Today's guest post comes from Danielle Lavieri, who blogs at http://daniellelavieri.wordpress.com.
Danielle Lavieri is a senior at Emerson College in Boston, studying journalism and health communication. Her passions include narrative medicine and medical storytelling, female empowerment, and the elimination of women’s health stigmas. She writes about the human condition, particularly her own condition, living with vulvodynia, a rarely discussed and widely misunderstood gynecological condition.
When I was fifteen-years-old I signed a Body Peace Treaty. The contract, artfully torn out of my copy of the December 2008 issue of Seventeen Magazine, featured a list of commandments that, by signing my name in cursive at the bottom, I agreed to follow. The glossy sheet of magazine paper, covered in the signatures of that year’s biggest celebrities, like Miley Cyrus and Lauren Conrad, still hangs on the bulletin board in my childhood bedroom.
By signing that piece of paper I agreed to always love my body. I agreed to accept my body for its own unique beauty. I agreed to never blame my body for a bad day I might be having.
Like any teenage girl, there were days when I’d look in a mirror and dislike the image that stared back at me. I’d eat a whole bag of Cheetos in front of the TV and immediately hate myself. These types of scenarios are pretty typical for a girl fresh out of puberty. These fleeting moments of self-dissatisfaction aside, I more-or-less obtained body peace.
This was four years before I had any reason to break these vows. It was four years before I began to blame my body for the pain and extreme sadness that I felt on any given day. It was four years before I found myself unable to forgive my body for the ways in which it failed me on a daily basis, refusing to function normally.
Whenever I return to the house I grew up in and stay the night in my old bedroom, I am reminded of this contract. I’m reminded of the agreement I made to myself (and Seventeen, with 16-year-old Miley Cyrus as my witness) to always love my body, no matter what shape or size. But therein lies the problem; this Body Peace Treaty only addressed the body I see in a mirror, the external part of it that is shown to the world. It fails to address what’s inside, what for me is the most difficult part to accept.
In late November 2012, I began to suddenly develop symptoms of vulvodynia. I’d seen my gynecologist a few weeks before for a yeast infection, which was cured after a round of yeast medication. Although the yeast infection was gone, however, my symptoms of intense itching and burning in my vulvar area were not alleviated. As weeks passed, I continued taking oral and topical medications to relieve my symptoms. Nothing worked. Weeks passed and penetration became excruciatingly painful, to the point that I couldn’t even insert an extra-small tampon into my vagina, never mind have sex with my boyfriend. By January 2013, my gynecologist had run out of advice to give and medications to prescribe. I was alone in my struggle against this anonymous source of pain and agony, and would be for another four months.
I was diagnosed with vestibular vulvodynia by a vulvar specialist in April 2013. By that June I was secondarily diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction. By the time I began my junior year of college that fall, I had tried three different oral medications and two topical treatments, all without success. I had lost sight of my will to live. I had lost interest in many of the activities that I’d previously enjoyed. Most of all, though, I’d lost any trace of body peace or self-love that I’d had before.
I hated my body for putting me through this pain. I didn’t understand why it was punishing me, or what I’d done to deserve this condition. These thoughts would circle my mind whenever I felt pain, and my lack of answers led me to believe that I would never get better.
That same fall, I began seeing a women’s health certified physical therapist for pelvic floor physical therapy. After a couple months I was surprised to see an improvement in my day-to-day symptoms. For the first time in over a year, I felt like I was getting better. Time passed and I continued to see improvement both my provoked and unprovoked symptoms. I began to feel emotions that I’d lost touch with—hope, faith, relief, and, above all, happiness.
Although I still didn’t understand why I’d been dealt this unfair hand in life, I was learning to accept it and move forward the best I could. As the physical pain lessened, its emotional counterpart began to ease up as well. I started taking care of my body again, exercising regularly and eating right.
Slowly, I worked toward acceptance of my body’s condition. I thought back to the Body Peace Treaty I had signed so naively years beforehand, and how I promised to always love my body. Much of my life returned to a new sense of normal, and I opened up to my friends and family about my condition. I began to write about my life with vulvodynia, finding solace and healing in sharing my story with others.
I am still seeking treatment for my vulvodynia; and while my symptoms have improved in many ways, I am not completely without pain. Similarly, I have been able to accept my condition and its role in my life, but cannot yet bring myself to forgive my body for the ways it has failed me. I have not reached total body peace; I still have a ways to go.
The name of this website compels me—yatra yoni, meaning a journey of the feminine. The phrase, while euphonious, is also so true to my experience with vulvodynia and pelvic pain. The past two years of my life have been a constant journey toward self-acceptance and personal empowerment. Though I would never have chosen this path for my life, I am grateful to have made it through my initial suffering to find a degree of relief, both physical and emotional.
As time continues to pass and I carry on in my yatra-yoni, I hope to find a deep sense of body peace, strong enough to sign my name on and promise to live by for the rest of my life.
Wow. Thank you, Danielle, for sharing. That was a wonderful post. Please comment below if you feel moved to do so, and if you want to see more writing from Danielle, you can find her here.