Sunday, September 18, 2016

I'll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Women seem to say this all the time, but it bears repeating. It is so important for us to have girlfriends. Well, ok. Maybe women don't say this all the time, but we should. Magazines always seem to have articles on the important of having women friends and making time to nurture and cultivate those friendships.

Susan and I on a visit to Louisville, where she and her family live, back in 2010.
To have other women we can laugh with and cry with. Eat with (ummm...I may have a food obsession issue...don't judge me!), talk to and share with and learn from and just have the support that we all need while going through this crazy thing called life. I've really come to realize how much those friendships mean to me in the past few months while I've been dealing with this crazy and inconvenient little health issue of mine (for the love of God, I just wanted to get laid!). I've had more friends than I can count or acknowledge who have been willing to listen to me and be supportive. It also may help that I am paying someone to listen to me every other week, too, before I drive those friends absolutely insane talking about things all the time. Never underestimate the importance of professional help when you can't seem to help yourself. (And before your friends and family no longer want to deal with listening to you.)

With my friends Heather and DD. We could have talked for 3 more hours easily.
This is all in the forefront of my mind today because I was lucky enough to spend several hours with two lovely friends yesterday. I hadn't seen them in several years, but through the "wonders" of social media, it often feels like you've only seen someone a few days ago. We picked up where we'd left off and had the best time together. We could have kept talking for several more hours if we all hadn't needed to get home. And no, I didn't monopolize the conversation talking about all my issues and what's going on in my life. My life really isn't interesting enough to talk about it all day long, no matter how much I wish that it was!

Laughing after dinner with Ilana and Linda in Arizona.

I also had a great mini vacation out west last month to hang out with one of my oldest friends, Linda, where we stayed up late talking and drinking and eating and then playing dress up at 4am. Things are rarely boring with the people who know you so well. Although I refuse to take responsibility for trying on a dress 2 sizes smaller than I am since it really was 4am and we'd killed 2 bottles of wine at that point.

I'm going to try to take a little step back in the future and really try to appreciate the friendships that I am blessed to have. As an adult, it can be so hard to meet new people and forge new friendships since we are all busy with our lives and families and jobs. It can be even more difficult to keep nurturing the friendships you already have. But it's important to try. To remember why we love the people that we love and the amazing value they bring into our lives. It's time for me to be better about that. Starting now.

Two of my best friends from college, Kelli and Cindy, catching up a couple of years ago at Thanksgiving.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Unmentionables

I made the declaration on social media the other day that I should filter a new list strictly for the status updates I always want to post, but never do because they seem inappropriate. Possibly extremely funny, but not really appropriate.

Several friends seemed enthused by that notion, but every now and then my better judgement prevails.
Or does it?
It’s always a dilemma. But maybe that’s what blogs are for (aside from being a delightful exercise in vanity).
I told my friend Ruby I was going to blame her for this blog post and so I am. She told me that I should start a 2nd blog with the title “The Vaginismus Chronicles”. I will NOT be doing that, even though all the funny nonsense that seems to come out of my mouth these days is related to my attempts to get healthy. But for Ruby, I’m collecting some of the things I didn’t want to post on FB and putting them here. And then, naturally, posting a link on Facebook so people can read it. I mean, that makes sense, right?
I get so tired of going to physical therapy twice a week. This has been going on since April and while I know time and patience are involved, patience is a virtue I have never possessed. It’s not even about wanting to be able to have pain-free sex – or have sex, period – anymore, but being tired of having to spend so much time thinking about my vagina. I swear, adult film stars don’t spend this much time thinking about their private parts. It really gets old. As does my vagina. Older every day. It's like I'm living in a world I never even planned to visit and now I'm taking up permanent residence.
Much as I am weary of the physical therapy, I do try to have a positive attitude about it because going into a session without feeling positive is only going to make for a bad session. The PT is not cheap and I refuse to waste my time or money. If my mind and body won’t relax, then the therapy won’t work and I may complain a little, but I’m very determined for it to work. I’ve kind of forgotten exactly why now, but I’m sure there is a good reason. What was it…what was it… Gimme a few minutes. It’ll come back to me.
The physical therapy room. It's like a spa for your vagina!
Except, y'know, not.
The therapy room is relaxing, as it is intended to be, and I’ve said in the past that the physical therapist as the perfect personality for the kind of work she does. We laugh all the time, which is dangerous if I drink too much water in the morning before I go and feel the desperate need to pee. Nothing good can come of that. It’s a horrible accident waiting to happen.
The other day after PT, I was cleaning up and thought to myself, “Man, there is lube everywhere!" That seemed like an inappropriate status update to post on Facebook though, but totally funny to me and probably to my PT as she always says that she uses too much lube. But let’s get real here, lack of lube usage is probably part of the problem for some people, so I say the more the merrier. Except, y’know, it’s really messy. That’s something they don’t teach you in sex ed class I’d wager.
This morning I was picking up a bra to put it on and saw something on one of the cups that I couldn’t identify. I just looked and thought, “Oh, there’s something on this. Not sure what it is.” *pausing* “Well, I hope at least I had fun!” When I relayed that to a friend, her response was, “Here’s hoping you did!” and the first response I could think of was, “Well, usually when my blouse is off I'm having a good time, so there's a solid chance that I did.” This. This is what you get from my brain on too many Oreos. The struggle is real.

