But how often is too often, darling?
My health column for the August issue of sharedVISION Magazine.
I love road trips. But people travelling with me sometimes get frustrated by my frequent need to pull off the highway to empty my bladder. A golden retriever would be impressed with the number of roadside shrubs I’ve marked over the decades.
It never occurred to me that my constant need to pee might be a medical condition until I saw an ad offering a solution to the inconvenience of having to go no. 1 so often. As directed, I went to the website address provided and took an online quiz.
Answering “yes” to three of the four questions, I was advised to see my doctor since my “symptoms” indicated a high probability of having an “overactive bladder” (OAB): I pee more than eight times a day, I get up at night to pee, and I feel an urgent need to pee with little warning. Of course, the “solution” to OAB is a pharmaceutical drug, which I was not inclined to try.
I started thinking my problem was related to how much liquid I drank. So I called Shanyn Erben, a registered holistic nutritionist at Elements Wellness Centre & Studio, in Kits, and asked her how much water a person should drink.
“Everyone says we should drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day,” Erben said, “but nobody knows who decided that should be the standard. Really, it depends on how active you are, how hot the weather is, and even the kind of food you eat. If you have a high-protein diet, you need to drink more water to digest. If your diet is high in fruits and vegetables, then you’re having some of your water needs met from those sources.”
I worried that my (mostly) vegetarian diet and the two litres of tea, juice, water, and wine I drink each day might be providing too much water to my system. Erben told me I’d know if I was drinking too much at any one time as my body would have a difficult time absorbing the liquid, and it would slosh around noisily in my belly.
So, based on what I learned from Erben, I concluded that my bladder is likely not overactive; it’s just busy. But this doesn’t explain why every time I get into a car I feel the urge to skip to the loo. Could my problem be related to stress?
Chris Shirley, director of Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Reflexology, told me that when we suppress or repress traumatic emotional experiences, those issues often manifest themselves physically. And, he said, wetting oneself is a common physiological response to unconscious stress. (Not that I’ve ever wet my pants!)
“To determine the cause of poor bladder control, I’d work with my client to get to the root of the cause based on a holistic approach,” Shirley said, “including when the issue started and what was going on at that time.”
This took me back to my family’s annual road trips from Montreal to Florida. That’s when this started. I was one of three kids crammed into the back of a station wagon, arguing and whining and kicking each other. Today, I ride shotgun, with two boys in the back seat arguing and whining and kicking each other. Perhaps trips to gas station bathrooms were (and still are) simply a convenient excuse to get away from the din.
On the other hand, Angela Stevenson, a certified Pilates instructor at Meridian Pilates Studio, wasn’t surprised when I told her how often I have to pee on the road. “When you’re driving on bumpy roads and hitting potholes, you tend to brace yourself by bearing down on your pelvic floor, which squishes your bladder and makes you feel like you need to pee.”
Stevenson said many people develop dysfunctional pelvic floor muscles from holding tension in that area and from overworking those muscles at the gym. She gave me a yoga exercise called the “pregnant cat” to help me learn to control and “functionalize” my pelvic floor by engaging the muscles in the lower abdomen.
“Just imagine you’ve got five kittens in your belly. Practise lifting them, one by one, towards your spine. Then let them fall, one by one, back into your belly.”
By lifting and dropping kittens, and snacking on granola bars instead of apples when on the road, I’m hoping to reduce the number of times I need to drop my drawers at gas stations (and shrubs). Then again, maybe if I just stopped stressing about having to pee so often, I might not have to pee so often.
Donna Barker is looking forward to riding from B.C. to Newfoundland on a motorcycle one day—even if it means wearing a pair of Depends under her leather chaps.