Behind Closed Doors
When I was young I had a crippling toilet phobia. I found public toilets terrifying. Especially the ones at school and after school care. I don’t know where or why it started, but it seemed to escalate in the later years of primary school. This resulted in some embarrassing episodes; car rides home with the window down and peeing my pants while trying to get the key in the front door.
I had to develop a toilet code in order to survive and thought I was alone until recently.
I always talk to myself in public loos, I try to keep it down to a whisper, but it must be fairly creepy to other stall dwellers. I strategise about which stall to go in. I talk myself through the horror.
Number one is no good. Too obvious and has probably been soiled all day by lazy people who don’t want to make it to another stall. The last stall is obviously a pooh stall, so I avoid that one so people don’t think I am going number two’s, even if I am. The safest stall is a middle one, especially if it’s an odd number cubicled bathroom, so if there are five, I go to the middle one. Then if two more people come in, they go to cubicle one and five, so we all have a space between. The problem is, other patrons don’t have strict bathroom protocol like me and always fuck it up.
If I have the luxury of being in the bathroom alone, I browse a few cubicles before settling on my choice and locking the door. Even then, I might change my mind. If the seat is wet or warm, it’s a deal breaker.
My two worst situations are when someone enters their cubicle at the same time as me in an otherwise empty bathroom. The silence is deafening. I get terrible stage fright and can never wee. I usually exit the stall, wash my hands and hang around till they are gone and try again. (I never just sit there waiting, as they could be doing the same thing and there is nothing worse than a toilet Mexican standoff.)
My second nightmare situation is at work. When I have to go number two, I always seem to pick the moment my boss also wants to use the loo. Choosing the right moment is an agonising decision and it takes time, so when I finally head for the loo, it’s usually a bit desperate. Inevitably my boss will also select just that moment to follow me into the bathroom. She always looks so calm and confident, as though she hasn’t spent the best part of the morning plotting her toilet strategy. When this happens, I usually pretend that I have something in my eye and have a look in the mirror, before scuttling off, in a cold sweat, to a bathroom on another floor.
How do men pee in front of each other? I have always been amazed and baffled by their ability to whip out their bits in front of strangers and wee without a second thought. The worst thing about men’s loos is that if a guy goes into a cubicle, he is instantly and silently accused of either crapping or being a weirdo who doesn’t like flashing his penis in public. To a man, I don’t know what is worse.
My mum works in a high powered corporate environment, and when she goes to the loo, she checks out women’s shoes to see who the pooher is. She then chuckles quietly to herself as they strut around the office looking prim and proper, as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth. You have to wonder where my toilet hang-ups come from.
Recently I was invited to a dinner party, and as the night wore on we all confessed our secret toilet rituals. It felt liberating to unload some of my bathroom baggage. One friend was a frequent phantom pooher on other levels of her office building. Scott is obsessed with germs and wraps toilet paper around every handle as he exits the bathroom. Carly spoke of hiding from a colleague for months after an awkward toilet moment involving a nasty smell and lame cover up. Oh we did laugh.
The only problem with talking toilet etiquette is that when you need to pee during the conversation, you get rather paranoid that people are talking about your ablutions while you are in the loo. This brings on stage fright, which means you spend longer in there, which suggests to the other guests, that you are poohing, which we all agreed at a dinner party, is a no-no. You emerge looking sheepish, which, we decided, is also another sign of guilt.
I now have a daughter and hope that she doesn’t share the same fear and obsession with toilets that I do. I have wasted so much time stressing about something that is completely natural and unavoidable. A friend recently bought her a mustard coloured t-shirt that says ‘Everyone Poohs’ in dark brown lettering. It has a picture of an elephant smiling as he/she lays a cable. The elephant looks so free and triumphant, flushed with pride.
It made me wonder if you can teach an old dog new tricks. I have decided to take a leaf out of the elephant’s book and relax my controlling bathroom code because, as the t-shirt states boldly: Everyone Poohs.
Written by Kristen Toovey.
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