For many months, I've been hearing, but ignoring, an inner plea to start writing again. I've been dismissing it because the thing I need to write about is Extremely Personal, even for me.
But a few days ago, I realized with crisp clarity that my personal is political. And if I can turn what feels like a personal nightmare into something reformative, then at least there will be something to show for the suffering.
I have severe nerve pain issues in my vagina. Not just once in a while. All the time. Every day for the past four months. Sitting is miserable, often impossible. Standing is only a little less miserable. It's like having sandpaper tucked into the nether regions between your legs. And it feels like there's no end in sight.
There. I just came out about one of my formerly cryptic "health issues". It's been a banner year for vaginas, in politics and pop culture, so I thought maybe readers might be better primed to handle my coming out.
I'm on the more extreme end of the spectrum, in terms of the severity of my vaginal problem, but there are countless, desperate women who suffer to varying degrees in near silence or unimaginably, total silence. As women, we are taught that it's shameful and improper to talk about our vaginas. Until four months ago, I too could barely say the word 'vagina' without feeling embarrassed or icky-eww-make-it-stop. And looking at that thing? I barely ever had. But hey ma, look at me now! After needing to examine it countless times over the last four months, I now think my vagina is actually pretty cute. And I've grown as comfortable saying the word 'vagina' as say, 'dog' or 'groceries'.
If you suffer from chronic migraines or back pain or wrist pain, or most any other bodily pain, you can tell people about it, if you choose to. You can even show them where it hurts. Talking and showing might not make the pain go away but it can make you feel less alone. And chronic pain is a lonely motherfucker.
Chances are good that friends and loved ones, aren't going to be comfortable looking at my struggling vagina, to see where it hurts, unless you are my awesome nurse practitioner friend who loves vaginas and has held my hand while we look at my poor inflamed one.
The problem that I suffer from is called vulvodynia. For many women, the pain is only ignited if there's contact with the vagina - this is called provoked vulvodynia. For most of my life, I was one of those women. But there's another type called unprovoked vulvodynia where women have pain all the fucking time. Much to my greatest fear, I became one of those women this past June.
Some estimates say that 15% of women suffer from some type of vulvo-vaginal pain, but only recently is this mysterious pain syndrome starting to be taken seriously. Women have suffered from this pain for eons. But since it's a part of the body we aren't supposed to talk about or even worse, we're supposed to feel shame about, AND because sexism is alive and well, the medical establishment has only recently begun to spend money, and not enough of it, researching this debilitating female pain disorder.
So if conventional wisdom is correct, that raising awareness increases research dollars, women have to start coming out about this very secret problem. As my doctor said recently, "we know a lot more about this pain syndrome than we did twenty years ago but there's still so much we don't understand". Which means that the treatment process is long, and involves a whole lot of trial and error. Generally, it's thought of as a condition that can be managed but not cured. I still refuse to accept that.
Another reason I hesitated to write about this issue, besides the obvious, is because I subscribe to the mind-body approach to healing, and by coming out publicly and focusing even more on the problem, I'm scared that I'm strengthening the bond and identification between myself and the pain. But I'll just try to trust the voice inside that keeps telling me to speak out. And hope that it's a step towards healing. Shame and secrecy never healed nothing.
(The photo? That's my dog Arlo. He has no shame about displaying his private parts. Good for him.)