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"Incontinence is the New Black"

Written By:

Mike Reynolds

I was quite surprised last year when I read that Depend had finally hired a spokesperson who has a physical disability. Michael McGee, an internationally known spoken word poet, who was born with Spina Bifida, began as a spokesperson for Depend late last summer. It was the first time a mainstream incontinence brand used someone who has a disability he was born with. It also signaled a sea change in the way American society discusses medical issues like incontinence. Now instead of being considered the shameful disability that affects an older relative or is spoken about in hushed tones or with your doctor in almost a whisper. Now, Stephen King, who grew up in the same hometown as myself, now has taken to tweeting that he uses adult diapers for nighttime on Twitter (in between all his tweets bitching about Maine Governor Paul Lepage).

It’s not like incontinence isn’t annoying; My Fedex guy delivers my Amazon orders for adult diapers like clockwork every ten days or so. It is like some subscription that could easily pay for an yearly European trip with what I spend on medical supplies to stay dry. I can remember when I first was wearing an adult diaper at night as a pre-pubescent child and all these older people kept worrying about whether I kept my dignity or not.? In the early eighties, there was little to no
incontinence information or education, age appropriate or not, available to a kid in mainstream schools.  When you’re a young teen, you don’t realize “dignity” is a term that has a wide variety of
meanings. Further complicating this were incontinence products sold under a company named “Dignity” which confused me even more. Instead of fearing whether I’d violate the Boy Scout oath when I wore an adult diaper, I’d tell myself it was better than having a noticeable accident. A decade later I’d find plenty of disabled friends introduced to adult diapers at Boy Scout camps when they kept wetting the bed.

As a disabled adult, incontinence isn’t considered a polite conversation topic. I, fortunately or unfortunately, never got the memo. In 1993 I started the first Listserv on the Internet dealing with the issue. After graduation I worked for a Fortune 500 company with a sizable disabled workforce. One of the guys from the HR department made a comment that if you got three guys with disabilities together, it usually would take less than fifteen minutes before “plumbing issues” came up in conversation. My experience was that it was more like twenty minutes, and it was not necessarily the plumbing issues conversation, but possibly the, “who has had the worst urinary tract infection recently” conversation, or, “this is my next surgery to try and deal with these issues, has anyone had surgery x or y or z and how was your experience.” I left the company fifteen years ago; that guy from HR remains a good close friend.

So, maybe incontinence will never be the easiest topic to discuss. Americans have a weird aversion to discussing bodily functions; people like me probably will not be the ones who change that social trait. But that Stephen King guy is a really good horror writer and I went to the same college, and took the same English degree he did. Given he’s probably the most famous resident to come from our hometown, it is a bit heartening to know, hey, he’s using the same medical products I do, and there is nothing undignified in the least about it.

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