Visiting my in-laws is a whole different story than visiting with my family. Whereas my family is reserved, my husband's family is Brazilian.
You can imagine the culture clash.
My in-laws only met me once before I developed vulvodynia, so they never got to meet athletic Faith or overachiever Faith or actress Faith or loud Faith. They instead see foreigner Faith, quiet Faith, exhausted Faith, and sunburned Faith.
I find it challenging to be around my in-laws because as Brazilians they have endless patience for people. Family get-togethers, late night dinners with friends, even buying toothpaste - everything is done in a group, the larger the better. As a non-native Portuguese speaker, the cacophony of voices that accompanies every activity makes it difficult for me to follow the conversation and quickly exhausts my brain.
Whenever I am around them I feel like a party pooper.
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How have I dealt with pelvic pain with this troupe of loud, loving, social people? By clamming up.The same technique I used with my family, but for a different reason.
In my family pelvic health is personal and therefore confidential.
In my husband's family, such information is legitimate grist for the lightning-fast family communication network.
If I told one person about my pelvic pain, EVERYONE would know: not only my in-laws, but also cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents of the cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Family friends and their families would know. The barber would know. The car mechanic would know.
And I would be mortified.
This news-spreading is a national past-time, and in no way would my family mean to harm or embarrass me. Folks simply want to know how everyone is doing, and I have yet to discover a topic that is out of bounds.
So, while I have allowed my family to think of me as lazy, uncooperative, or a disappointment, I get the impression that my in-laws think of me as a weird American, a fragile being from a strange world where solitude is something enjoyable.
In my early trips to Brazil I tried to attend every activity, but over the years I have learned to ask for time alone, and my new family has chalked up this bizarre request as a cultural difference.
Being brave enough to pipe up and ask for accommodation, even if it is attributed to culture clash rather than health problems, has helped me a lot in handling the overwhelm of being in pain while in a different family, climate, culture, and time zone.
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These days my pain is gone and my energy levels are up. Maybe some day I will adapt to Brazilian customs, but for now I am happy that I chose to retain my privacy, and even happier that over time my in-laws will get to know the new me: Healthy & Happy Faith.