*What I wish my partner, my family, my friends and I would have known about living with Vulvodynia. Written for everyone who is willing to walk in a burning vulva owner’s shoes for about 18 min.*
When a general audience member crosses paths for the first time with this mysterious vulvar pain, this is the bland, general description they would hear: “Vulvodynia is a chronic pain in the vulvar area. Pain occurs without a clear, identifiable cause and with the absence of any visible abnormalities. It can affect women of all ages.”
This vague information is also what usual owners of a burning V would hear the first time, too.
If someone, however, keeps searching, then the next information they would find — among all the other scattered data — would be different types of Vulvodynia. Some unsatisfactory reasons why it can occur. Types of pain sensations. And last but not least, what a person with Vulvodynia cannot do while suffering. The usual list of “impossible activities” like exercising, sitting, walking, having sex or wearing jeans seems to be rather short. And for sufferers, it does not reflect their doomed real life at all.
But the true reality is not so short, so simple, nor so easy.
Everything written below is based on my personal experiences. Not everything will apply to you but I hope that if anything strikes true, you’ll find solace in knowing that there’s at least one person out there that fully understands you.
WHAT ARE THE REAL CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING VULVODYNIA?
When you begin to suffer from Vulvodynia your life turns into a total mess. It’s falling apart into a thousand pieces. And it starts to completely revolve around your pain.
YOU CAN’T GO TO WORK
Do you plan to go to work today and earn a living? Well, you can plan however much you want. But in the end, pain will always make the final call for you. It can surprise you — daily. With no logical patterns. So you wake up each day, hoping for it to be a “good day.” If not, you won’t get to work — simple.
YOU CAN’T SIT AT WORK
If you’ve forced yourself to get to work — as you know that calling in sick three times per week will end up with your boss showing you the exit door — then be prepared for another gauntlet. The next challenge is to sit on your red hot V for the next eight straight long hours. You fidget in your chair, trying to lift your crotch to give yourself even mere seconds of relief. Because getting up every 5 minutes is not an option.
YOU’RE AFRAID OF LOSING YOUR JOB
Even though you’ve forced yourself to go to work, you’ve missed so many days of work that you are afraid of losing your job. Plus, you know that you’re bound to call in sick in the near future. You’re afraid of losing your income which stresses you even more and makes you feel hopeless.
YOU CAN’T SHARE WITH YOUR BOSS
You are aware that with your chronic condition, you might not be hirable. Plus, Vulvodynia is not a “simple” health problem. Before being hired, you don’t want to reveal your health problem because it can have some bearing on the hiring decision. Once hired and happy for the given opportunity, you feel too embarrassed and scared to talk about your intimate V problems. Congrats, you just got trapped.
YOUR SOCIAL LIFE
YOU CAN’T GO OUT
You plan to go out. You’ve been waiting for this evening for an entire week. Then BOOM. A flare-up, again. Like most of the time, pain decides if you can see your friends or not. You are forced to cancel. Your friends are angry, disappointed and tired of you flaking out on them yet again. In the end, you don’t even want to make arrangements anymore.
YOU DON’T WANT TO BE HEAVY FOR OTHERS
You ain’t stupid and you’re aware that it isn’t fun to be around you. And you suspect that your constant and repetitive problems can become pretty heavy for others. Who likes to be around sad (and sometimes angry) people?
YOU FEEL YOU DON’T FIT
Your friends expect you to be happy, but you simply don’t feel like it and faking it is so tiresome. They have other problems that, for you, are trivial, as you don’t even have your basics covered – like your damn health.
YOU COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS
You see other “happy and normal” people, and you feel really bad about yourself and your life. Plus you don’t want to hear others’ happy stories because they only make you feel worse.
YOU CAN’T ENJOY SOCIAL SETTINGS
You are on a special diet to keep your body in one piece. You are aware that some foods give you flare-ups, or make your symptoms worse (like alcohol). So, you stop eating or drinking certain foods or drinks. Going out and finding a place that can suit everyone starts to be very challenging. You can’t enjoy the moment or relax because you are worried that something may trigger the pain.
YOU WITHDRAW FROM SOCIAL LIFE
Because of all the challenges that you’re facing when going out, it’s simply not your priority anymore. To avoid all these troubles and not feel miserable, you prefer to stay away from your social life.
YOU LOSE YOUR FRIENDS
Some people stick, some people don’t. They can become tired of listening to your problems (that are so different from theirs), your life’s constraints or dealing with your moods that fluctuate depending on the level of your pain.
YOUR PERSONAL LIFE
YOU HATE YOURSELF & EVERYTHING
Your body is breaking like china in a glass case. You want to live a normal life (who doesn’t?) but your body and its complicated “relationship” with the pain is not allowing you to do so. You have a hard time to put your pants on. To sit. To walk. And sex has become a blurry memory. I’m talking about basic stuff here, nothing fancy pancy. So, no surprise that you hate your broken body. Yourself. And your entire life. You might even fantasize to be someone else, with a different body obviously.
YOU FEEL GUILTY & BLAME YOURSELF & OTHERS
You blame yourself for what is happening in your life. For your broken relationships. Your partner for a lack of understanding. Again yourself for not being the woman that you want to be. For canceling meetings. For calling in sick. Your doctors for throwing their hands up and calling you crazy. Your fucked up destiny. You feel like you have done something to deserve all of this.
