Thursday, September 16, 2010

Vulvodynia on the Job

A few months ago, I helped a fellow server run the food to one of her tables. It took a couple trips because the table was large, eight or ten people. After we were done and I had gone back to my section, the patriarch of the table asked my co-worker, "Is she part of the management?"

"No," my co-worker said.

"Good," the man said.

My co-worker asked me if I had done or said anything to the table. I was bewildered. I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary around the table, and I had no idea why someone would speak ill of me so easily when I'd just been doing my job.

So I went back to the table and asked the man if there was a problem.

"No! No!" he protested. His daughter looked at me awkwardly.

Ten minutes later, as I walked away from one of my tables, the man stopped me in the middle of the dining room.

"I didn't want to say anything in front of the table, but ever since we walked in, you've given off this attitude," he said. He went on to tell me how he worked in customer service and was therefore qualified to rate my service despite that he outwardly appeared to be a mild-mannered layperson.

I apologized and babbled something relevant, but all I could think about was how I had been up the entire night before with a burning clit and now here was a customer berating me because he had taken my post-burning-clit-night lack of obligatory waitress exuberance as an attitude. When my boss walked up, my tears spilled over, and I ran down the hall to the bathroom.

If there's one reason I have patience with customer servants, it's because I never know if they were up all night with a burning clit.

But there's a flip side to this Vulvodynia on the Job business.

Having grown fitful in my employment as a servant to customers, I applied recently for a position in another kind of service -- public. The application required that I write a motivational statement explaining why I wanted to work in service. And though there were plenty of reasons coming together to make me pursue the transition, there was really only one with my full heart behind it.

Vulvodynia. The reason I want to help other people is -- vulvodynia.

So I wrote my motivational statement about vulvodynia.

I didn't use the term. I didn't cite the body part. I just wrote "chronic pain" as that was enough to tell my story. I talked about how scary the pain was to start, how I had changed my life's course at least twice because of it, and how it has taught me to care ever more deeply about others' well-being. I thought maybe I was sharing too much, that I might be stigmatized or passed over because I was revealing such grave personal details. But I sent the statement off anyway because I knew that it was good, for one, and, more importantly, because it was the truest answer I had.

I got an e-mail the next day from the coordinator saying she was very impressed with my application, particularly my motivational statement. I got a call two days later asking me to interview for a position -- at a health-care center for the homeless.

I won't share where I'll be working because I don't want my new co-workers to know about what's going on between my legs. That's a discussion best kept for later. For now, I'm savoring the fruits of my courage -- and reminding myself that a trial like this doesn't have to be about fighting off tears after a restless night in pain. Instead, it can be about achieving new territory via this vulvodynia trial, this rite of passage that has, in the long view, never given up on making me a better human being.


  1. That's awesome. Congratulations on your new job. And I think that honesty and straightforwardness (real word?), as in your letter, is almost always the best way to go. And it payed off. Forget about that customer. He may be a professional "customer service guy", but he couldn't possibly understand a full night of your clit being on fire. Good luck at your new job.

  2. Congratulations on your new job! ! ! That is wonderful news! Living with chronic pain can give you a tremendous capacity of empathy. I'm very proud of you!