My counseling sessions with the psychotherapist also continue and progress. Well, they feel like they are progressing, so I hope that they are. Right now she wants me to make an effort to get out and meet more people, be more social. I’m also sure she wants me to take the opportunity to meet more men, making it easier to get over any lasting attachments I may have to the friend I was canoodling with earlier this year. But when someone says you need to ‘get over him’, I usually want to respond with “But I haven’t even been UNDER him recently!!” Buh-dum-bum. Yes, yes, I do fancy myself quite funny.

Thankfully, I have some friends who will check on my progress and how I’m dealing with my situation. It’s not the end of the world or some monstrous health crisis, I know. I get that. But it’s a quality of life issue and that cannot be denied.

One friend is a former boss of mine who I now see once a week. For a while, she kept tabs on me after she’d left our office to make sure I hadn’t decided to up and quit. Even though she, y’know, up and quit and left me there. But whatever. We’re buddies and appreciate the snark in each other and it’s nice to get to see her regularly now, even for a few minutes between her meeting and running back to her new office.
She asked why I was at physical therapy the first time she came around and I told her the whole story. Since I keep saying I’ve lost my filter, I will tell pretty much anyone all about this situation, even if they’d probably rather I did not. But as my friend is a doctor, she was instantly familiar with what vaginismus is and the treatment options and was mostly pleased at first that I might be having sex at all. Gotta love a supportive friend, right?

Still defective, but it could always
be worse.
On her way out the door the first time she said, “I’ll text you and check on how your va-jay-jay is doing!” She hasn’t yet, but I can assure you that eventually she will. This week, however, she simply said, “I’ll be back next week to see how you are doing!” My response was, “I’ll still be defective!”

Ah yes, that’s how it feels. Like I’m defective. I know that I’m not, but those thoughts of negativity and frustration and slight depression still sneak in from time to time. But for now, right this minute, I’m just going to laugh. If laughter is the best medicine, then I’m all set.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Things I Won't Be

Apparently when I’m tired and on vacation, I write stream-of-consciousness notes on my iPhone and find them later. I can neither confirm or deny that happens after I’ve been up till 4am, killing 2 bottles of wine with my bestie and then having her make me try on nearly every dress in her closet – including her wedding dress – some of which were at least 2 sizes smaller than yours truly. But it could have happened then. It’s all a blur at this point. In a good way.  

I think we could learn a lot about each other if we looked at the notes on folks’ phones. I tend to store all kinds of things in those notes, from grocery lists to random bits of wannabe poetry to, well, to things that aren’t your business. Hahahahahaha I act like I don’t tell everyone my business these days. I’m so funny.  

I don’t remember what precipitated writing this, but after re-reading it, I kinda like it. Maybe even a lot. 

The Things I Won’t Be
I won't be the woman who's ashamed. 

I won't be the woman who refuses to deal with her problems I won't be the one who hides because she's afraid people will see her. 

I won't be afraid to face my problems head on. To fight for what is worth fighting for. 

I won't be the woman waiting for someone else to save her when I can damned well save myself. 

Who hides behind her mother's skirts. 

Who needs someone else to tell me I'm pretty. 

Who needs your approval or flinches when you disapprove. 

