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?

That's what I wear to spin class, too!
That’s what I wear to spin class, too!

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.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.
Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

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.

I wish I didn't relate to this so much...
I wish I didn’t relate to this so much…

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.

My alter ego.
My alter ego.

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.

Dear guy at ferry terminal...
Dear guy at ferry terminal…

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.

(Unrelated: I'm thinking about going back and re-watching The Office from the beginning.)
(Unrelated: I’m thinking about going back and re-watching The Office from the beginning.)

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.




36 Responses

  1. I relate to this (recent diagnosis of colitis), and man it sucks. I feel you. I have lied and even used my kid before to try to gain access to some public places. The best is when places say they “don’t have” bathrooms. I then ask the employees point blank, “really? Where do you go to the bathroom when you’re at work????!” Still haven’t gotten a good response to that one. Keep fighting the good fight. ?

  2. A-fucking-men. Sorry if cursing offends you. My brother has crohns and epilepsy, so this is all up in my wheelhouse. Also, he’s 25 but cognitively 4, so he comes into the women’s restroom with me or my mom. Its fairly clear that he needs help immediately so we don’t always get into hard situations, but has had his colon removed, so while he doesn’t have the flares as much, its almost all liquid…win some, lose some, he doesn’t have a bag yet, so we consider it a win. Its been almost two years since surgery, and we do think his quality of life is better. I’m glad you are taking the chance to go to workouts. do not let that guy stop you, do what you can. thats all we can do.

  3. I would write a letter to someone about this or call. He had no right to act that way. He was completely out of line. Every human has experienced urgent diarrhea in their lives and we all no there is no way of controlling it. If you said it was an emergency, then he should have left you alone.

    Ok, that’s my last comment on this.

  4. WOW. How incredibly rude! Honestly! Did you lay into him a bit? Hearing your story just works me up. Grrr…

    Just a side note, not sure I’d use the men’s bathroom unless it’s a single occupant one. There might be legal issues if you go into a larger men’s restroom.

  5. You should totally talk to that guy’s manager. That is NO way to treat someone, especially when there is a medical reason!!

  6. Amen Ali. Having UC, I can absolutely 100% relate to this. Good on you for spreading awareness; we can only hope store employees will read this and learn to better deal with these situations. EVERYONE FUCKING POOPS!

  7. I think I’ve only commented on your wonderful blog once or twice-I have UC-but had to chime in here for two reasons: 1. Relate to this so much and I’m so sorry you had to deal with that jerk and 2. You must go back and watch The Office from the beginning. My fiancé and I started in January (when there was the huge blizzard-we live in NYC!) and we are on the last season now. It’s the best show to watch a few quick episodes of at the end of the day!

  8. I thought of you this week as I was having a bathroom emergency in Cali (where I work) and no one would let me use their bathroom. I can’t believe you have to deal with this on a regular basis. You’re completely right, that people are just people and emergencies happen. Everyone needs to be more compassionate. I’m lucky to live in WI where people are more compassionate than a lot of other areas of the country. Thanks for sharing and we’ll welcome you any time in WI where midwest neice is often useful :).

  9. Oh Ali, I’m so sorry. People can be so mean. Unbelievable how even an apology doesn’t bring understanding. Sounds like this guy has issues and welcomed this situation to let out his personal frustration. Who enjoys cleaning bathrooms? Don’t let this bring you down. (Hug)

  10. Well said. I remember taking a gf who was having an emergency (something I VERY well related to) to the front of the line at the Napa/Sonoma half. Weird, we still got some funny looks, even cut Meb and his crew in line. But, oh well, screw the starers- everyone has had an emergency poop, right? I keep diapers in my car, not only for my baby, but for me! Not ideal, but has worked. Here’s hoping for smooth sailing ahead. XX

  11. I feel so sad reading this thinking there were probably times in my working retail days that I was following the no customers bathroom rule and turned someone away from the bathroom when I really shouldn’t have. It really should be enough to say “it’s an emergency” or “it’s urgent”… I can’t imagine how stressful those scenarios are for you.

  12. I can’t even imagine living with this disease…I have so much respect for the positive way you live your life, despite dealing with it. Anyway, just wanted to say that this was a great post, and I hope people will be kinder and have more awareness. Love your blog (and your dog!!).

  13. I have a cousin with Crohn’s, so I somewhat know what you mean. I always joke that I know all the good public restrooms in my hometown (Charleston), but I had a very pregnant friend once publicly thank me for letting her know my secrets.

    I do have a little comic relief: my boyfriend once had to stop a campground port-o-let for me and said, if anyone asked, he’d say his wife was pregnant. We laughed because marriage and kids) were certainly not things we were thinking about after several failed relationships and older kids (and grandkids, in his case) between us. Well….never say never 😉

  14. I totally get it!
    I’ve had to beg a convenience store employee to use the employee washroom. It was unclean but I totally didn’t care.
    It is the worst feeling in the world when you think you are so close to relief but the place is closed.

