"Are you pain-free now?"
I recently got this question from a reader, who pointed out that it wasn't clear from my blog. Good question, I thought. I should clarify that!
Why the hesitation, you may wonder? Isn't that a simple yes or no answer?
Well, kinda. The simple answer is "Yes" but I have so much hesitation about declaring it. This question made me realize that I fear saying "Yes, I'm pain-free," because if I then ever had a flare-up, people would think I was dishonest or fraudulent.
On the other hand, if I boldly state my success and do remain healthy, then people may develop some ridiculously high expectation of me. I fear saying "I'm pain-free" is the equivalent of saying "I'm perfect for forever and ever and shall never have a health problem again because I've figured it all out!" - and well, I am human. While I acknowledge that I put a ton of work into my recovery and it paid off, life is still a huge mystery, and there is so much I don't understand about how human bodies work.
So, let me explain the gray area between "yes" and "no."
One of the things I have learned from chronic health issues is that they ebb and flow - like, oh, EVERYTHING in life. There is HUGE, ginormous misunderstanding about this in our society, which leads to unneccessary stigma - that we are somehow in one bin (healthy) or the other (unhealthy). People in the "healthy" bin supposedly live happy, productive lives, while those in the "unhealthy" bin wither in obscurity (or something like that.)
But life is not like that. Some people seem "healthy" on the surface but are struggling to manage anxiety, depression, digestive problems, or whatever behind the scenes. Many people with long-term health challenges lead joyful, productive lives both personally and professionally. Also, even robust physically "healthy" folk are still human and face other challenges. We all have ups and downs of some kind or another. We all have strengths and weaknesses, blind spots, and beautiful gifts to share.
So, if you want more detail, and for me to answer the question already, here is my story, using the commonly understood pain experience of migraines/headaches as an analogy for v pain:
From 2004 - 2007 I had 365 migraines a year. It was hard to function or be happy then, although I still dragged myself to school and then work and back home again.
After three years I finally found some help. The migraines went away for a few months, but then I experienced some very stressful life events, and they came back. I then managed to find some other, new help, and learned and grew and changed, and my daily migraines dissipated. They became just plain old headaches, and then only intermittent headaches.
Now I have headaches a few times a year. They are usually pretty mild, the kind I don't even need Tylenol for, but on the rare occasion they warrant a Tylenol, I'll take it.
I think going from 365 debilitating migraines per year to the occasional mild headache is pretty impressive on the healing-from-chronic-pain scale! It is a fan-frickin'-tastic, raging success story.
As far as translating that analogy back to the v pain experience, in my "migraine" days I was in constant pain that would be exacerbated by even a slight touch, like wearing properly-sized underwear. All of my pants were two sizes too big, and I sought out jobs that allowed me to stand, as sitting was excruciating. Intercourse was a no-go (although I still had consistent pleasurable sex thanks to my clitoris. Oh how I love her!)
Now, with only the occasional headache, I live a normal life, with pants that fit - even tight jeans. I never worry about "How long will this activity require me to sit?" and enjoy intercourse and sex in general with such enthusiasm that my husband worries the neighbors will hear.
Functionally, I am a totally different person.
Another huge shift in my experience is that I no longer see pain as the enemy. It only crops up when my body is like, "Hey lady, I need a little adjustment here." It's my body's way of telling me that I need to change something, often in my relationships with myself or the outside world. I think the reason I so rarely need "Tylenol" these days (aka topical estrogen or some other kind of intervention) is because I have become so good at reading the messages of my body and responding in a loving way.
For instance, I get actual headaches when I am dehydrated, overdoing it, sleep-deprived, or stressed out. I get shoulder tension, forearm tension, and wrist pain when I am too long at the computer. Yes, these cues are annoying, but on the other hand if I take care of myself - stay hydrated, get sleep, take breaks from the computer - the physical cues to "adjust please" don't happen because there's no need for them. That's pretty reasonable, right?
It's the same with v pain. I feel little warning twinges when my boundaries are being disrespected or I feel really angry but am trying to hold it in. Since I know this about myself, the slightest hint of pelvic floor discomfort helps me stop, take a moment to figure where I am being violated, and then adjust course. Presto, pain averted.
Am I guaranteed to be pain-free every moment of every day, for forever and ever? No. Have I become the absolute master of my body and can fix everything about it exactly the way I want, every time? No. Have I achieved some mythical state of perfection, and no longer need to keep growing and learning? No. Am I still a work in progress? Yes.
Am I pain-free enough to live the life I want? Yes.
* * *
I share this level of detail with you all because when I first started having pain, I couldn't find a single role model! I wanted to hear a hopeful story, but there were none to be found.
So now you have it. I have become the (flawed, totally human) role model I wanted, ta da! Even if your pain is debilitating and you are having 365 "migraines" a year,
getting better is possible.
I'm here. I'm real. I climbed this mountain and you can too.
~ Faith ~