Who sits idly by while the world keeps moving around me. 

Who puts on a pretty facade while inside my guts are churning. 

Who lets anyone else tell me what to do or how to live my life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

That is so unlike me. Except when it's not.

About 10 months ago I declared it "The Year of Yes" (sorry Shonda Rhimes, I only heard of your book recently). I don't really remember what precipitated that decision, but it came up in a conversation with a co-worker shortly after my birthday and then it became so. The plan was to try saying "yes" to more things than I say "no" to. I've done so-so with that personal challenge. I honestly don't think about it a lot of the time and just go with whatever my gut thinks I should or shouldn't do. I mean, a random "yes" to everything is never going to be a good idea, although it could land you in some interesting situations I suppose. But not necessarily good ones.

Sometimes I stop, as I did today, and realize that I haven't really been saying yes to much lately or even trying to find opportunities to say yes. With less than 2 months left in the year (it started around October 19th), I decided I need to work a little harder to find those opportunities. Or to at least see them when they present themselves. I'm not great at recognizing opportunities, even when they are hovering right in front of my eyes. I get so caught up in whatever nonsense is happening on a daily basis that I think I overlook opportunities that come along. My goal for the next few months is to try and keep my eyes open a little more, my mind open a lot more, and try to see the things that are coming into my life that I need to grab a hold of and enjoy the ride.

I've definitely had some fun in the past year. I've opened my mind to things. I've done things that I consider outside of my normal nature, though when I said one time that whatever I was doing "just isn't like me", a friend responded with something along the lines of how maybe who I am now is the real me and who I was before isn't so much that person anymore. Who knows. I imagine whoever I am at any point in time is the "real" me as it is indicative of who I am at that point in my life, with those particular life experiences.

I'll confess that I like who I am more now than who I was a year ago. Although at the same time, I can't say that I really remember who that person was. I'm not sure if I'm actually a different person or if it's all in my mind. Oh sure, I didn't wear a lot of dresses until about a year ago, but I'm not sure that's indicative of a giant personality change or anything. It's just a heck of a lot of fun messing with the heads of women I work with who can't seem to figure out why I'm suddenly wearing dresses. Hint: I can fit into some of the ones I had now, so I wear them. Where my obsessive need to buy blue dresses came from, however, I have no idea.

Mostly I feel like I'm happier now than I was before and friends have expressed that they see it in me. It's nice that it's showing through, rather than my standard MO of being seriously grumpy and unpleasant. Life is too short not to enjoy it and that's what I try to remind myself. Even when enjoying is sitting in bed watching TV on a Friday night.

One thing that has sadly fallen off of my radar a long, long way is my relationship with God. While I've been out running around buying pink sweaters and blue dresses, I still haven't found a church home in my "new" city after living here for 4 years. Church was a huge part of my life before and filled with so many friends and good times. Now I just roll over on Sunday morning and go back to sleep, grateful for a chance to sleep in and a lazy day ahead. That's not who I want to be or how I want to live. Perhaps as I try to refocus on saying "yes" more the next few months, I need to turn that focus more to the things that would please God rather than simply what pleases me. The things that do more for his glory than for my own. Those things necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. I can have fun and enjoy my life and all the while be doing things that glorify the lord. I've lost my focus on that, but am going to try and turn it around.

When "The Year of Yes" ends in a few months, I have to be ready to turn it into "The Life of Yes" or maybe just "I'll Say Yes When I Feel Like it and Otherwise Leave Me Alone". The latter is so much more like who I think I am, but as long as I keep looking for changes to grow and change, I think it's all good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I'm not inspirational. Or brave. I'm really just a big old dork.

“You’re the meaning in my life, you’re the inspiration…”

Sappier words were likely never spoken. Or in this case, sung. Thank you, Chicago – the band, not the city – for those wonderful words, sprinkled like sugar on a donut and performed at weddings everywhere since the late 1980s. 

Inspiration. That’s a strange word to me, but it’s come up a good bit lately.

Yesterday, my friend Natalie told me that I had inspired one of her song choices in her Zumba class. The song is called “Sexy”. Ummm…I think I laughed out loud. Right in her face. Because let’s be real - putting me and the word “sexy” into the same sentence is laughable. It just is. Snarky? Sure. Sassy? Most definitely. But sexy? Seriously, I’m laughing again as I type this. Sexy I ain’t. 

