As a kid, ages four to ten-ish, my bladder was my nemesis. It was a terrible nag, always making me stop what I was doing to step away to the bathroom, or, god forbid, go inside in the middle of whatever severely important game I was playing at the time. The constant interruptions were exasperating to an active and intense child like myself. Add to that my type 1 diabetes which I have had since I was four years old. Even though I took insulin injections, the diabetes made my blood sugar run higher than a non-diabetic person’s, and one of the symptoms of high blood sugar is increased urination. This constant urine production was part of the most inconvenient system my young mind could imagine because it meant continual interruptions in my regular childhood activities, which I took very seriously.
My activities almost invariably consisted of creating imaginary worlds and immersing myself in them. I could often bring my friends with me into these worlds, but even when I couldn’t I would go there by myself. My worlds that I created always had a lot of characters, all interacting at the same time. Sometimes I would climb a tree and haul up a bunch of my dolls, or sticks or kitchen utensils that approximated the size of a doll, and would create a community that lived in the tree, Swiss Family Robinson style. Often I would engage my friends in a game I invented called “Olden Times.” In this game, one person, “The Townsperson” would stir a pot of stew* (*dirt in my mom’s planter in the front yard) while the other people played “The Newcomer.” The Newcomer would pretend to have smelled the delicious stew from miles away* (*three houses down) and approach The Townsperson. The Townsperson would then welcome The Newcomer to town, show them around the town* (*front yard), and list the town’s invented amenities. Then we switched roles and repeated the process. That was the whole game. I could play this game for a long time after my friends tired of it, and though I don’t specifically remember, I probably forced them to keep playing until I was done. I was a bossy kid. My town tours always had to include a bathroom trip, which irritated me to no end. I resented having to snap back to reality when I was so enjoying being somewhere else.
I invented these games of alternate reality because I was desperate for ambiance in my life. I wasn’t an only child, but my one sibling, my brother, was ten years older than me and had better things to do than humor his tiny energetic sister. My parents were old and chronically tired when I was born, so they wanted things quiet and were difficult to engage. I got tired of being the only one making noise, and I would try everything I could think of to enlist them in activities we could all do together. Unfortunately, there just aren’t a lot of things older-middle aged parents, a seventeen year old, and a seven year old are all interested in. I usually had to settle for being the butt of their jokes, for which I provided plenty of material, or being held down while they all tickled me until I peed my pants – an activity that left such a scar that as an adult I start punching anyone who tickles me. It has ruined more than one man’s day when they attempted a flirty tickle and ended up bleeding. But hey, back then, at least it was family togetherness time.
There was one Sunday afternoon I remember when I was about seven or eight years old. I was in my bedroom reading, and my dad and brother wandered in of their own accord with books or newspapers. I had a tall bed at that time, a twin bed that I raised up to its highest possible setting for no other reason than I thought it was awesome to sleep near the ceiling. I was on the floor under the bed where there was room to sit upright, my brother was on the bed, and my dad was in a chair. I was reading one of my favorite books, I had most of my family voluntarily hanging out with me, and no one was trying to tickle me. I was so happy. Then my son of a bitching bladder tried to ruin it.
(Actually I didn’t learn to cuss until I was in high school, but even if I didn’t have the words yet, I was cussing my stupid bladder for trying to ruin my beautiful moment.)
I had to pee, but I was not ready to interrupt my peaceful happy family time, so I ignored it. My bladder insisted. I changed the way I was sitting and continued to ignore it. My bladder said, “I’m not fucking messing around here, find. A. Toilet.” I started sweating. I didn’t make a sound for fear of everyone leaving because of the kid and her stupid needy body functions. My bladder started to spasm, surely out of spite. I decided I wasn’t going to be able to wait much longer, so I stopped reading and just memorized the moment and the happy feeling I was having, stretching it out as long as I possibly could. My stomach started to hurt. I started sweating more. I tried to move to get up but I couldn’t, I was now doubled over in pain, still not making a sound. I started crying, grieving the loss of my normal family moment, and then I threw up. From quiet peace to vomit: I am still the reigning queen of the graceless segue.
My brother ran away as fast as he could, and my dad sighed, folded his paper, and went to get my mom. By this time I had peed my pants and was crying and refusing to move from under the bed. That’s the last I remember of the scene, the beauty of a moment dissolving in tears, piss, and vomit. Realistically, had I just gotten up, peed, and come back, they probably wouldn’t even have noticed. But because I was feeling the happiness in real life that I usually only found in the imaginary worlds, and because I was still incensed with my overachieving bladder for interrupting a town tour the previous day, I tried to ignore my body’s need. I wanted to spend a moment without catering to one of my body’s needs. Blood sugar finger sticks, insulin shots, eating specific things at specific times, peeing, vomiting, drinking, getting sick at the slightest provocation, growing hair, I wanted it all to leave me alone! I wanted to be normal! I wanted it bad enough to ignore a basic life function to the point of illness and damage to myself.
It’s a cycle of which I may never be completely free, but over the past few decades I have learned more productive coping mechanisms. I still need the ambiance in my life, and I seek out situations where there are many colorful things going on at the same time. Silence among people who are together still makes me extremely uncomfortable. I do still have times when I resent the interruptions that the extra needs of my diabetic body pose. I want to finish what I’m working on rather than take a break to test my blood sugar. I want to go to the gym without having to haul around medical equipment and snacks in case my blood sugar drops. I want to live my life without manually performing the job of an organ that is too goddamn lazy to work properly. All these things get in my way, but I no longer dwell on them. I seek out the colorful ambiance in my life instead, and I live for the happy, “under the bed on a Sunday afternoon” moments.
I’m also happy to say that I no longer resent having to pee. I understand science better than I did when I was seven, so I am in fact very thankful that my body eliminates waste as efficiently as it does despite my decades of diabetes. I don’t sing a cheer every time I urinate or anything, but I am a lot more thankful now for the body systems that still run as they are supposed to. God help you if you try to tickle me, though. I aim for faces.