I’ve been sick this week with a bladder infection. And as I was getting my blood drawn, I did the usual: roll up my sleeve on my right arm (it has the better veins), politely request a small needle because I have tiny veins, clench/unclench my fist a bunch, and look for something coming up. I got the same look I always get from the tech, which is a cross between “You’ve done this before?” and “I hope you don’t do heroin.” (I don’t.) I’ve just had my blood drawn a time or two – hundred.
I was always sick with something when I was younger. And when I was about 5 years old, I developed two things: 1. An overactive imagination, and 2. An E. coli infection in my bladder that spread to my kidneys. Yes, these two are related.
Around this age, I finally started to pay attention to movies. We always watched movies together as a family, but I feel like 5 years old was when I took notice of “real movies” and not the $2 cartoon of Peter Pan that we got as part of “Buy 2 Roast Beef Sandwich Kids Meals and Get a Free Shitty 23 minute Cartoon VHS” promotion at Hardees*. The first movie that I really loved was Batman, and I remember wanting to watch it over and over – oh, and The Ninja Turtles Movie. We watched that movie so often, the tape snapped.
And when you’re little and just figuring out what’s real and what’s not, movies can put you right in that grey area of “I know that’s not real… right?” And at this time that movies were becoming the big influence in my life, there was a lot happening in my nervous child-brain. I started school around this time, I was suddenly terrified of – well, everything. But definitely my most rational fear was getting attacked, killed, and eaten in the bathroom by a host of demons, ghosts, or monsters.
Like, I said, totally rational fear, and a lovely little treat implanted in my head by such cinematic gems as Candy Man – a ghost who comes through the mirror and kills you with a hook? I don’t even have to say his name 5 times. He will come through the mirror and get me as soon as I walk in.
How about Look Who’s Talking Too. I knew toilets couldn’t come alive and threaten to eat me. Or could they?
Drawn shower curtains? Thanks to Psycho and Triology of Terror, I wrote off showers all together. I took baths until I was about 11. They can’t sneak up on you if you’re taking a bath.
And the infamous Ghoulies. I knew tiny monsters didn’t exist. And I knew tiny monsters didn’t come out of toilets to eat you. Or did they?
So thanks, movies. My bathroom fear was serious business.
I don’t remember much about the bathroom in that first pre-school building, except it was old, had high ceilings, no window, and it had bad lighting. And I hated to go in there. It was an exercise in sheer panic to use public bathrooms by myself, and the more I thought about it, the worse it got. I would stand in front of the bathroom door with every hair on my body standing on end, my close-to-exploding bladder willing me to just GO IN ALREADY, but having a million terrified thoughts preventing me from pushing the door open.
The scariest thought was that as soon as I sat on that toilet seat, giant arms covered in scales and patchy, blistery skin would wrap around my torso and stab me with huge claws,, and goblin monsters would come out of toilet and start eating my face. Or when I looked in the mirror, Candy Man would suddenly jump out at me and suck me into his world behind the mirror. I would use the bathroom as quick as I could and BOLT out of there, my heart racing as fast as my brain. It got so bad that I was scared to use any bathroom that wasn’t the guest bathroom in my house. Like, my bedroom was next to the upstairs bathroom, and I still would run downstairs to use the smaller one.
This ultimately led to me needing to pee, but holding it in all day until I got home, or going to the bathroom under extreme distress if I got to the point where an accident was inevitable – which was totally awesome when you’re a kid. I think what made it worse is that I was too ashamed to tell anyone about it. Of course I was – I was the youngest of four and my siblings weren’t weirdly terrified of bathrooms. I was scared of bathrooms, but I was definitely more scared of being made fun of. So I stayed scared, drank less, held it in, got dehydrated, and eventually, I got sick. Like, E. coli infection in my bladder and kidneys sick.
See – I told you they were related.
I don’t remember much about when I was that sick. Probably because I was 5, and probably because I was running a 104* fever and going through fainting spells. But I do remember for years after that, bladder infections felt like a monthly occurrence (ok probably not monthly, but I have quite a few childhood memories involving urine tests). Like, I’m pretty sure the staff working with the paediatric urologists knew my mom’s voice.
Eventually, I talked about my bathroom fear. And eventually I grew up and (mostly**) grew out of the fear, and as I did, I got fewer and fewer bladder infections. They may be few and far between, but now I can read my body like a book. As soon as I get the symptoms, I make a doctor’s appointment. I’ve only been wrong once. And I definitely wasn’t wrong this week.
So coming off the heels of my really rough anxiety patch, I missed basically 3 days of work due to fever, headaches, and a bad reaction to antibiotics. But, thanks to the right antibiotics and time off to rest, I’m feeling much better. And today’s the first day in about 9 days where I’ve felt pretty normal.
My body might be faulty, but at least I’m good at catching the warning signs. And I’ll go ahead and add those movies to a list of “Things I’m Not Showing My Child.” But they’ll probably watch them anyway behind my back. After all, that’s how I saw them.
*I remember watching this tape about 36x day. And one day it mysteriously vanished. Maaaaybe the disappearance had something to do with the fact that the cartoon drove Mom up the wall. Maybe.
**Now I’m just afraid of catching crabs from a toilet seat.