As it turns out, my friend is not alone. As noted in The Atlantic this week, "pee shyness" (also known as shy bladder syndrome or by its clinical term, paruresis) is classified as a social anxiety disorder in the DSM V. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort while urinating in public to a physical inability to pee when other people are present. An estimated 21 million Americans suffer from paruresis, or its poo-related variant, parcopresis — including one Ms. Oprah Winfrey.
Experts connect the disorder to performance anxiety. It makes sense, especially when you consider the way we're all conditioned to think about potty-training (and potty-going in general). In an interview with The Atlantic, Nick Haslam, author of Psychology in the Bathroom, says, “We are socialized from an early age to control excretion and taught that failures of control are embarrassing and humiliating." There's also "an entirely adaptive and evolved aversion to bodily waste," Haslam notes, "which is linked to disease and contamination. To some degree there will always be some anxiety and disgust attached to excretion."
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One anonymous interviewee says she's conquered her pee shyness by covering her ears in particularly stressful lavatory situations. But, as one R29er with a notoriously bashful bladder says, the worst part is the attention she receives (or perceives?) from others regarding her condition. "Once you start having an issue, you just imagine that everyone's judging you, and it gets so much worse from there." Don't worry, girl — if it can happen to Oprah, it can happen to anyone.