Managing feelings and relationships

If you have a bowel or bladder problem, you might think you're the only one who does.

Wee and poo problems are embarrassing and most people don't like talking about them. You may feel alone, isolated and different from your friends.

But you're not alone. In the UK, around 900,000 young people aged 5-19 years have a continence condition (source: PCF Paediatric Continence Commissioning Guide 2014).

So there are probably other people at your school or college who have the same problem, but you just don't know who they are.

Should I tell my friends?

Deciding whether to tell your friends about your bowel or bladder problem can be scary, but it can be helpful to talk to someone you trust and it can make you feel less alone. If you're not ready to tell them or you prefer they didn't know, that's fine too.

Here are some stories from teenagers who have wetting or soiling issues.

Some decided not to tell their friends and others had a positive experience when they told them.

I’m worried they won’t understand...

I don’t think they would understand how much it really affects me and the full extent of the problem. They might just make fun of me. I would be fine with that, but I just don’t think it’s worth telling them, really, because I don’t think they would understand. (Sophie, age 18)

I’m worried they would treat me differently...

I just don’t know if I could tell them because I feel like even if I explained completely and said how it’s not my fault and how I have no control over it, they'd still look at me differently. I’m not sure. (Holly, age 17)

I hoped it would get better so I wouldn’t have to tell anyone...

I guess I’ve just always had the hope that it would get better and that this is the worst it will be, so I’ve thought that it wouldn’t be necessary to tell anyone. I’m worried that if I did tell my teachers, then they might consequently treat me a bit differently, like allowing me to go to the toilet but not other people. If one of my friends found out, then I feel like I'd be able to explain to them and it would be OK. I get on well with most people, but there are people I wouldn’t want to know that I’ve got this problem. (Julia, age 18)

What was it like to tell friends?

It was a big relief...

I was really relieved. It was a massive weight off my shoulders, because I’d been wanting to tell them for a while. And it was like ‘How do I tell them? What do I say? What if they don’t like me anymore? Oh my God!’ And then I told them and they were like, ‘All right then’. And I was like, ‘Thank God for that’, you know, they weren’t weirded out that much. (Daisy, age 16)

It got easier to tell other people...

I think at first, it was quite scary, and it probably was a bit embarrassing. But I think it was never something that I was ashamed of, as such. It got easier, once I confided in one friend, to tell other people. (Theo, age 17)

He stood by my side...

I felt good about getting it off my chest. I did speak about it with my family a lot, but this was the first person that I’d ever told at school. So I thought, ‘Why not?’, because then he will take me as the person that I am, not who he wants me to be. Then he really understood me and stood by my side when I needed him. (Zach, age 14)

I was afraid but it was a bit of a non-event...

I was always afraid at school that people would make fun of you or they would just not want to be friends with you any more. But I told this friend of mine at college and it was like a complete non-event, because he had no reaction at all, he was just like, ‘Yes, that’s fine’. I think it’s more the fears inside my head, you know, and people’s reactions. If I told lots of other people it would probably be exactly the same. (Ollie, age 19)

How do I tell my friends?

Telling friends about your bowel or bladder problem can be scary. If you're not sure what to say or how to tell your friends, here are some tips from other teenagers:

  • Plan what you want to say. You could write this down or practise at home.
  • You can ask someone you trust to help you tell your friends or be there to support you.
  • Think about what questions your friends might ask you and be prepared to answer them.
  • Be clear about who you want to know. If you don't want your friends to tell anyone else, ask them not to
  • Take a deep breath and go for it!

Advice from other teenagers

We asked teenagers with bowel or bladder issues what they would say to someone else with the same problem. Here's what they said...

Don’t get upset over it. I used to get quite upset. If you see a doctor and they give you different things to try, then just try all of them because one of them might work for you even if you've heard it didn’t work for other people. (Celia, age 16)

Be yourself definitely. Don’t let it define you, let it strengthen you. You've just got a hurdle in your life that you need to get over. So let it make you the person you are, don’t let it weaken you. (Jason, age 14)

It’s not your fault. It's not that you've done something wrong. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. If you’re being bullied about it, then do something. (Paul, age 14)

I'd say don’t let it get in the way of everyday life. I try not to, I don’t think it does that much. I'll still go to town with my friends and I'll still do the things I want to do. I just try and take precautions beforehand. (Amy, age 16)

It’s okay, there are other people who also have this kind of issue. You don’t have to be afraid of it. (Edith, age 14)

Don't think that it’s just a problem for older people and little kids because, inevitably, you’ll end up feeling like you’re abnormal. That’s how I’ve felt. Just try to accept the situation as it is and don't compare yourself to other people your age. For all I know, there might be other people in my year who have got the same problem. (Sarah, age 18)

I think the advice I would give is don’t ignore it, because if you ignore it, the problem will never go away. You should never be embarrassed to talk to somebody about it, because there’s always somebody else that’s got the same problem as you and if you don’t talk to anybody then nothing will ever change. (Edward, age 13)

I would say if you’re getting bullied and you’re not coping very well with the problems that you have, you don’t have to worry, you just have to speak with your mum and dad or your teachers, or somebody that you really trust. (Harry, age 13)

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