A “former shy bladder sufferer of over 40 years” wrote in to us to address the question as to what “major life activity” is substantially limited by possessing a "shy bladder"?   Read her comment:


“I am happy to answer your question. As a result of having this condition, I missed out on all kinds of life-affirming activities and opportunities.


As a teenager, I couldn’t attend friends’ sleepovers or a summer camp. I even had to ask my parents to leave our home on those occasions when I wasn’t able to urinate there.


Upon leaving for college, I spent the first 2 weeks in a student health center because I could not use the dormitory’s restrooms.


Embarking on a professional career, I had to ensure a job didn’t require travel as a prerequisite. I am grateful that drug testing was not an issue back then because I could not have produced a urine specimen as a pre-condition for employment.


Dating was problematic. It meant that I had to limit the amount of time I could spend with someone to 10-12 hours before my bladder felt like it would burst.


Gradually, over a period of time as my condition progressively worsened and health care professionals were unable to treat it, I learned to avoid using public restrooms almost altogether and ultimately reached a point where I was afraid to leave my home with my own private bathroom for more than a few hours at a time.  On a day-to-day basis, I coped for years by holding in my urine for long periods, refrained from drinking liquids, made sure I urinated at home before leaving, and excelled at locating unoccupied or single-occupancy public bathrooms. When I was unable to urinate after a very long period of time (in one case 30 hours), I resorted to catheterization, whether performed by someone else or on myself.


The physical and psychological toll that paruresis took on my life was enormous. I realize it is often difficult for those who can urinate effortlessly to comprehend its magnitude. But just ask the millions of us who experience the daily trauma of not being able to urinate when others are around for their response to the question you have posed.


The point I really want to make is that paruresis is a "spectrum disorder" based upon the extent to which the condition controls or interferes with one’s life.


For someone with a mild case, it can be no more than a nuisance or inconvenience, not something to be overcome. On the other hand, someone with a severe case feels intense anguish about going to the bathrooms when other people are around.


The goal of the International Paruresis Association (www.paruresis.org), of which I am an active member, is to raise public awareness about the condition, provide support, and give out the latest information. Please visit the organization’s website for further information.  Sincerely, Carol Olmert; Author, ‘Bathroms Make Me Nervous’ "