share your concerns. Many of these people are active on the Internet, dozens of incontinence support groups are available online, and attitudes toward what’s been called “a silent epidemic” are changing for the better. That’s great news for those who’ve been suffering in silence and isolation for too long.
  2. There are many terrific products on the market designed to end your embarrassment. The fact that there are 25 million Americans who are incontinent hasn’t been lost on business leaders, who’ve been very busy innovating a generation of new products designed to serve this enormous market. For example, comfortable, protective washable underwear can serve as your shield and first line of defense against embarrassment. Many types of protective underwear are available for men and for women, from moisture-absorbing, washable panties and briefs, to waterproof, unisex cover-ups. There are also many protection options for protecting beds and sitting surfaces. Using these products can contribute to a greater sense of confidence and less fear of unwanted leakage.
  3. In many cases, you can take action to improve your quality of life. While some types of incontinence may signal the presence of serious underlying disease, others types can be remedied, ameliorated, and sometimes even completely eliminated. Effective treatments for incontinence – ranging from medication to lifestyle changes to special exercises called “Kegels” – abound and help many people. The burden is on you to “step up” and determine the specific kind of incontinence that you’re suffering from in order to develop an effective treatment plan. That’s why it’s always best to consult with a doctor, gynecologist, or urologist to learn about the specific treatment options that will be most effective for the type of incontinence you’re suffering from.