Nothing has felt like it has saved my life more times than a toilet. I’ve cried, screamed and had panic attacks looking for a restroom in stadiums, nightclubs, court rooms and shopping centres. I’ve slept in them, passed out in them, read massive planning documents in them, begged to die in them and vomited in them – I’ve even considered installing a computer and TV in mine I spend so much time in it.
As I was growing up I spent so much time on the toilet in my parents’ house that the loo was referred to as ‘Rachel’s throne’. Due to my Crohn’s (now confirmed as Ulcerative Colitis) you could say I have spent more time with my toilet than the average Joe on the streets. My porcelain bowl has become a friend and an enemy, at times a welcome relief and at others the site of excruciating pain, which leaves me wanting to tear my insides out.
Even now that I no longer have my ulcerated and disease filled bowel, I still rely heavily on loos. I still rush to them, and panic when I can’t find them. My ostomy bag can fill up extremely quickly, and I guess after 14 years of living with the constant pain of IBD I will never stop clocking the nearest loo wherever I go!
Anyway, today (November 19) is World Toilet Day and I couldn’t let it pass without paying tribute to all the toilets which, at times, have felt like they have saved my life.
We’re all used to the more bizarre ‘Talk like a Pirate Day’, “National Pie Day’ etc, but a day to celebrate loos and bogs? It may sound funny but there is a really serious message behind the calendar date, founded in 2001 by the World Toilet Organisation – I didn’t know they existed either!
They even have a MR TOILET, a remarkable man who has been on a mission to make people stand up and notice the sanitation issue, and THE URGENT RUN, a charity dash to raise awareness, and a comedy competition for the funniest toilet joke, the trailer of which I have put at the top of this post.
On its website the organisation says the day was met with “amusement, ridicule, laughter” but despite all this it continues, in a bid to remind people how lucky they are to have access to clean sanitation, while 1 billion people around the world still openly defecate due to poor sanitation and 2.5 billion people still live without adequate sanitation.
While toilets have shaped my life and having one close by and filled with toilet roll have meant more to me than food and water for years, they are taken for granted by many people on a daily basis. I can’t imagine how my life would have been during my illness and now if I didn’t have a toilet – I guess, despite everything, I’ve really been very lucky. I would probably be dead.
Here’s something exciting for anyone who is heavily reliant on toilets like me! The Great British Toilet Map has been founded, it let’s you know where the nearest public toilets are and which businesses have signed up to the Council’s Community Toilet Scheme – it’s about time!!!!
You see my chronic illness could strike at any time – sat in a murder trial, eating breakfast, queuing for my shopping, partying with friends, sleeping, on an aeroplane – leaving me crippled with pain and with just seconds to find a toilet. I would flush bright red, my heart would start beating ten to the dozen and I would feel like my whole body was going to burst open if I didn’t find a bathroom. Sometimes, naturally, I just wouldn’t make it, and at times I would try to ignore it – mostly when I needed to go for the 10th time in the same number of minutes.
I hesitate to think about how many hundreds of hours of my life I have spent counting tiles, making pictures out of carpets, and trying to make shapes out of wallpaper, in order to try to distract myself from the pain. I’ve sat on some of the most disgusting toilets in the world (the kind you wouldn’t go into unless you are absolutely desperate), tucked my feet up in public loos so I won’t be murdered by drug dealers, and listened to women gossiping about unwanted pregnancies, and awkwardly, about me!
On too many occasions I’ve had to shout out for toilet roll. I’m sure anyone with IBD will have had that horrific moment that you put your hand into the dispenser, and find, well nothing! It is a panic-stricken moment, filled with horror. I always carry spare for that reason, but more than once I’ve run between loos (after checking no one else is in) with my trousers around my knees in search for toilet roll – luckily I always found some.
I’ve used weird, bizarre and lavish toilets on my trips around Europe and the world, including Thailand, France, Italy, Australia, and Singapore. I’ve even used Moaning Myrtle’s toilet – where she shouts and splashes about – in Hogsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter recently.
Of course there is a lot of humour attached to the day, I don’t take offence at that. Sometimes laughter can be the best way of raising awareness, with games like this Usvsth3M quiz and the Youtube comedy competition by Water Aid. But we must not forget the serious message behind this – it’s not all about fart jokes and whoopee cushions but real people with real suffering.