I didn’t “recover” from pelvic pain spontaneously. Rather, I gradually felt better, I had more “good days” than “bad days,” and I slowly reincorporated physical activity (things as simple as walking) into my life. It took time, and it took the persistent encouragement of my physical therapist (PT), Sandy Hilton, for me to take the plunge. I’d encourage any woman who’s recovering from pelvic pain to take things at her own pace, but to also challenge herself to return to physical activity. Rely on the support of a pelvic physical therapist, gently push the limits of your comfort zone, and try to figure out what makes your body feel good again after all that pain.
When my pain was at its worst, I could not wear pants or underwear. I had knifelike clitoral pain accompanied by burning vulvar pain. It took me years to find Sandy, but once I did, my recovery progressed steadily. She helped get me out of bed and coached me through driving again and walking with normal gait. All of the “little” struggles that accompany severe vulvar pain – periods, sex, clothing, sitting – were well within her skillset. She helped me tackle those challenges in digestible ways, allowing me to enjoy small achievements as I journeyed toward the illusive state of being “pain free.”
One of the crucial components of my recovery was exercise, so in this blog, I share the story of my journey into athleticism and movement after years with persistent pain.
Lemme guess… yoga?
Yes, I started with yoga. I love yoga, but I was a stubborn, reluctant yogi at the beginning. Sandy co-owns her physical therapy clinic (Entropy Physiotherapy & Wellness in Chicago) with a contagiously cheerful physical therapist named Sarah Haag, who also teaches in-clinic yoga. Sandy had encouraged me to attend, reminding me that it’s in the safety of their clinic, that it’ll be gentle, etc.
I was not convinced.
I had spent years envying the women in yoga pants, and I felt like it was impossible for me to join their ranks. I was afraid of being embarrassed around other women who were more flexible than me and who could wear “normal clothes,” unlike me.
Once day, when I arrived for PT with Sandy, there was a yoga mat rolled out on the studio floor near Sarah’s mat. Sandy said that if I was OK with it, Sarah would spend 15 minutes doing really gentle yoga with me, just to introduce me to some of the movements.
I spouted excuses: “not today,” or “but I’m wearing a skirt,” or “I’m just not ready.” But in their gentle, amazing, empathetic, supportive way, they coaxed me over to the mat.
As I warily sat down on a folded blanket, Sandy began building a fort around me using chairs and sheets, ensuring that I didn’t feel exposed doing yoga in a skirt. And then, as promised, Sarah guided me in 15 minutes of really gentle yoga. At the end, she encouraged me to take a few moments for savasana if I felt comfortable closing my eyes.
And then, as quickly as their amazing ambush had begun, I found myself on Sandy’s table for the remaining 45 minutes of my session. Sandy knew what a mental challenge it was for me to “do yoga,” and she heaped on the praise and applauded me for my courage.
WHEW! I’d done it! I felt so proud of myself. I probably posted something on Facebook like “back from yoga, off to lunch!” to finally, joyfully declare my participation in an activity enjoyed by my girlfriends. I was hooked. I started joining Sarah’s classes three times weekly, and I gradually progressed in my practice.
I struggled at the beginning, still unable to wear pants or underwear. But, just like every other problem that their patients bring into Entropy, Sarah owned my yoga-without-yoga-pants problem as her own. The next time I visited the clinic, she produced a pair of purple Thai massage pants for me. “You can wear these!” They’re loose, comfortable, soft, and roomy for yoga. I skeptically went into a treatment room to change, and voila – I was wearing pants for the first time in years. And then I was doing some yoga. I wore those pants for months before I became accustomed to “normal” pants again.
Where am I now? I’m working on my inversions and upper body strength to support them, and I’m trying to improve the flexibility in my hamstrings. I have more pairs of yoga pants than shoes, I bring my own worn mat to the gym now for regular classes, and I consider myself a yogi. For that (and for my first pair of yoga pants), Sarah – thank you.
© 2016 Inspire Santé