Oh, I understood what Natalie was talking about when she elaborated a little bit, since I seem to be having my own personal sexual revolution here in my mid-40s (Holy crap! How did I get in my mid-40s?!?!), but the notion that I was in some way inspirational for that song is so far out there that I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s flattering I suppose, but makes me uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as this nasty summer weather, but it’s a close second.

Now, I’m not fishing for compliments by writing this post. I’m just trying to express my confusion or amusement or whatever you want to call it. When someone says I’ve inspired them or that I’m brave, I do my best to deflect all of that. I’m the girl who screams “Look at me!! Look at me!!” and then freaks out when you look at her.

Some people seem to be inspired or impressed (also another word that makes me uncomfortable) that I’ve shared some very personal information about a medical situation, but I swear, the next person who calls me brave is getting backhanded. I’m NOT brave, dammit!! I’m scared and confused and kinda pissed off about the whole thing. I still feel like some weirdo with a problem that most folks don’t have, even though I’ve learned that a whole heck of a lot of folks do have this same problem. That’s why I’m fighting back. That’s why I’m trying to take control of my health and figure things out. That’s not bravery. That’s self-preservation. It’s not wanting to feel like a freak with a problem and a freak is what I felt like in the beginning. I’m better now, but still frustrated and just wishing this problem would go away. 

I’ve talked ad nauseam about my weight loss journey the past year and a half and I know folks are tired of hearing about that too. It turns out, however, that some folks have been inspired (there’s that word again) by my journey and while that is nice to hear, it still makes me uncomfortable. I was always the kid who hid behind her mother’s skirts to avoid attention and that is still at the core of who I am. I might holler for attention, but as I said before, it messes with my head when I actually get that attention.

Ultimately, while I’m not comfortable thinking I’ve inspired anyone to do anything, I guess that if this crazy journey of life that I’m on has helped someone in some way, then it’s all good. I’ve shared things because I feel that I have to. It’s not always that I want to (Do you really think I want everyone all up in my vagina?? Not so much…unless you’re a really hot guy and then we can totally discuss it.), but it would help me to know that I’m not alone in things I’m dealing with and I imagine it helps others too.

Once again, I’m rambling as I am want to do. I’m silly. I’m sarcastic. But I’m still not sexy. Trust me, if you saw my favorite Disney pajamas that I wear in the winter time, you’d totally agree. It's always interesting to try to understand the way that other people see us, since I'd guess we rarely see ourselves the same way.

So I’ll go on being scared and apprehensive. Worried and confused. Normal, I suppose. Dammit. I never wanted to be normal either!! Sheesh.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The one where I use the word "naked" way too much

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog talking about a health issue I’ve been dealing with for several months. It got good response and many, many page views and…well, life goes on as usual. Nothing to see here people. Move along, move along.

