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My dirty little bathroom secret Add to ...

It wasn't long before I ran out of sympathy for George Robitaille, the Toronto Transit Commission ticket collector who was caught sleeping on the job.

I just can't believe Mr. Robitaille nodded off at his desk instead of in a far more discreet setting, away from society's judgmental gaze.

The bathroom.

Yes, I am a toilet napper. Several years ago at a mindless corporate gig, I discovered that those 15 square feet made the perfect on-the-job snooze space.

I once half-jokingly mentioned my stall siestas to a friend. Big mistake. "Ew, the bathroom?" she asked. You'd think I'd just confessed to lapping water from the toilet bowl like some crippled mutt who'd given up on life.

From then on, I vowed to guard this information as though it were a state secret. I've taken about two dozen naps on the can over the years and recently retired the habit. Now I'm finally ready to talk about it.

Let me assure you I've never been lazy or unproductive at work. My logic was simple: Instead of taking a 15-minute jaunt to get a coffee with my colleagues to pull me out of my afternoon lethargy, I'd take a power nap.

I chose the work bathroom as my away-from-home bedroom because I had no alternative. Unlike the seemingly utopian offices of Google, where I'd read about employees grabbing some shut-eye in "quiet rooms" furnished with recliners, I had to take my naps in private shame atop a porcelain throne.

I'm not one to meditate, read or otherwise kill time on the toilet, even at home. Whenever I'd see magazines stacked on top of the toilet tank in a friend's bathroom, nakedly announcing that they'd been held mid-waste disposal, I'd silently recoil, thinking about the pages of Maclean's or Vanity Fair pebbled with dried droplets of toilet water and crawling with E. coli.

I discovered toilet napping by accident. I was having a particularly difficult morning focusing on some mundane task at work and, while relieving myself in the bathroom, I just nodded off. I woke up only a minute or two later.

When I realized how delicious and easy that little escape had been, I set my cellphone to vibrate and programmed the alarm to rouse me in 15 minutes. And then I assumed the position I'd perfected on dozens of flights and bus trips during which personal space was a rare luxury: I folded my arms across my lap and rested my head on them. It felt unnatural to pull my pants up, so I left them as they were - still down around my knees. The low hum from the heating vent provided a stand-in lullaby.

But that bathroom was far from the perfect sanctuary. Just nine minutes into my secret catnap, I was stirred awake by the sound of the door swinging open, followed by the padding of rubber soles across the tiled floor. A co-worker had just walked in. She idled in front of the mirror.

The feeling of tranquillity that had embraced me was quickly replaced by panic. She'd know! Could she see my head through the gap between the stall door and the frame? She didn't have to - she'd identify me by my shoes.

My brain went into overdrive. She'd be suspicious of the silence. What is that sicko doing in there? I imagined her thinking. Is she even conscious?

I made my swift exit from the stall and forced a polite smile. Before I was done washing my hands, she'd left. What a relief.

But then I caught my reflection in the mirror. My forehead was red and sported an imprint from the cuff of my ribbed sweater. I paced around the bathroom for 10 minutes, gently rubbing my forehead, waiting for the badge of humiliation to fade.

If I ever wanted to do this again (and I did), I needed a better location. The next week I found it on another floor, down a hidden hallway. It was a forgotten bathroom - serviced regularly (it always smelled of citrus cleaner), but used rarely. For several months I enjoyed clandestine naps in my signature position, my cellphone alarm buzzing me awake every time.

At my next job, I did the same. On slow afternoons, I fantasized about installing a hammock or a Murphy bed, or sneaking in a blanket.

I was dying to share my secret, but feared the backlash. Until a few months ago. Without provocation, a friend revealed that he had the same dirty little secret. He'd even lived out my worst fear: Once someone banged on the stall door while he was napping to make sure he was alive.

We giddily bonded over this and discussed the common side effects of toilet naps: forehead imprints and leg numbness. He then told me of another woman he knew who also sought refuge in her work bathroom. Instead of toilet napping, she stood up and leaned against the back corner of the handicapped stall to avoid detection.

I'm now convinced there's a legion of bathroom nappers out there, forced to catch a few winks among hand dryers and liquid soap dispensers because our culture frowns upon catching some zzzs in the workplace.

You're not alone. It's time to come out of the stall. It's the most liberating thing I've ever done.

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a Globe and Mail reporter and lives in Toronto.

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