Listen to the Ali on the Run Show!
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A Plea From A Girl With Crohn's: Please Let Me Use Your Bathroom
This past Sunday, I woke up feeling determined.
I was going to go to a spin class!
Other than the marathon and a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, I haven’t been up for much in the fitness department. Running and other high-impact workouts don’t generally agree with my stomach, and sometimes all the twisting and inverting in yoga makes that an undesirable option, too. But if I can get to a studio, I tend to do OK on a spin bike. I’m close to a bathroom at all times, it’s low impact, and my worst case scenario is hopping off my bike mid-class to use the bathroom. Manageable, right?
So I psyched myself up to head into Manhattan on Sunday for a class, hoping for the best and planning for the worst.
I left the apartment with plenty of time to make all the usual bathroom stops between home and the studio. (I’m not new around here. I’m a pro at planning this stuff and timing it all accordingly.)
I was doing fine on the five-minute walk from my apartment to the ferry station until about four minutes in. Then it was clear that I’d need to hustle and use the bathroom at the ferry terminal. NBD, because those bathrooms are awesome. There are tons of stalls, it’s never crowded, and it’s pretty clean.
But then one of my nightmare scenarios happened: I got to the bathroom only to find it barricaded by a CLOSED FOR CLEANING sign.
I had two options: have an accident on the floor in the middle of the terminal, or bust into the men’s room next door and hope not to get caught.
I wasn’t particularly into either of those ideas, so I went with a third panicky option: I tossed the CLOSED sign aside and ran into the bathroom anyway, immediately locking myself in the closest stall and doing what I had to do.
And I immediately got screamed at by the person cleaning the bathroom — while I was doing my thing. He laid into me, and I responded mid-Crohnsing from behind the stall door, saying I was so sorry and that it was an emergency. He said he didn’t care, he had to do his job, the bathroom was closed for a reason, get out, etc.
He yelled at me for the entire 30 seconds I was in there and then, after I left (feeling very, very embarrassed), he continued to berate me in front of a big crowd of people. For going to the f-ing bathroom. I apologized again and, again, explained that it was an emergency, and that the alternative would’ve been a far bigger issue for both of us. But he did not care for my explanation or my urgent situation.
By the time I got on the boat, I was furious. This disease is embarrassing enough on its own. There are so many “unattractive” symptoms that come along with having Crohn’s disease. The last thing I need in this world is to get screamed at for using a bathroom in an emergency.
(Also, seriously dude? Calm down. My god.)
I’ve been denied bathroom access at countless Starbucks locations (those used to be sure things, but now most of the ones in NYC either have keypad locks or are “for employees only”), yelled at for taking too long in a stall at SoulCycle (by a fellow rider, not an employee, and to this day I hate that bitch), and reduced to tears in the middle of a J.Crew after begging to use the employee restroom (which I know isn’t open to the public, but I wouldn’t have asked if it weren’t an actual emergency) and being told no. And it’s not just in New York: This happens everywhere, and often.
I am so tired of this happening. I’m tired of people not giving a damn when I say it’s an emergency. I’m tired of lying and saying I’m pregnant to try and gain access to “employees only” bathrooms. I’m tired of crying tears of embarrassment after being turned away — again — and having to stress about having an even more embarrassing accident.
Any doctor or Crohn’s kid will tell you that stress plays a key factor with this disease, and almost certainly exacerbates any existing or dormant symptoms. I’m constantly seeking ways to better manage any stress that comes my way, but WTF am I supposed to do in these very stressful and very common situations during which I have no control?
Yes, there are laws in some states (check out the Restroom Access Act, also known as Ally’s Law; the law has not been passed in New York or New Jersey), and yes, there are cards you can get from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation that say “I CAN’T WAIT.” But when it’s an emergency, I don’t have the time to try and convince a disgruntled or unsympathetic person that I have a disease or it’s the law or I have this card that says I have to go, here let me show it to you real quick! Trust me, I’ve tried. Sometimes an employee might say, “Let me ask my manager,” but at that point it’s too late.
I do my best to avoid these situations and to only be places where I know there will be available bathrooms. But I can’t just stay home forever, and sometimes things come up — like a bathroom you always depend on is closed for cleaning in the exact minute you absolutely need it.
Part of me gets it. I get that in New York City, employees don’t want homeless people using their bathrooms. I get that — kind of. (I also believe that homeless people are still people, and all people need bathrooms.) I get that stores or restaurants want you to be a patron before using their amenities. But also, come on. It’s a bathroom. I’m asking to use your toilet because I really need it. I’m not asking for a free side of fries and a quick back massage while I’m in there.
I don’t share this story (er, rant) for sympathy or to complain. I do it, no matter how embarrassing these stories may be, because I want more people to be aware of this disease and its complications. The more people that know about Crohn’s or similar conditions, the less likely I am to have to beg to use a locked bathroom at Starbucks.
Going to the bathroom should not be something to be ashamed of. I may have Crohn’s and I may have more urgent and awful situations than many, but everyone poops. You can cringe at the word, you can think I’m “gross,” but you go, too. Maybe you don’t talk about it, but you do it. Your significant other does it. Everyone does it.
I’m not expecting some #normalizepooping revolution to happen here. I don’t need that. I would just really love it if people guarding public restrooms had a little more compassion and asked fewer questions sometimes. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need it.