My life didn’t change. I can’t say that I felt unburdened because I didn’t feel burdened to begin with. I was simply doing what I felt was right and sharing that information in case it helps someone else. Knowledge is power and all that stuff.
Unfortunately, I haven’t really been in contact with my friend since then, but I knew when I shared the post it would likely mean the end of anything between us. I imagine it’s disconcerting to see details about yourself put before the world, even if they don’t know it’s you. You know it’s you and that can be tough.
Things were always supposed to be no strings and that’s not quite how my particular situation was making it, I suppose. He wanted casual and got me instead, God help him! Hahaha So this wasn’t what he signed up for and I get that. I always wanted to believe that we were really good friends and we’re not. That's not really a negative thing as we were always friendly casual acquaintances and seeing each other naked doesn’t change that. It just means we’ve seen each other naked. And he wasn’t blinded for life seeing me naked, so I think it’s all good.
This morning I was thinking about the fact that I am actually comfortable enough with my body now to let a man see me naked. Oh, I’ll give my friend a little credit for that comfort level as I think you have to be comfortable with someone to let them see you in a vulnerable state like that, but he doesn’t get all the credit. I was well on my way to a new self-appreciation when I started losing weight. Getting healthier and deciding to like my body was a huge thing for me.
I spent too many years not treating myself with kindness. Abusing my body with the food I put into it and not getting enough sleep or exercise, but when I changed my habits, it helped change my attitude. That was no easy feat either because I had ingrained negativity from childhood. Being called fat and ugly by other kids are things you remember and that’s what happened to me. It stuck with me and I’ve always had a hard time accepting compliments or thinking that my body looked good. It’s all fine and dandy to be told you have a great personality, but that tends to be code for “ugly” to a lot of people and I can’t help but haul around that notion myself.
Losing weight helped me a lot in feeling better about who I am and how I look. I hate to say that because I wouldn’t want someone else to put judgements on themselves over appearance, but I have done that to myself every day for years. Decades. I still do to an extent, but I’m trying to get better. At the same time, however, I know that for me losing weight has made me feel better about who I am and I’m so glad for that. I can’t ever go back to who I once was. It's simply not an option.
Being able to change my wardrobe to literally fit this new body has been a blessing because I’ve started to appreciate my curves and am learning to accept compliments by saying “thank you” and simply moving on. Ok, ok, so I also mention it on social media every. single. time. that someone compliments me, but y’all don’t even understand how seldom that has ever happened in my life. No one ever tells me that I’m pretty or look good, so the times it actually does happen are a big deal to me. And I’d bet it is to other people who have felt this same way at times.
I will probably always struggle with this, but I’m better than I used to be and right now that’s good enough for me. My friend did help me appreciate this body of mine and for that I will always be grateful. I figure if I’m going to let you look at me completely naked in daylight, then I trust you and I think that’s big. I’m not sure when I might feel comfortable enough with someone else to let them seem me naked, but it’s nice knowing that it’s not an impossibility.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

How I'm learning to "bless and release".

“May you be happy.  May you be healthy.  May you be peaceful.  May you know love."

I  found that quote on someone's blog when I was looking for more definitions of what it means to "bless and release" someone or something. I had the general idea of what it all meant, but wanted to dig a little deeper.

The idea of "blessing and releasing" something that isn't working in your life - whether it is a relationship or a life situation like a job or the place where you live - may not be a new concept to most or many people, but it's a new one for me. I was recently introduced to it by my friend Rachel while we were discussing some areas of our respective lives that just aren't working. If I understand the idea correctly, it's about accepting people and situations as they are, without trying to mold them into what you want them to be. And then letting those things go.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time in my hometown here in South Carolina. It's really my 2nd hometown, but the one that I claim more as "home" than the town where I spent the first 13 years of my life. I went to high school there and lived there for about 10 years as an adult later on. I moved away 4 years ago, but go back with regularity to see family and friends. It's only an hour away, so it's not like it's a hardship. I had time to kill between activities yesterday, so I was looking for things to do and people to see and let me tell you, it was not easy to kill 4+ hours of time in that city.

Sumter isn't a large city nor is it a small town. I'm not really sure how I would classify it, but the trouble is, there really isn't anything to do. The mall is a pit. I can't describe it any other way. I remember the mall heyday of the 80s and how many great shops it had. You could easily spend hours there without worrying about having a place to shop. The mall had a facelift in the past year and inside does look nice, except for the extreme lack of stores. There are very few big chain stores and those are what is going to anchor a shopping mall. I've never understood the change to people wanting that outdoor shopping plaza experience because I prefer to be indoors and not have to worry about the weather, but that seems to be how things have moved over the years. This mall simply doesn't have much to offer and the stores it does have are either overcrowded with merchandise, have very poor heating and air systems (it was pretty miserably hot in JC Penney), or they are dirty. One store I went into had absolutely filthy carpeting and I am baffled that they haven't bothered to clean it. I mean, it was clear something massive was spilled all over and not just recently. But I'm getting off the original topic. The point of the mall was that I was going to kill time there and I did manage to, but it was a challenge.

Outside of the mall, I'm not sure of any public places you can go to just "hang out". Oh, the public library would have worked for sure, but I never made it that far. I did stop at the local art gallery to check out a couple of pieces a friend has in a show there and that gave me at least 30 minutes of time well spent, but that's where I seemed to have my epiphany (although that my be giving it a much better name and value than it deserves).

