My episodes of sadness and becoming introverted were partially brought on because I had a secret. I was ashamed. And, shame attempted to devour me. No one else knew of my secret except my immediate family—I wet the bed until I was 17 years old.
Physically, I was mature; but mentally, I hadn’t caught up with my body. I didn’t understand, in 5th grade why, seemingly overnight, I grew to be almost 5ft10; I didn’t understand why I had pubic and underarm hair. No one ever explained my metamophosis.
After 5th grade graduation, on the last day of school, I recall going to the local pool playing volleyball in the water with my classmates. Everyone was having fun until someone pointed out “Stephen has underarm hair!” which resulted in everyone pointing and laughing, and requesting me to raise my arms higher so they could see too. I was ashamed and uncomfortable in being me.
I had physically matured so early compared to everyone else. The only great thing I prided myself in was that I was able to buy men’s clothing, instead of boy’s now. It gave me something to boast about. But still yet, I had my secret—mentally, I had not caught up with my body—And, still, I was a bedwetter.
I thought, how much more humiliation would I have to endure? I was already the only black male in the school, the first one preteen (as far as I knew) to have went through puberty. These were things I couldn’t disguise. These were things that were as obvious as the ramifications I would suffer simply because people would see a black man (though I was a boy) and physically mature, but not mentally. No one could ever find out this secret. I had to take control.
It was an unspoken family pact—no one was to discuss it.
As I developed more friends, we’d have sleepovers, as teens do. How embarrassing would it be to wake up in my friend’s bed, or sleeping bag on the floor, and be drenched with urine at age 16? I couldn’t imagine! But, still yet, I wanted and needed to be included in the lives of others. I needed and longed for friends since I already felt like an outsider and different.
I had conjured up a plan—and for the many years I had sleepovers or went to one—the plan worked. The object of the plan was to make sure I never slept when I went to a friend’s house. If I kept them awake, by playing games, talking, pranking people on the phone, eating (or whatever else I could come up with), then I’d never wet the bed. I’d always be conscious and in control of my bladder. And, in short, no one ever found out. I have a funny feeling mom probably called my friend’s parents to give them a heads up. Perhaps not. The situation has me thinking if I had a child with the same condition, what would I have done? I think that a quick visit to the doctor, a few quick tests, or even a year’s supply of medication would have stopped the bedwetting, resulting in the end of my shame, my personal hell. But, as an adult and because I’m childless, I’m not sure what I would do unless I were thrown into that situation. So, I truly can’t decide what is right or wrong for parenting.
It’s amazing, though, how even at a young age one can be so strategic just because they were terrified of public opinion. For all I know, my male friends were probably going through the same thing—but none of us ever discussed it. Perhaps not. But, then, this is what I told myself, to convince myself not to have as much shame. But still, this secret was something that was uncontrollable. Once I fell asleep, I was so deep into the sleep, and so comfortable that I would lose control of my bladder functions. I’d not even know until I woke up the next morning. It was kind of like an odd routine, customary, something I grew used to. There was no, “Oh, not again!”—I grew used to my pathetic situation and slept in my own shame.
I don’t recall the moment I stopped bedwetting. Like alcoholics, and drug abusers, I should have kept track of the days dry and relapse days. I think that would have been interesting. But, I think subconsciously that my dry days came about the moment when I knew I was leaving the town, and going to college. And, I think this was also the time when my physical state matched my psychological state—I was maturing.
It’s kind of odd to look back at my life and realize that literally one-half of it I was a bedwetter and filled with shame over something as minute as that. It’s also interesting to see how much my perspective of public opinion has changed. For starters, children are cruel. Every school has its own handful of cruel children who simply exist to harass others. And, if others knew about my secret, they would have used it against me. Children are always trying to find bad news on their peers and exploit them. This was something I couldn’t afford. And, perhaps, even one of the reasons why I was such a prankster (and sometimes cruel) to others. I overcompensated.
I was safe.
And, in public, with a smile, I pulled everything together to make everything seem simply perfect.