I was very sad to read your post. I can definitely sense your pain and see that this is something that rules your life in the same way it rules mine. Just this weekend it ruined my plans to go out for New Year’s. I spent last night crying myself to sleep because, after three days of houseguests, I was in a lot of pain from not going. I'm sure you've been in many similar situations over the years.
I agree with you on the medication bit, because I don't see how something systemic could help with a problem as specific as this. If they did make a pill to help us, it would probably cause us to shed all our inhibitions and act like fools. I do take the drug Buspar for anxiety and on occasion it will help me relax enough to go if I'm feeling hyped up, rushed or nervous, but of course, it only helps if I'm alone. If there was someone around, a much larger dose might help, but I fear it would put me to sleep right there on the toilet!
I'm curious if you've experienced the phenomenon of being able to go within minutes of becoming alone, like immediately after your houseguests (or family) leaves. I just spent three days with guests, and within 10 minutes of their departure, I had to go. In fact, I've gone 3 or 4 times since they left today!
In your post, you say you don't want to live the rest of your life like this. While I feel the same way, I really don't know what to do. I've been wracking my brain to come up with ideas. I spent 7 years married to a man who left the house for me every time I needed 'alone time'. While it helped me survive, I sort of feel like it enabled me to perpetuate the problem.
At this point, and with my current boyfriend, (who may someday live with me) I've taken the attitude that I will not start down that path again. I laid crying in bed with him last night, and while he offered several times to leave, I said 'no' because I would rather suffer now and work on getting over this than take the easy way out. Now, I don't think I deserve a medal or anything, because I knew he was leaving today anyway. I just have this instinctive feeling that I'm going to have to face this head on and force myself to confront the situations I fear most.
The problem with this plan is that there's really no way I can think of to set myself up for an extended period of time with people around. I live alone. My boyfriend visits once or twice a month. Other people I know have jobs. My cat is here all day, but she doesn't seem to have an adverse affect on me. I guess if I joined the military or went to jail, it would be sink or swim time, but those aren't very nice options.
At other times, I've wondered if the solution was hidden in the cause. I can't think of any one incident that triggered this, rather a lot of little ones that may have contributed. I definitely think this problem has a genetic component since my mother and her father had the same problem. I was mostly ok when I was a kid. I didn't use the bathroom at school, only at home and at a select few homes of relatives. But for the most part, it wasn't a big issue. Even when I started college and had female roommates, I was a bit shy about it, but I could still go when I really needed to.
The first time I can remember it being a big problem was when I had my first live-in boyfriend. That's when it went full-blown. I started holding it... consciously 'putting it off'. It seemed harmless at first. But consciously holding it turned into subconsciously holding it and that's what I think I'm still doing some 15 years later.
I can remember many times when he was home and I would start to feel the urge, I would have lots of anxiety. The urge = great anxiety. Suppressing the urge meant relief from the anxiety. I can remember thinking, 'I don't want to go in his presence.' (You know what I mean.) The anxiety I felt over the idea of smelling up the place, making a fart noise, or somehow giving away that I was pooping was far worse than the physical pain of holding it. So with enough practice, I guess I turned this whole thing over to my subconscious mind. I got really good at suppressing the urge altogether.
I have this book called "Dying of Embarrassment". It's about social and other phobias. One of the things I thought was interesting is that it describes a phobia as being a fear of the anxiety one has about a particular thing. It's not the thing, but the anxiety the thing causes. The book claims that people avoid their phobia-causing-things as a way to avoid the anxiety those things cause. Ok, so I can buy that.
Now, why on God's green earth are we afraid to do something as natural as breathing (though a lot less glamorous)? I've extrapolated a possible reason from the book's explanation of the origin of 'social phobias'(fear of public speaking, eating in front of others, talking to the opposite sex, etc.).
The book says that all social phobias stem from an exaggerated fear of what others think about us. This makes so much sense to me. I had this exaggerated fear of what Mr. Live-in boyfriend would think about me if I pooped. Now, why did this normal feeling last past the fourth date?
First, and this is hard to admit, but I think I felt the need to be perfect all the time because I thought that if I wasn't, he might not like me anymore and would leave me. (I know this is getting deep and you probably think I'm overanalyzing. But I also think that's part of why I have this problem. I overanalyze everything!)
Ok, so now here I am, afraid this boyfriend will find out that I'm really this normal, average person who is not perfect. And by not perfect what I mean is that even though I'm really good at keeping house, working hard, looking nice, being nice, etc, etc., what I cannot control is making stinky poop. And, that...is a bad thing. But wait, I can control that! And so, my unconscious mind kicks into high gear, follows me into the bathroom (or, keeps me out of it) to help me avoid my fear of appearing imperfect so my boyfriend won't leave me. Geeze!
As I see it, this bathroom issue is the extension of two bigger problems that affect much more of my life that it alone. That's a big statement considering how much of a problem the bathroom thing is.
Yes, I'm terribly afraid of what people think about me. I'm very afraid of disapproval from others. I would like everyone to think I'm perfect (even though I know I'm not). I'm very afraid of public speaking, but try relentlessly to avoid others finding out. I'm afraid to share my feelings with friends especially when it comes to feelings I have about my shortcomings. If I share my feelings about my faults, they'll find out I have faults!
I try really hard to control what others think about me in lots of situations. I have 'issues' with control, too. I like to be in control of things... most all things. I want to drive the car. I want to make the plans. I want to pick the wallpaper. Don't dare try to tell me what to do. I'll appear to go along, because I want you to think I'm perfect, but on the inside, I'll be scathing mad.
Ok, so now that I've boiled this down into something I can logically understand, but can't fathom fixing, what I wonder is if I could somehow take this bathroom issue out of the equation. By that, what I mean is that in order for me ever to be able to use the bathroom in close proximity to another human being, I would have to just not care. Not care one bit what they think about me at that moment. Pretend that I have a free pass for that one event that does not count toward what people think about me. This sounds really hard but potentially doable.
Given that you now know that I overanalyze, I'm tempted to delve into the reasons why I have issues with perfection and control. Oddly enough, long before I found this site and realized that this was a phobia, I recognized that I had these other issues. I'm sure they stem from my childhood. Doesn't everything. I have a brother and a sister who, I'm pretty sure, have some similar issues. They, however, don't share the bathroom problem. Why my brain went there, I don't know. Any more than anyone knows why one person develops cancer and another doesn't. I don't really care about trying to figure that one out. I'll leave that to the scientists.
All I know is that I too, Kelli, refuse to live the rest of my life this way. You mentioned Dr. Phil in your post and maybe you recall him saying that when people hold on to problems, whether they be bad relationships, behavioral issues, drug addiction or whatever, it's because they get something they want out of it. On the surface that sounds ridiculous. Why would someone want to be in an abusive relationship? Dr. Phil said people do it for the security, to avoid being alone, etc. I believe that this too gives me things I want. I want to be in control. I want to 'manage' what people think about me. I want peace and solitude. I want my privacy. I want to be left alone to do things I don't want other people to know about. This bathroom problem gives me things I want...at a very high price.
I want to travel and stay in motels with my boyfriend too, though. I want to visit my parents. I want to go out to dinner with people! And, when I actually want these things bad enough, I think I'll get better. But, I'm not there yet.
Please don't think I'm saying this problem is your fault or anyone's fault, because we definitely did not choose to have it, but I do think it is a problem that started in the mind and has to be overcome in the mind.
Good luck to you!