As I was leaving the parking lot of the gallery, just down the street from my old house, I realized that I can never go back and live in Sumter again. If I still had a home there, I would have been busy at home that afternoon or possibly even doing something with friends (though I'm not sure what as I can't recall much going on on Saturday afternoons in the past), but without a base to work from, there really didn't seem to be anything to do. Maybe it's because I have a volunteer commitment every Saturday afternoon now and that gives me something that I know I am going to be doing. A place I'll pretty much always be going each week. Oh, but I'm getting all tied up in having places to go and things to do and I'm well aware of things that happen in Sumter and "things to do". Activities that are scheduled and events that take place. That's not really the point, even though it's what I seem to be going on about.

Driving away I was hit with the thought that this really wasn't my home anymore. For a few years now, every month when I drive into town, I would be hit with a wave of nostalgia. If I spent any significant time in town, I would really feel the pull. Things are familiar in Sumter. Things are easy. Nothing is too far from anything else. I know people there. My father still lives there. It's definitely my comfort zone. But should I be living life inside my comfort zone? Is that really living? Shouldn't I be challenging myself and pushing the boundaries?

Oh, those may be questions for another day, but the impact of those thoughts stayed with me. After dinner at a friend's house, we were chatting and someone asked if I would really want to move back to town. I relayed the thoughts I'd had earlier in the day and started to get a little choked up. I said that I'd had the realization that this wasn't my home anymore. That I didn't think I could really live there again for various reasons. I have friends there and could always be very involved in the community theater again, but other than that, I had a hell of a time figuring out what would anchor me there.

I guess this hit me so strangely because it came out of left field. I've spent a lot of time thinking "If only I could move back, then life would be easier. It's so simple there." And then to suddenly realize that it probably wouldn't work for you, well, I just wasn't expecting that. I'm still processing it.

And now we're back to the idea of "bless and release". I told my friends last night that I had the clear feeling that it was time for me to bless and release my hometown and move on. It will always be my hometown. Always be where I'm from. But it's not where I can go back to. I had to do the same thing 2 years ago with the town of my childhood, Chester, VA. I went for a visit as an adult and saw it through adult eyes. I still have the great memories of my childhood, but it's not that place anymore. Which doesn't make it a bad place, mind you, it's simply not my place.

When I was traveling through Western Australia 9 years ago (Holy crap! How is that 9 years ago?!?!), the last night of our trip, I was chatting with someone at a banquet and he told me his son was in the USA doing a study abroad program and struggling. He wanted to come home, but his dad told him to remember that "It's not good. It's not bad. It's just different." I pull that out now and then as a good reminder to myself when I'm in an uncomfortable situation. Sometimes, it's just different.

Yesterday I learned some unexpected lessons. In fact, I've been doing that since last October, when I declared the "Year of Yes" to be happening. I can't say that they are always welcome lessons, but we learn from everyone and everything that comes into our lives. And one lesson to learn is that sometimes you have to bless and release. Whether it's people, places, experiences. We have to let go and move on. Now that I've B&R'd my hometown, I'm looking around at other parts of my life where that may need to happen. I hate letting go of things, of people, but maybe it's time to look for the blessings to be gained from doing that. The ones I can give as well as the ones I can receive.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ain't that a shame

For some reason lately I’ve been body shaming myself. It’s not like this is anything new, but for a few months there I was enjoying some love for this body of mine. Then suddenly about a week or so ago, I started looking at it through…well, not rose-colored glasses, obviously, but maybe in some really weird fun house mirrors. I thought I’d gotten past that and was at a better place, but it seems I was wrong.

My thighs. Oh, my thighs. I don’t know why I have such a hate-hate relationship with them.  Through genetics or way too much cake, I have large thighs. I remember back in high school thinking the same thing, but they are about 25 inches around now whereas they were about 18 back then (I only know this because I have one old pair of jeans from junior year of high school and they measure 18 inches around in the thighs). They are definitely large now, but there is also a lot of muscle packed into them. In the past year or so I’ve found that they can do some amazing things, like allow me to run at times. Not a lot and not for long (I don’t attempt more than a sprint from the tree to the light post to the next tree), but they can still do some amazing things. I’ve abused them this year and even ended up with an IT Band injury that continues to act up when I exercise too much. *pauses* bahahahahahahahaa  I have exercised too much and caused myself sports injuries. That’s so hilarious to me. But as usual, I digress.

Less than two months ago I was signing their praises and all about my curves and this body of mine. Then I hit the wall. I wish I knew why my default mode was looking in the mirror and feeling less than. Not good enough. Unpretty. It’s a hateful thing to be tied up in.

