I recently had the pleasure of chatting over coffee with Missy Lavender, Director of the Women's Health Foundation. She's a self-proclaimed pelvic health evangelist, and a damn good one. We clicked immediately, shared our stories, and made plans to collaborate. Our original idea for me to write one blog post turned into a series, so I'm proud and excited and humbled to share this insight into pelvic pain.
This is my story. Everyone's story is different, and it twists and pains people in vastly unique ways. But I hope this gives you some idea of what it's like to live with a confusing issue "down there," and to reassure you that you're not alone in your suffering.
I've been asked "when did your pain start?" approximately 516,379,104 times.
As a child, underwear was uncomfortably restrictive, so I preferred them soft and baggy. As I moved from preteen to young adult, I could never tolerate a tampon; it was too uncomfortable. I wouldn’t successfully use one until I was 29. Sex was painful or impossible. I continuously felt like a weirdo; I hid my struggle from my friends – sometimes going so far as to buy and carry around tampons in case anyone asked me for one, just so they would think I used them (pads were so uncool). Very gradually, I developed an awareness that something was ‘off.’
And then, discomfort yielded to pain. At age 19, I had my first ‘pain flare.’ It felt like someone drove an ice pick into my clitoris. I fell to the floor, dragged myself to bed, and took Nyquil. The pain was gone when I awoke. My doctor (and then another doctor, and another doctor) suspected yeast infections and UTIs, sometimes offering me antibiotics that didn’t help. So, I went on like this for several years. When pain struck, I took to my bed and “slept it off.”
When the antibiotics failed to arrest my pain, many providers staunchly insisted that my pain was a psychological, not a physiological, problem. “There is nothing wrong with you,” was a constant chorus.
But it didn’t feel like it was in my head – especially since I viewed myself as a well-adjusted, bright, fun, enthusiastic young woman. Their insistence ultimately gave way to a rising panic about my health, though; their disbelief in the legitimacy of my symptoms made me question my own experience.