To drink or not to drink: My experience with disability in college

Something as simple as going to the bathroom can be a major issue for students with certain disabilities

It’s 6.30pm and my friends and I are knee-deep in a drinking game. We’re watching The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, in which four children return to the fantastical land of Narnia in order to help a young prince, with a horrendous Spanish accent, wrest control of his kingdom back from his evil uncle. It is one of those films that’s so bad, it’s good.

“The thing is, because of my disability, I can’t go to the bathroom by myself.”

As it’s so terrible, we drink a lot, taking a sip every time there is an example of mid 2000s CGI, a character mentions the name Aslan, or Peter says something pissy, which is practically the entire film. After around 30 minutes in, I start to feel uncomfortable and want to go to the bathroom. The thing is, because of my disability, I can’t go to the bathroom by myself. I need somebody to help me. More often than not, I don’t have someone – say, a personal assistant – to bring me to the bathroom, which means I usually have to hold it in.

This is exactly what I do now. I hold and hold it and try to focus on the film, thinking about the ridiculousness of Caspian’s Spanish accent and how much of an emo Peter is. But half an hour later, the pain is almost impossible to ignore, even after I’ve abstained from the drinking game. It comes to a head around halfway through the film. Peter and Caspian are having a tiff, complete with raised voices and overwrought accents. My friends are commenting on the homoerotic tension when I burst out, saying “I’m sorry. I can’t really do this. I need the bathroom.”

“I feel guilty that I have to ask him for help because part of me knows that it’s not his job
and he shouldn’t have to do it.”

Of course, my friend offers to help me. I go to the bathroom then, because I think the sooner I do, the sooner we can get back to enjoying the film with the others. I feel guilty that I have to ask him for help because part of me knows that it’s not his job and he shouldn’t have to do it. He is my friend and not my personal assistant. I do know that my peers are happy to assist and that it’s no problem, but I can’t stop feeling like once my friends help me, the dynamic changes and we’re no longer equals.

This anecdote is an example of one of the most, if not the most, annoying aspects of my college experience. In essence, I am held to ransom by my bladder. It seems absurd, like something ripped out of a novel by Camus or Sartre, that a man could be defeated by one of the most basic actions of human existence, something that should only take five minutes.

If I can’t find someone to assist me to the bathroom, I have two options; I can either hold it until it becomes painful and potentially wet myself, or ask an untrained friend or member of staff to help. Outside of college, I don’t have a personal assistant or anyone to help me. Therefore, when I’m out with my friends, I have to abstain from drinking lest I need to go to the bathroom.

It’s tough because I want to drink with my friends; I want to get smashed like a typical student, and do something stupid that my mates will hold over me until the end of time. I’d like to get so drunk that I perform a horrendously off-key rendition of some cringe-worthy pop song, or maybe even that hit by Chumbawamba. However, I would have to pay the price for it because I would need to go to the bathroom so badly that I’d be forced to leave early or wet myself.

“At worst, my need to go to the bathroom isolates me from my peers.”

At worst, my need to go to the bathroom isolates me from my peers. This past year, I really wanted to go to the Imperial Ball with my friends. Seeing as I was going to be finishing up my time in the classics department, I thought it would be a fun way to commemorate the past three years. My only problem was that the bathrooms were upstairs. My mum suggested that I could always wear an incontinence pad to negate any possibility of wetting myself. Now, I know that some people have to wear them and I get that, but I could just imagine myself in my suit and bowtie looking snazzier than Caesar himself, talking with my friends about the Augustan principate, all the while having to wet myself on purpose. It just seemed wrong and, more importantly, it wasn’t me.

I think this issue is the greatest way that my disability affects me. I have to be so careful about navigating going to the bathroom and it makes me feel that I cannot be myself. I do not have the freedom to get smashed and mock Peter’s emo phase nor sing a Hot Chelle Rae song badly. If I ask someone for help, I feel bad. Essentially, I always feel that I am Ross, the wheelchair user, not Ross, the human being who just wants to be like his friends.

Ross Coleman

Ross Coleman is a staff writer for Trinity News.