Sometimes I pause and think about what living with chronic coochie pain has taught me. But I know that I owe some of these present-day lessons -- the fact that I can learn them at all -- to having gone through the same thing with another invisible illness.
I have had bipolar disorder maybe my whole life. I know from dealing with it for so many years that despite the trials, I am better for having gone through it. I am a better person than I would've been otherwise, inside and out, and I wouldn't give it back if I could.
If I had been born without bipolar disorder, I would have had an easier time in college academically. If I had had an easier time, I would have, say, gone off to grad school immediately to study what I studied as an undergrad. I would have gotten a Ph.D. because becoming a professor would have seemed like the least of all possible evils, despite my obscene, undying hatred of academia. I would have set off on a rigid, narrow course through life, focusing on one specific subject when I have too many interests to number and can't, now, knowing myself, bear the thought of starving out all my other passions to serve a singular pursuit.
If I had had an easier time socially in my teens and early twenties, if I hadn't wanted to spend most of that time curled up in a deep dark hole, I wouldn't now understand the depths that people trudge through every day, often unbeknown to those around them. I wouldn't have learned that anyone and everyone everywhere has a reason why he is the way he is, and that he deserves the benefit of the doubt and the best of my empathy.
If I had been born without bipolar disorder, I wouldn't have spent all this time fighting to gain control of myself and learning how to live better. If life had been easier, there would have been no reason to raise all the questions I've raised, to make all the repairs, to change course a thousand times. I wouldn't have had to teach myself to live slowly, to go at my own pace, to ignore what others do and just do my own thing. I wouldn't have learned that delighting in my stupid cat as she plays with her stupid rubberband is the most important thing I can do on any given day.
And two years into vulvodynia, I can say that getting this disease was like striking gold. Yes, I am in pain all the time. Yes, I have no idea if I will ever be pain-free again. Yes, I can't have sex. Yes, I can't eat gluten or corn or sugar and on and on and on. Yes, yes, yes. And yes, sometimes I think I might go insane. But I know all the time that this experience has been, in a twisted way, one of the most rewarding of my life.
Because these past two years have really put my muscle to the test. What can I weather? What can I ignore? How strong is my self-discipline? How much hope can I have? Does it keep coming back setback after setback, day after day, the pain plain and sure as the rising sun?
Well, it does.
As I'm starting to put all the lessons together, those of both illnesses, I'm starting to learn what the best way is to live, for me. I'm learning how to keep myself on an even keel. I'm learning what I really want and what I really need. I'm learning to make sure I get it. I'm learning to get out of my own way.
If there is a case in favor of illness, this is it. I am so much better having trammels along the way. And certainly I will wake up pain-free tomorrow, or one of those tomorrows to come.