YOU’RE OVERSENSITIVE TO CRITICSM
Hell yeah, you are! You constantly live on the freakin edge. You balance between “will I survive today?” and “will it defeat me today?” Everything in your life fluctuates depending on your level of pain. Trivial comments can gut your heart. And when someone or something tips the scale, you simply explode.
YOU FEEL ANGRY & FRUSTRATED
You’re emotionally exhausted and because of this, your feelings flip from anger, frustration to even despair.
YOU FEEL SCARED & ANXIOUS
Well, think about it. You have no clue when your body will decide to break again. You don’t trust it anymore. You fear new experiences, as you don’t know how your body will react. What if during a trip or night out you end up with an unbearable flare-up? You fear new relationships. Emotional involvement and emotional pain. In the end, what is the point? Why would anyone like to be with someone who can’t have sex?
YOU FEEL LONELY & ISOLATED
There are sometimes hours of loneliness in your bed, suffering. Hours of you thinking what the heck you should do with your life. Hours of you wishing that you would like to be out with your friends. But you can’t. You know that people may not understand you. You don’t want to moan and be heavy.
You don’t want to make decisions or promises because you don’t even know if you will be able to keep them! It may manifest during a deceptively trivial process like picking clothes for the day (and believe me, this can be damn hard) or going for a trip with your friends. In the end, the pain dictates your plans. And you know it.
YOU FEEL HOPELESS
You face pain of unknown cause and cure. Plus, an unsure and blurry future. You can howl for help however much you want but all roads end at the same cul-de-sac. Doctors can’t help you. Western Medicine doesn’t invent medications for your problem. They throw their hands up and tell you “this is all in your head.” But you can feel it. You know that the pain is real.
YOU’RE UNABLE TO EXPRESS FEELINGS
Because you don’t even have an idea where to start. How the hell should you share with others what you are going through? It’s pretty embarrassing to tell your boss that you can’t crawl to work or your date that you can’t drag yourself to the cinema because your V hurts as hell.
No surprise that you are negative, and engage in negative thinking and self-talk. You worry daily for your future — even 20 minutes away from now — because you don’t know when the pain can take over again. You expect little or nothing from life.
YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Well, because after flare-ups that last entire nights — when you are visualizing your V being thrown out of the window — you really don’t give a shit what you look like.
YOU FEEL JEALOUS
You feel envious. Of other people’s happiness. Of other people’s amazing sex life. Of other people’s pain-free life.
YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE GOING CRAZY
Hell yes, you feel like this. The nature of your condition is not helping you to feel any saner. Especially when doctors tell you that you are emotionally or mentally unstable (because they can’t find the cause or cure for your condition).
YOUR INTIMATE LIFE
YOUR INTIMATE LIFE DOESN’T EXIST
Your sexual life is pretty much buried. You don’t want to have sex because you’re in pain. And when the pain decreases and you even briefly consider it, you are afraid of another flare-up (which has happened so many times during and after sex that you don’t want to even try anymore).
THINKING ABOUT INTIMACY TRIGGERS FEAR
Imagine that you have a knee injury. After some period of rest, your knee starts feeling relatively ok and you decide to run again. You run and BOOM. It hurts again. Now imagine this happening 100 times — in a row. Would you feel anxious at the very thought of attempting your 101st run?
YOU FEEL WORTHLESS AS A WOMAN
Your sexuality is suppressed. You want to share joy, happiness and pleasure with your partner. But you know that you can’t. And you don’t know if you ever will be able to.
YOU COME UP WITH EXCUSES TO AVOID SEX
You cause arguments just before the atmosphere starts to heat up — to get away from sex. You ignore any signs of affection from your partner. You start covering yourself in order to not look sexy. You feel guilty and blame yourself for trying to avoid any intimacy all together.
YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU’LL BE ABLE TO HAVE A BABY
First, you can barely put your life together. You can’t even think about taking care of another human being. Second, you can’t even have sex, and yes, there are other ways to get pregnant but… being in pain with no meds for 9 looong months is nerve-wracking. Third, what if your pain increases during pregnancy?
YOU RECEIVE LITTLE UNDERSTANDING FROM YOUR PARTNER
Some partners just don’t understand. They might think that you exaggerate. That you’re having an affair or don’t love them anymore — and that’s why you are pushing them away. But honestly, who doesn’t want to have super hot pain-free sex?
YOU’RE AFRAID OF YOUR PARTNER LEAVING YOU
You’re afraid of your partner leaving you because of a lack of sex, tension, arguments, unfulfilled expectations, pain — all this crap that litters your relationship. And as a form of defense, you act up and push your significant other away, hoping that it will hurt less if you’re the one making the decision to leave. But it does not.
YOU LOSE YOUR PARTNER
You end up with a sexless relationship. There are some partners that are ok with that. And there are others who aren’t, as sex is too important for them. And they can’t imagine waiting for someone for more than several months. Plus, this is on top of all the other problems that assail your relationship. It is all simply too much.
YOU STAY AWAY FROM ANY RELATIONSHIP
Because of all this shit going on in your life, you prefer to stay single. It’s better than having to go through the same mess again and again.
Oh and you are among the 16% of us living with this crap.
For all my vulva warriors out there
Please remember, even though life is tough on you right now, you are not alone and there are ways to make your life meaningful again.