Breaking the incontinence taboo
Torsten Kraft (34) is a carpenter and is passionate about his craft. In his free time he goes hiking with his girlfriend, “likes to drive a lot” and reads “everything from fantasy to who-dun-its to science fiction”. He has been incontinent from birth and has been using incontinence pads for years. He is open about his condition and advises others in the same situation “not to hide their incontinence or to conceal it so that others are faced with it.”
Mr Kraft, you live with incontinence. How did that come about?
In my case I’ve had it from birth. My parents were worried about it from the beginning but I really only noticed that something was different when I started school. When I reached puberty I went from doctor to doctor and tried all sorts of medicines but they had very strong side effects in my case. At some point I accepted that incontinence is simply a part of me.
And you decided to use incontinence pads. Why?
In my opinion the medicines available for incontinence leave much to be desired. I experienced a lot of side effects because they cause muscle cramps so that the urethral sphincter stays closed. Because these medicines don’t have a local effect where they are supposed to act, I had constant muscular pain. I also experienced side effects on my skin. I wasn’t really convinced of the efficacy of other options such as urine bags and sheaths. I also tried pelvic floor exercises but in my case they didn’t help. After talking to my GP I decided to use pads, particularly since I’m out and about a lot with my job, climbing on roofs, so pads are actually the best product. But I would like to try Botox soon.
Where do you get the pads from and what was important in selecting a brand?
I get them from a medical supply store in the next town. Home delivery should be for people who really need it, like older people who can’t get around any more. Leak-proof pads are very important for me, especially with my job. And of course they have to be absorbent and odour-proof. With pads you really get what you pay for… The expensive ones are good but they cost extra.
What effect does incontinence actually have on your daily life? Do you feel restricted in what you can do?
To be quite honest, I’m not restricted by incontinence. Of course I always have to make sure I’ve got enough spare pads with me. And, well, you’re limited with swimming, but otherwise not really.
How often do you have to change the pads?
It depends. If I’m at the Oktoberfest drinking beer, then quite often, of course. But normally about six times a day.
Incontinence and incontinence aids are often taboo subjects. How do you deal with that in your daily life?
I don’t force the subject on anyone but if someone notices, I just say “yes, that’s right, it’s a condition I have”. I don’t mind talking about it because it’s part of me. But I wouldn’t go up to people and say “just so that you know, I’m incontinent”. It was very difficult during puberty. You know, it’s your first girlfriend and you ask yourself how she’s going to react. I’m more laid-back about it now – and I’ve been with my girlfriend now for about 12 years. I was also lucky in that my school was attached to a Montessori school and we had a lot of pupils who were handicapped. That helped to make us fairly open and considerate of others.
What advice would you give to others who suffer from incontinence?
Don’t hide or conceal it, deal with it openly and learn to live with it. Of course it’s difficult, but it’s the first step to accepting you’re incontinent. Sooner or later almost everyone will get it…
How would you describe your quality of life?
Being incontinent has practically no impact on my life. I always say there are worse things. For example, if I lost an arm or a leg, then I wouldn’t be able to do my job. This is my dream job and it would hit me so much harder if I lost it.
What do you enjoy doing, apart from your job?
Hiking is the ultimate relaxation for me and my girlfriend. We’re members in a hiking club and go on a hike practically every weekend. Simply walking through Nature and switching off from your daily routine. We choose a destination, but we can take as much time as we want. It’s a great way to relax! I also like reading a lot. I don’t have any particular preferences, the book just has to interest me.
How would you describe your philosophy of life?
“Live your own life and don’t change for anyone. Always be yourself.” That’s what I’ve always said.
Your participation in the “Körperstolz” campaign is a brave step into the public eye. Why did you decide to do it?
Because I want to show others that you can live a completely normal life with a physical condition – without having to hide or explain everything. Because everyone is different.
How would you finish the sentence “I am proud of my body because…”
“…I am the way I am!”