colorado phantom pooper

The most wanted woman in Colorado Springs is a jogger who takes dumps on front lawns all over town. The “Mad Pooper”, residents report, stops mid-jog to squat and drop a deuce, pulls her pants back on, and simply continues running. Locals are, understandably, pissed. But maybe they should also be wonderstruck: Pooping in public can, after all, be incredibly hard to do.

What the Mad Pooper seems to have overcome is a seemingly widespread form of anxiety known as “toilet phobia.” According to Anxiety UK, toilet phobia “can affect almost anyone and is not as rare as you might think,” though people are usually reluctant to talk about it.

The term encompasses all sorts of fears related to toilets, including the fear of being too far from one or the fear of not being able to “perform,” but it’s specifically the fear of being watched, scrutinized, or listened to that the Mad Pooper seems to have overcome.

That’s more than most humans can say for themselves. A highly cited 1985 study titled “Public Bathrooms and the Interaction Order,” published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, revealed that while not all humans have toilet phobia, all of us are a bit shy when it comes to pooping in public. In the paper, the authors describe how closing the door of a bathroom stall transforms it “into the occupying individual’s private, albeit temporary, retreat” and point out that they had not observed any individuals willingly pooping in an unenclosed toilet.

Another study on common human anxieties, published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders in 1998, suggests that it makes sense that the Mad Pooper is female; the paper showed that men have much higher rates of toilet phobia (specifically, urinating in public) than women.

It’s thought that humans largely react to all things poop-related with disgust because our ancestors learned that feces carry diseases that could make them really sick or kill them. It’s safe to say that this fear of poop, known as coprophobia, is widespread among all humans.

port-a-potties
For some people, this sight is triggering.

Some psychologists have suggested that it’s this general fear that develops into toilet phobia. In an article for Teen Vogue, New York City psychologist Jayta Szpitalak suggested that because we are taught from a young age that pooping is “an inappropriate, embarrassing, and uncouth bodily function,” we develop an unhealthy stigma surrounding bowel movements, which can then become a trigger for anxiety.

This does not seem to be the case for the Mad Pooper, who has no problem dropping turds in public. She’s probably healthier for it: Holding your poop in because you’re stressed out about it increases your risk of becoming constipated, and it generally isn’t good to hold your body’s waste products in. If she’s ever caught, perhaps she can just blame it on the “runner’s trots,” the well-known phenomenon of athletes frequently having mild diarrhea because their insides are jiggling around so much, and their blood supply is being redirected away from their intestines.

Nothing’s going to excuse her rogue pooping, but the anxious among us should take a moment to appreciate the Mad Pooper’s rare talent — she sure knows how to let loose.


If you liked this article, check out this video on the science behind our ability to read a person’s emotions through their eyes.

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Photos via Getty Images / Max Whittaker, 2017 FlashTrendinG/YouTube