There are things you expect to get in your 30s. Aching joints, for instance, trouble sleeping, problem conceiving, or eyesight issues.
What you don’t expect is an irritable bladder. Who even knew that was a thing?
I mean, I’ve seen those commercials about meds which can help with urinary urgency, but I never thought I’d been considering them so soon. And as a 30-year-old who’s never given birth, I expected my bladder to be in tip-top condition.
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago, and my most severe relapse to date caused damage from the waist down.
My sensation disappeared from both legs altogether at first, and although I was never incontinent, I couldn’t feel anything in what my bestie calls my "netherbeast." Which was obviously terrifying.
But gradually, through treatment and exercise, sensation began to return, and although I have flare-ups, the problems with my legs are pretty typical for a person with MS. Pins and needles are an everyday occurrence.
During this time, I started to need to use the restroom more and more frequently. At its worst, I was needing to pee every half an hour. I never ventured far from a toilet, and this made me pretty miserable.
It’s not the worst thing that can happen to a person, but as indignities go, toilet issues are not fun.
It’s embarrassing to be constantly excusing yourself, and although my friends got used to it, it was just plain annoying. When I went to the theater, I’d have to use the restroom before the movie, approximately twice during the movie, and immediately after.
Having sex meant regular breaks. My boyfriend is super chill so this was no problem, but every time we changed position, I’d need to run to the bathroom. I thought that this was an issue I’d have forever.
So I did what any self-respecting person with a chronic illness does. I emailed my nurse specialist. Luckily, she was holding a "bladder clinic" the next day (yes, bladder clinics are a real thing).
It was a massive relief to know I was getting checked out and that I might find a way to deal with this issue that was taking over my life.
My nurse and the bladder specialist (cool job title, bro!) chatted with me about my bladder. By this point, I was no longer embarrassed to talk about it.
The first thing they flagged was the amount of caffeine I drink (or used to drink, sad face). Fizzy drinks are an incredible bladder irritant and I was living on Coke.
If I felt under the weather in the morning, and this was most mornings since MS tires you out, I’d self-medicate with Coca Cola. It’s what got me through the day. So the news that soda could be making me need to go to the toilet so damn much was terrifying.
And soda wasn't the only problematic drink on the list. Fruit juice, alcohol, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and fruits including tomatoes, grapefruit, lemon and oranges were all part of the problem. It was a fucking long list.
The nurse and bladder specialist both reiterated that giving up these irritants, or most of them, could help my bladder. The alternative? Taking a daily medication for it and self-catheterizing several times a day.
I’d done many things for my MS, including agreeing to a monthly medication which carried the risk of causing a severe brain infection, but catheterizing myself was not something I was ready for.
I realize that this is a reality for many people, and may well be for me one day. But the threat of catheterization gave me the fear needed to commit to cutting irritants out of my diet.
Next they scanned my bladder, which was a lot like having a sonogram. They squirted the jelly on my stomach and looked for my bladder on the screen. They then measured the liquid currently in it, and although it wasn’t excessive, it was above a normal level.
I opted to try the new, irritant-free diet, and agreed to come back to another bladder clinic (still a real thing) in two months.
If you’ve ever quit caffeine, you know how much it sucks. I’ve read studies that say a person’s brain gets so used to having caffeine, that without it, their personality may be completely different.
I went cold turkey on everything — soda, hot drinks, alcohol — and the headaches started immediately. Out of pure desperation, I buckled and had a Starbucks latte, and found that my bladder was fine.
It’s been total trial and error in this respect. I can’t drink any form of tea without needing to visit the restroom, but coffee is, lucky for me, totally fine. And thank god. Life without it is really not worth living, sorry.
Now, I crave water. I never thought I’d become one of those disgusting people who drink only water, but I’m there and it’s actually fine.
I thought I’d miss Coke forever, but I’m good without it. Knowing that my body and bladder and so much better is enough to spur me on. I’ll probably have some gin at Christmas (Santa would want that), but otherwise it’s coffee and water for me from now on.
When I went back for my follow-up appointment, it was so satisfying to relay the news: Sometimes I hadn’t had to use the restroom for several hours at a time! And I was no longer getting up two or three times in the night.
It’s not always perfect — some foods must affect me because sometimes I get unexplained flare-ups — but for the most part, I’m better.
The moment of truth when they scanned my bladder was brilliant. It was almost empty (25ml as opposed to 90ml, for those in the know).
Trying to locate my bladder on the sonogram screen was the best.
“There’s the baby!” the nurse shouted, to which I wanted to scream, “What. The. Fuck?!” Luckily, she meant my bladder.
That beautiful black space on the scan, not irritated by soda or copious amounts of tea. Just chillin’. Finally.