“It was so funny I pissed myself laughing!”
That’s a classic Aussie expression, but for many Australians with incontinence issues they avoid social activities that involve laughter because it’s not just an expression for them. It really happens.
Enter Bev Killick: actress, comedian (aka Crummy Mummy at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival), writer, singer and mother-of-two, Ambassador of the Continence Foundation of Australia…and a self-confessed Chiki Leaker!
Killick heads up the Laugh without Leaking Campaign, using humour to draw attention to the bladder, bowel and pelvic health problems one in four Australians live with every day.
As it would happen, one in five of us wees when we laugh. Bev, also known as the Comedy Queen of Continence, refuses to submit to the stigma associated with the condition.
“I have no shame about it,” she tells Mamamia, and it’s clear that’s true as she uses her raw and honest humour to reframe her daily incontinence challenges as part of her hilarious onstage comedy routine.
Offstage, Bev maintains the same open dialogue, and admits she has struggled with continence issues since she was a child.
“I always had a weak bladder, but I had to deal with it. I can remember being in class and sitting next to a friend who made me laugh so much I had to cross my legs and hold on and I couldn’t so I wet myself – to the point there was a puddle on the floor!” she tells us.
“My friend took the blame for it and said ‘We’ll stay here until everyone leaves’. Then she went up to the teacher and told them what happened, then we went to the toilet and pretended we had a water fight. Then we got in trouble for that.”
Bev has since become somewhat of an expert about the underlying causes of incontinence and how to address them.
"There are different kinds of incontinence," Bev shares. "It can be emotionally based [in terms of the brain's alerts to the body], it can be impulse related - meaning you don't get the right alerts when you need to. I was told that I had a weak bladder and I had to go to the toilet a lot when I was a kid.
"In the '70s at school if you asked to go to the toilet during class, it was like 'Sit down, where are you going?' You put your hand up and get embarrassed. There's stigma right there. Giving a kid shame about having to do something completely natural. The more I think about it the more angry I get that we are taught that you have to go to the toilet at a specific time, whether your body likes it or not."
Bev had thought it was something she had to just live with until she enlisted the help of Shan Morrison from Melbourne-based Women's and Men's Health Physiotherapy, who focuses on pelvic floor issues.
Pelvic floor physio Shan defines incontinence as "the inability to control your bladder or bowel leading to loss of urine or faeces and wind. It is a widespread condition that ranges in severity from 'just a small leak' to complete loss of bladder or bowel control".
The most common triggers for bladder leakage are "coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or rushing to the toilet", she adds.
It's something that affects men and women in all age groups, but mainly women under 50 and men over 50. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of those living with leakage are women, and one in three of women who've had a baby are incontinent.
"Risk factors for women include pregnancy and childbirth, ageing and menopause," Shan shares. "In the general population, risk factors also include constipation and straining, obesity, a chronic cough, ageing, urinary tract infections, poor toileting and fluid habits, strenuous sports, neurological conditions and poor pelvic floor muscle function. One of the biggest risk factors for men is prostate cancer surgery. Most men are incontinent after that."
Shan believes that men seek help earlier than women because they don't tolerate incontinence the way women do.
"Women are used to wearing pads," she says. "So they see the incontinence and wearing pads as a progression of that. Men are not OK to wear pads."
For people with continence issues, going out socially often includes strategising about where the nearest toilet might be. If you're thinking "that'd make a great app", well, there already is one. In a joint initiative between the Continence Foundation of Australia, the Australian Government and Local Governments, the National Public Toilet Map exists purely for your relief (head to https://toiletmap.gov.au/).
"A lot of people don't know that you can go into any hotel and use their facilities," says Bev, who has the confidence to queue-jump if it's too long. "I just tell them I am incontinent and I need to go. People let me through – I am forthright!"
Bev has taken control of her incontinence, and after consulting with her physio she was relieved to discover it's treatable.
Shan is positive about the improvements that individuals like Bev can achieve with treatment.
"It is a very active treatment in that the person needs to adopt or adhere to a pelvic floor program that is individually designed," Shan says.
A consultation can ensure that you know exactly what exercises to do, how to do them and when. Bev, as it turns out, was doing her pelvic floor exercises wrong.
"I hadn't been using the right muscles," Bev tells me. "You wouldn't know that unless you had an examination. I just lifted up and down. That muscle is heart shaped and it has to squeeze and lift. I had been doing the lift part but not the squeeze!"
Doing these exercises correctly will make a huge difference for Bev, who also has a prolapse and could be facing more complex medical issues in the next 10 years if she doesn't strengthen her pelvic area now.
"I have taken control. I am walking more and swimming. Core strength and lifestyle is really important," she adds.
Bev will be performing her continence material in Canberra as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Roadshow as the ambassador for the Laugh without Leaking Campaign for World Continence Week, from June 18 to 24.
Be warned. This woman is EXTREMELY funny. You may even piss yourself... but hey, guess what? If you jump on the Laugh without Leaking website: laughwithoutleaking.com.au then you have made the first step to doing something about it!
You are in control. Now squeeze.
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner, Continence Foundation of Australia.
Did you know that 80% of the 5 million Aussies who have bladder & bowel troubles are women?
Or 1 in 3 mums wet their pants?
The Continence Foundation of Australia does and so does Mamamia. That is why we have joined forces to spread the good news that the majority of bladder, bowel and pelvic floor troubles can be helped or even cured. All you have to do is ask for help.
Don’t put up with ‘wee accidents’. Call the free National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66 and learn to again Laugh Without Leaking.