Travel Anxiety and Stress Poop

Whenever my husband and I are on a road trip, this same scene plays out. We will be on the highway, close to a rest area, and my husband will ask if I need to stop.  “Nope,” I say.  “All good.” So, we drive past the rest area, and its mostly clean toilets and head on down the highway.  A few miles down the road, there’s usually a sign that says, “No restrooms for the next 100 miles” or something like that.  Instantly, Anxiety and IBS, start talking to me.  “You have to GO now,” they tell me while pinching my lower abdomen.  I start to panic, knowing there is no bathroom for MILES.  I’m never certain if I’m panicking because I have to poop, or if I have to poop because I’m panicking.  This is kind of like that chicken and egg question.  Which comes first — anxiety or IBS? Or do they just arrive together like a coked up celebrity couple at a B-rate awards ceremony?

Over winter break, we travelled to Southern California AKA where I want to die some day.  Lucky for me, that was not a road trip because it would’ve been a hella long trip with A LOT of poop anxiety between rest stops.  Unlucky for me, it did include air travel, which is in Dante’s third circle of hell, I believe.  Flying causes me all sorts of shakiness and intestinal cramping not only because I hate being WAY UP HIGH, but I also hate being smooshed next to strangers.  Seriously, I’m five foot nothing and a size 8/10. I’m not huge, and I feel claustrophobic.  The seats really are getting smaller.  And so is the bathroom.  How do bigger people even enter the bathroom? It is SO TINY. So, of course, I get super nervous and worry about the possibility of having to poop in it.  Therefore, I get the poop cramps as soon as I fasten my seatbelt.

Usually, after I get off the plane, I don’t have travel anxiety except for if we are doing something that makes me worry about being away from a clean, flushable toilet.  So, hiking, camping, and crowded theme parks require medication.  Also, as I learned in California, getting into a cable car and going two miles up a mountain will bring on the stress poops.

In my husband’s defense, he did ask me if I would be ok with riding in said cable car before he booked it.  And I said yes.  I was probably drunk at the time.  No, I don’t need an AA meeting. I’m not drunk often, but I would have had to have been drunk to agree to that. Anyway, on our way to the cable car it suddenly hit me.  We were about to get in a cable car, with lots of strangers, and ride on WIRES up a mountain.  “Pull over. Go to Panera. NOW!” I said as we were on our way to the murderous wire ride. My husband knew from the tone of my voice that I wasn’t craving soup in a bread bowl.  I ran into Panera like Bruce Jenner before he wore heals.  I had stress diarrhea while someone’s little kid looked at me from under the door.  WHY do little kids do that?

As soon as I got back in the car, I dug in my purse for an Ativan and swallowed it dry.  I should have taken it sooner. Unfortunately, it did not kick in until the cable car was halfway up the mountain.  Before we got on the car, we were asked to smile for the camera for an expensive touristy picture.  My husband smiled a real, genuine, this is so cool smile.  I gave the tense grin of death.  I KNEW I was about to die and I felt like I had to poop. AGAIN.

I made it to the top of the mountain without pooping.  I’m sure the other people in the cable car would be thankful for this if they knew how close they had come to riding in a toilet.  Once we got to the top, we had a nice dinner and some much needed wine.  The ride back down was not as scary because Ativan and wine.  No, I did not have A LOT of wine.  I wouldn’t do this whole cable car up the mountain thing again, but at least now I know it will not kill me.

Husband: This will be FUN! Me: I'm going to shit myself and die.
Husband: This will be FUN!
Me: I’m going to shit myself and die.

So, what about you? Any other people who get anxious about travel? If so, do you get the stress poops, too?




8 thoughts on “Travel Anxiety and Stress Poop

  1. I’m flying for the first time ever in a teeny plane this summer to visit friends in Nova Scotia. I’ll let ya know how it goes 😉

  2. It’s not just travel for me, but any situation where I feel a toilet isn’t easily available… waiting in a long line at the grocery store, for example, or even a 20 min car trip across town. I can sit around the house all day and never feel the urge to go, but the moment a friend calls and suggests we go out and do something, then the anxiety kicks in and I’ve go to go… urgently, and often. Potentially having bathrooms in restaurants or shops along the way (or even at the destination) doesn’t necessarily quell my anxiety, since many are “for customers only”, are locked or “out-of-order”, or oddly seem perpetually occupied.

    I’ve long since lost most of my anxiety about requiring “clean” toilets, or even privacy. Once on a drive up South Mountain in Phoenix with a friend, the “urge” struck and I prayed there was a bathroom at the scenic overview at the top. There was, but it was grimy, unisex, and there were no doors on the stalls. Despite the copious tourist traffic through that bathroom, I unabashedly did my business… it was either that or do it in my pants, and the latter simply wasn’t an option.

    On a two hour boat tour in northern Australia, I considered jumping into the crocodile-infested water to swim back to shore just to use a bathroom. I thought I had taken every precaution… numerous pre-tour bathroom trips and an Imodium 2 hours in advance, but it apparently wasn’t enough. I didn’t enjoy a moment of that tour. All I remember from that tour are the waves of cramps mixed together with panic, clenching my butt and muttering my “happy place” mantra that a psychologist had earlier suggested I try… supposedly there was beautiful wildlife to be seen, but I have no memory of that. I avoid small boats now, and buses without a toilet… and cable cars too (even a short 5 min ride). Flying itself it’s too bad for me, as long as it’s a big plane with ample toilets. But those first and last 20 minutes when you’re not supposed to leave your seat are very stressful. And the car or commuter rail trip to and from the airport can be bad. Hiking and camping also were never too bad, because I could always retreat to a private corner in the woods. But again, the drive to the trailhead often terrified me, especially if it was going to be long.

    Ativan and even Valium never worked for me. Imodium taken a few hours before I travel helps a bit, but I eventually developed a tolerance for it and it became less effective over time. Morning were alway much worse than evenings, and while I was never a “morning person” anyway, my schedule shifted so much away from participating in morning activities that people started joking that I lived in a different time zone as everyone else around me. Very few of my colleagues, or even my friends, knew the real issue. I’ve lived with this for over 20 years now (it all started after a trip to Mexico, where I actually got an actual organic bowel illness), and it’s definitely had a negative effect on my relationships and being able to do the things I had always enjoyed doing in the past. Gastroenterologists and psychiatrists have never been able to offer much long-term help.

    Your blog (which I ran across on Huff Post) is one of the first I’d seen on the topic, so I felt compelled to stop by here and just mention, “yeah, I totally understand your situation”.

    1. Konrad,

      I can get that way, too! Just last night I went to a concert with my husband. I refused to eat or drink the entire time we were there because I did not want to have to use the crowded, dirty bathroom at the bar. I can eat all day at home and not have an attack. If I eat or drink something at a place that is not home, I can have an attack. It is weird.

      Have you tried Lomotil or Bentyl? They are prescription drugs and they work better than Immodium.

      Thanks for commenting!


  3. I’m just the opposite – when I’m on a trip, the poop chute shuts down. I don’t know what it is — but I’ve gone nearly a week before it feels comfortable enough to do its business. The only time I get stress poops is just before I’m supposed to have a sexy time with my…I don’t know what you’d even called the guy and our arrangement. However, I’m just glad it’s BEFORE and not DURING, you know?

    1. I know a lot of people with that issue. I have only been constipated twice in my life, when I had surgery. Liquid Glycerin suppositories are a miracle. I’ve probably said too much. 🙂

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