a dinner table with a toilet instead of a chair

Needing a Bathroom Before, During, and After Eating

My mom used to joke that she knew the location of every bathroom across South Florida due to having me as a child. I didn’t find it funny; it was annoying.

Really, it was I who knew the location of every bathroom across South Florida. Equally annoying was why I had to master bathroom location efforts. I was unable to eat without feeling the need to run to the restroom.

Always knowing where the closest bathroom is

I don’t remember exactly how it started, but it became a game. The minute I entered a store, restaurant, building, or home, I had to know where the bathroom was. I would inspect the perimeter and look for signage.

If I didn’t see a sign or obvious doorway for a restroom, I would just ask. Luckily, I didn’t have to ask much. Bathroom locating became a hidden talent that I never wanted.

The community I grew up in thrived off of family gatherings and meals. It was a small slice of hell for me during those sick years.

Thankfully, we frequented the same places, so I knew where the bathrooms were located. I knew how to mask noise if it didn’t have a fan. And I knew where to sit so I could easily slip away to the bathroom (hopefully unnoticed).

Struggles with eating and needing to use the bathroom

I am grateful for the long-term relationships I was in during the end of high school and most of college. Both of whom, I am still friends with, saw my struggle. They knew the effort involved with eating and never put pressure on me to do what I could not. Both also witnessed the struggle to get to a bathroom in the nick of time. They got it.

After the end of my college-years relationship, I entered my senior year of college single for the first time ever in college. I feared sharing my health issues with a new person.

So, as the weekend would approach, I would leave campus and visit friends or family a few hours away. This also took some planning. I needed to plan for locations of restrooms in advance since NJ was notorious for closed rest stops. Plus, I needed to plan out safe travel snacks.

Stomach pain and rumbling immediately after eating

One such trip is engrained in my mind. Due to traffic, it took four hours to drive from campus in New Jersey to my grandfather’s apartment in New York. The trip should have taken about two hours, but overall I was feeling okay. My grandfather was really looking forward to taking me to his favorite restaurant.

I was a few bites into a piece of fresh, delicious bread when the familiar rumbling began. I excused myself. He looked at me worried as I took my seat at the table. Our food had just arrived. I was filled with nerves on trying to eat, but I knew if I didn’t he would be upset. A few bites later, I was excusing myself once again.

My insides eventually calmed down. And we even shared dessert. My grandfather was someone who always made the best of our time. We had a great visit despite the sour portion of the memory.

Dealing with the gastrocolic reflex

I used to think I had hypermotility. One of my former gastroenterologists explained it is called the gastrocolic reflex or gastrocolic response. Basically, when you take a bite of food or sip of water, your intestines take action causing the need to empty.

My new IBD specialist asked an interesting question, recently. He specifically asked if I feel the need to know where the bathroom is when I enter a building. First, I thought, how odd. Second, I exclaimed, “Since I was like 8!”

He then asked if I do that because I always need a restroom or because it’s a habit. I told him it’s a safety mechanism at this point. Even though in remission for a few years, I have carried-over behaviors from living with active Crohn’s disease for so many years.

I also still live with gastrocolic reflex, although it’s not as severe as it once was. He pointed out there are medications that can help, but so far I’ve declined.

How do you deal with the frustrations of needing to use the bathroom after just taking a few bites of something?

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