  15. I kind of understand. I sometimes have a lot of “bathroom anxiety” when I’m out (either that I’ll need to pee or that my stomach will get upset; I definitely don’t have Crohn’s, but I’ve always gotten some wicked upset stomachs and have been wondering lately if it might be slight IBS or similar) and will worry about getting to a bathroom in time.

    I once went into an (empty at the time) men’s room at a rest area since the women’s was being cleaned. My husband said he would stand guard but then did/said nothing when a couple men went in. They definitely chuckled when I exited the stall to wash my hands with bright red cheeks (I was kind of embarrassed), but luckily no one yelled at me!

  16. This is related but not related – my mom has been diabetic for most of my life. Type 1 – so she takes insulin, and part of keeping your blood glucose under control is that you risk going low, and bad things happen when you go too low.

    She was picking a friend and me up from the movies (so I was probably 14-ish), and she could tell her blood sugar was dropping but didn’t have any sugar on her. But luckily, we’re at the movies! Except she was only picking us up so she was outside. Obviously she couldn’t wait until we got home, so we tried to explain to the person taking the tickets that, no, we didn’t want to see another movie, but she needed sugar and can we please go to the candy line? Ticket taker said no and my mom begged for a manager, so the manager came and my mom explained and “Yes, of course!” Off to the candy counter line we go. Except that line was super long and having legit low blood sugar sounds like the worst feeling ever (except maybe thinking you’re going to poop your pants), so we begged again to go to the front of the line for candy ASAP. Pretty sure my mom downed an entire bag of M&M’s right next to the candy counter.

    I remember she was embarrassed that she had to beg to go buy some candy – I can imagine how much more embarrassing it would be to beg to use a bathroom. I also think most people probably don’t get it – you’re an adult, you should be able to plan when you use a bathroom or hold it until you can get to one, but Crohn’s doesn’t let you do that!

    I feel like no public bathrooms is like one of those “this is why you can’t have nice things” situations. Wouldn’t it be great to have a public bathroom? Of course! I have to pee at random times just because I drank too much coffee. (My own fault, of course.) But then people take showers in the public bathrooms (seriously – what do homeless people do?) or make a mess of it just because they can and that’s why we can’t have nice things.

    Maybe you could tell the janitor dude about Crohn’s Awareness Week? 🙂

  17. I’m so sorry that happened to you. If I had been there I totes would have stood up for you (even as a stranger) and told that asshat where to go. But since I wasn’t there – you may want to consider speaking to his manager or something? I realize you were embarrassed (no need to be) but seriously his behaviour was way out of line.

    My work place has a policy of letting anyone who comes in to use the bathroom … you know, use it. I don’t understand the restriction of bathroom access. Or why if I really have to go I should first wait in line for 10 minutes for food or drink that I don’t actually want so that I can go. It’s ridonkulous. You sure we can’t start a #normalizepooping movement?

  18. I have never been diagnosed with Chron’s but have very similar issues and girl I feel your pain. The kind souls that let me use restrooms when I desperately needed them are legit heroes. People have no idea what one small gesture can do to make or break someones day. Thank you for continuing to raise awareness!

  19. Wow. I personally would have chosen the men’s room option, been there done that when the women’s hAs a wait lol. You’re right though why should we feel ashamed about having to do something that is natural and we can’t control??

  20. I too am particularly bitchy while at soul cycle in order to counteract all the good vibez and great feelz in the air. And thats also why I take all the hair ties and tampons that can fit in the tiny key-sized pocket of my workout pants. Its called balance Ali, and it makes the word go round.
    Jk love you girl.

  21. I’ve had that happen … the choice of going in the closed bathroom and running over the cleaning person or going to the men’s bathroom. Not going to lie … I headed straight for the men’s room. I was a little weirded out, but less so than if I would have had a wicked accident while waiting!

    Also, I think I’m going to steal #normalizepooping for the rest of CCFA week.

  22. I can completely relate to this because I am 8 months pregnant. I understand that your bathroom visits and mine are much different, but the urgency is REAL. I have almost stopped on the side of the highway to pee, and I have had accidents. I can’t imagine having to go through this bathroom struggle all the time. My thoughts are with you.

  23. Ali – you are doing such a great job of raising awareness. I know I am much more conscious of and sympathetic towards people with Crohns and related diseases than I probably would be if not for your blog.

    Also – HIGHLY recommend re-watching the Office from the beginning. I’m currently doing just that and in Season 6. It holds up so well and is better than most comedies currently on TV.

  24. OMG. I would have punched that bitch in the face. What an asshole! Ugh. I’m so sorry you had to experience that shit. As a fellow Crohn’s person, I just can’t stand that. You were far more graceful about it than I would have been!

    1. I think part of the reason he was so angry was because it was a guy cleaning the bathroom and I ran in, and I’m sure there are rules about not being in the women’s bathroom when there are women in there. Fine, I can get that. But again, it was an ACTUAL EMERGENCY. And I was only graceful because I was shocked and upset (and had a boat to catch). I fantasize about seeing him again and saying all the things I wish I had said…

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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