I've seen a therapist on and off for the past eight years or so for regular mental-health stuff, but this week I had the first session devoted entirely to my crotch.
First of all: my therapist is good. I've had...apparently too many therapists to count, maybe around ten. This therapist is the youngest I've had and also possibly the best. If your therapist sucks, don't give up! There are good ones out there!
At my appointment this week, my therapist hooked onto the vulvodynia issue and didn't let me stray from it. We talked about treatment options and how I feel about them, about the diet and its restrictions, about empathy and feeling isolated, about chronic pain in general. I had been expecting to talk about other things, but it was really good to have an hour-long conversation with someone about what is really the central issue in my life. It was...therapeutic, one might say.
While the whole conversation was worthwhile, what's stayed on the surface of my mind is our discussion about support and empathy. I told her how I recently had a panic attack over the pain that branched into panic over feeling like no one really hears me or gets what I'm going through -- that very, very few people appear to understand the impact that this condition has on my daily life.
We discussed how chronic pain is difficult in general because it's invisible, and I had images of people painting themselves wherever they feel pain in order to communicate their condition to others without having to say anything. Unfortunately, with vulvodynia, any paint job is going to look like a pantyliner accident. (In case you're wondering, yes, synesthetically, my crotch pain is largely red.)
We talked about how I feel isolated when my family gets together because my dad and my uncle get to talk about their back pain -- get asked about their back pain -- but I can't say anything about my pain without sounding vulgar. Indeed, anyone who knows about my pain in my extended family knows through my mother, and I think that amounts to two aunts.
We talked about how crappy people are at supporting others (crappy being my evaluation). She asked me what I'd want to hear from others, and it's ridiculously simple: "I'm so sorry." How hard is that? It's the first thing out of my mouth when others share their problems -- and half the time people respond with "It's not your fault." Since when does "sorry" only assume guilt? Maybe "I'm so sorry" has slipped out of our emotional lexicon and I'm old-fashioned, giving and expecting an erstwhile phrase.
We delved into my abhorring those who garner sympathy from a dozen different people every time they stub a toe. She, in that good ole therapist way, reminded me of the continuum: I don't have to become one of those people in order to share my experience and receive support from others. She suggested that while I don't have to mention it every time I see or speak with someone, I should feel free to bring it up more often with those close to me because otherwise most people forget or assume that since I'm not complaining or outwardly ailing, everything is okay.
It's hard with a condition like vulvodynia to feel like your problems are worth someone else's time. Yes, it has changed my life and it's with me every second of the day -- but it's not terminal, it's not death of a loved one, it doesn't disable me from leading a mostly normal life. How can I even complain? There are so many others out there who suffer worse!
Obviously this is faulty thinking. It's not like focusing on my problems diminishes the concern I have for someone else's. It's not like it diminishes the total overall support or well-being that exists in the universe -- as if there's a central pool of it that we all draw from and I should leave my store there for those who need it more.
In fact, the only way for me to be closer to happy and healthy is to process my problems as much as I need to and -- if at all possible -- involve others in the processing in order to have support.
I need to remind myself of one other thing: I wrote "complain" above, and then I realized that I hardly ever complain. Complaining sounds like "This is unfair!" "It really hurts!" "Why me?!" Instead, I sound like "Maybe if I eliminate orange juice..." So, yeah. I'm a little freaked out that I rarely complain, like it might mean I'm an alien or a reptile or something. Maybe I need to complain more.