Public Restrooms

If I had to trace my fear of public restrooms back to a certain event, it would probably be when I was 8-years-old and  walked into the Men’s Restroom at Epcot. Confused by the abundant number of sinks, my little brain didn’t realize the my blunder until seeing a man walk out of one of the stalls. I ran out with my beet red face hung low–too mortified to even go to the correct restroom to pee. After regaining my composure enough to rejoin my family, I made an agreement with myself, “We tell no one.”

Twenty plus years removed from the incident, it feels great to get that one off my chest. And most public restrooms don’t actually bother me at all unless we’re talking about using the restroom at a restaurant.

My bladder has to be there-is-no-way-you’re-making-it-home-without-peeing-first-painfully-uncomfortable full before I’ll use the bathroom at a restaurant. Even then, I may just cross my legs and hold it.

I try not to let it get that far. But I’ll be enjoying conversation with friends and have an attentive server who always fills up my Coke Zero. Next thing I know, I have to pee.

Ok, Sarah, just be cool. Don’t panic. Nonchalantly look around and try to locate the restroom. This restaurant is huge and they seated us in some side room. I’m on the inside of the booth. Everyone is going to have to get up to let me out. What if I walk into the kitchen by accident? Why aren’t there signs that clearly mark where the bathroom is? I’m going to have to ask the server. Where is the server? She was so attentive before and now she’s hiding. She just walked by but didn’t stop. Now I’m going to have to get her attention and then let her in on my dark secret–I too, like all humans, have to use the bathroom when I drink too much soda. 

“Excuse me.” Don’t raise your hand like an idiot. She’s not your teacher. “Excuse me. Yes. Hi. Where is the bathroom?”

Out into the main dining area, to the left, behind the bar. Ok. But I can’t get up and go now because everyone is eating and they’d all have to move. I’ll wait. I can wait. I wander if it’s a single restroom or if it’s one with multiple stalls. What if it’s a single, and I walk in on someone because I didn’t hear them say it was occupied? What do I say then? Nothing. You say nothing, close the door and run. What if I’m using the bathroom and someone walks in on me? What do I say when they knock? This seat’s taken? Occupied? Just a second? I bet I can just hold it. Well not if everyone keeps talking and laughing and having a great old time.

We’re all finished eating. Now would be a great time to go. Oh no. Now she’s bringing us our checks. I don’t want to be missing for that. Then everyone will have to wait on me. But I’ll still hold everyone up if I wait until we’re done paying. Stop making excuses, Sarah. You’re a grown woman. Get up and go to the bathroom.

“I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”

Why were you so worried? Nobody looked mad about having to move. Now I just have to walk through a sea of strangers and not fall on my face. To the left, past the bar… Oh look, there’s the restrooms sign. Almost there. Survey the doors. This looks like your standard multi-stall restaurant bathroom. Praise. This one says Ladies…and we’re in. That wasn’t so bad. Now just make sure you don’t have toilet paper stuck to your shoe before you leave, and you’re golden.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the only person who puts this much thought into going to the restroom at a restaurant. But I’d be willing to bet there are other anxieties in your life that take up valuable time in your thoughts.

None of my anxious thoughts about using restaurant restrooms have actually come to fruition, and if they did, it wouldn’t kill me. They have distracted me from friends and fun and meaningful conversation though.

That’s the thing about fear–it rarely keeps us from real danger, but it will keep us from living if we let it.* So how about we stop letting fear trick us? I wish it were that simple. I wish we could just flip a switch in our brains and stop being afraid.

But then I think about all the times I haven’t let fear stop me. Without fear, I wouldn’t know brave I can be.

No, we can’t get rid of it. We will have to dance with fear our whole lives, so we need to learn to take the lead.

So I dare you to practice being brave and taking the lead, even if it’s doing something as small as getting up and walking confidently to the restroom when you’ve had too much Coke Zero at Chili’s.

*Some fears are completely valid and shouldn’t be ignored–like when I was wandering alone in a parking garage the other day because I had lost my car, and a guy pulled up and asked me if I wanted him to drive me around to help me look. He was probably a nice guy and had the best intentions. But that wasn’t an opportunity to be brave; it was an opportunity to be stupid. Be brave and smart.


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