At the age of 33, I have never had sex without being in pain. Through a very long and drawn out course of well over a decade of seeking answers and a cure, I have been diagnosed with vulvar vestibulodynia (a subset of vulvodynia, also known as vestibulitis) and vulvar dermatitis. The latter is linked closely to my overall tendency towards dry skin and eczema although on examination, I look healthy.
Naturally this has greatly affected my relationships and led to me generally staying single so as not to be in pain. I was so embarrassed at the thought of telling a boyfriend or anyone for that matter, that I largely suffered in silence, ashamed of this mystery illness that I appeared to have developed for no obvious reason. Doctors were telling me there's nothing wrong with me and that it's "just psychological" yet my body was screaming out in pain. For a really long time, I couldn't talk about it without crying and I spent so much energy on hiding it from anyone and everyone, even those closest to me. My absolute worst nightmare was someone finding out. I have spent many years trying different healing modalities from west to east which, while teaching me a lot along the way, have, for the most part, not made a difference to my vulva pain.
It was mid-2014 when I decided that if I can't cure the physical pain, I can at least work towards losing the shame I feel surrounding it all. Which had arguably been the worst part for me. If I had the same pain but in my arm say, my life so far would have been a lot easier!
So I have embarked on a journey. I spent 3 months with a psychotherapist. At that point I was working 12-15 hour days in a very stressful job which I was not sad to leave on having saved up just enough money to take two months out to travel and essentially, rejuvenate. This gave me a lot of time to think and in November 2014, I wound up in Bali where I stumbled across Sacred Wellness Institute, the most amazing, life changing retreat week of healing that I joined alongside four other women facing other life challenges. No one else there had vulva pain but I was given the space and understanding to share which I found so hard but knew it was what I was there for. I finally told my family who were very supportive. I was nurtured and told by various practitioners there that I was holding a lot of pent up tension in my lower chakras.
Bali was a mind blowing experience and I was floating on air for months! Since then I have got a new job with more respectable hours, spent a lot of time watching TED talks and documentaries, reading books and articles, all on vulnerability and wellness in general.
Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot to work on but I now don't get upset when I talk about my vulva pain. Rather, I can just be quite matter of fact. I have a wider support group of people closest to me that I can talk to. These parts of our bodies embody the power of recreation. They are the essence of our femininity which is a beautiful thing. None of us have anything to be ashamed of.
What I really realise now from all my deep delving is that the shame I've felt around that area of my body and my sexuality has actually been a big cause of all my pain. A huge breakthrough! Every time I used to wince at the thought of my pain or thinking about trying to have a relationship right from early teen years, I was unknowingly tensing even tighter. I am now seeing a brilliant physiotherapist who is working internally to release this tension and retrain the muscles. It is very slowly working. Meanwhile, I now realise that as a stubborn and chronic condition, I cannot only try to heal with external things. It must come from within.
In the words of Dr Lissa Rankin:
"When we focus only on strictly physical and biochemical diagnoses and treatments, we miss a potent opportunity to allow illness to serve as a vehicle for personal growth and spiritual awakening".
I am now feeling more positive than ever that I am on the road to recovery. And I feel stronger and better than ever within myself. If you are in the same boat as me, what uncomfortable emotions do you have that could be stopping you from feeling as well as you deserve to feel? It's not easy but maybe this could be your answer.