I sat at a luncheon yesterday chatting with a woman as we indulged in a lot of really good, high calorie food. As it tends to do sometimes, conversation turned to our bodies and weight and weight loss. As I was buttering a roll and shoveling it in (I love food…until I start shaming myself for eating it.) We discussed workouts and weight loss – and weight re-gain – and laughed over what we were eating with relish, along with the workouts we had planned for the evening to burn the calories.  We discussed my weight loss last year and how I did it (“That crappy way everyone tells you works – eating less, eating better, and getting more exercise.”) and some of her weight gain the past year. She’d gained about 20 pounds in the past year, putting her back at 208, which is 10 pounds less than where I started on my journey. We are the same height – 5’ 7” – and I have to tell you that she is beautiful. I see it looking at her and told her so (because we all need to hear it, with sincerity). We could totally relate to the struggles and wanting to eat food we enjoy and not having to give it up. As she said, “Who wants to stop eating pie?!” Yep. I’m totally on board with that and, y’know, my unnatural love of cake.

Our conversation eventually came around to me telling her that body shaming is horrible, but I think it can be worse when we do it to ourselves. She was so relieved to know that she’s not the only one who does that! I confessed that I’d been doing it to myself a lot lately and I hated it, but wasn’t sure how to stop. It’s such a horrible pit to be in, when you keep looking at yourself and thinking you are inferior. Not even to anyone else, but to that foolish ideal that you keep in your own head of how you are “supposed” to look.  If I can’t look at myself with love and acceptance, why do I assume that others will? Why is my default always to deflect a compliment, rather than simply say “thank you” and move on in appreciation that someone thought enough of me to say something nice? Why do I judge myself by what I’ve eaten or whether I have a little fat here or some jiggle there (actually, I kind like my jiggle, but that’s just me…)?

Oh yes, being human is hard and it is such a first-world problem to have, worrying that you have too much to eat. No one is a harsher critic of me than I am of myself. I expect more of myself than I do of others (and often expect way too less of others). I need to stop judging myself by the numbers on the scale, but if I stop weighing myself then things get out of control. I worry about my attitudes about food now that I’ve lost a few pounds. I pay a lot more attention to food and what I’m eating and how much than I ever did in the past and that isn’t always a good thing.

It’s too easy to live inside your head and let the negative thoughts eat away at you. Telling you that you aren’t good enough. Will never be “enough”…whatever the hell that means. So the struggle now is to stop body shaming myself and most definitely not shame anyone else. I’m guilty of having done that in the past, but would have been so upset had it been done to me. And now I do it to myself. It’s time to remember that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God don’t make no junk, y’know? If I can learn to really believe that, I’ll consider it a big win.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When life hands you lemons, go to the doctor, figure out what the hell is wrong and fix it!

I picked up a book at the library the other day called “Atlas of Cursed Places” and immediately thought “Surely that must be about my vagina”. Oh, sure. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but it’s always been on me. My vagina, you see, is no man’s land. As in, “No man wants to go there”. And there in, my friends, lies (part of) the problem.
This is the longest and most personal post I have ever written and I would greatly appreciate it if you would read it. You’re going to think this is strictly for women, but it’s not. It IS about women’s health, but men need to know about this particular issue as well. Your partners deserve that, should this ever be a problem for some of you and based on conversations I’ve been having for the past 3 months, this is an issue for so many more people than you might imagine.
This is a story I need to tell, even if people think it’s “over-sharing”. Even if people think it should be embarrassing to me (it’s not, by the way). Even if I have trouble telling it at times (I do, a little, because I’m putting you right up in my business). But no matter what, I’m sharing my story and I hope it helps someone.
I’ve held off for a while out of respect for the man involved, to protect his privacy, even though I have no plans to name names or give any details about him beyond the necessary bits and pieces. But I digress…so here goes…
In March 2016, I was diagnosed with vaginismus. What the heck is that, you ask? (Or even if you didn’t…) According to, “When a woman has vaginismus, her vagina's muscles squeeze or spasm when something is entering her, like a tampon or a penis. It can be mildly uncomfortable, or it can be painful. There are exercises a woman can do that can help, sometimes within weeks. Painful sex is often a woman's first sign that she has vaginismus. The pain happens only with penetration. It usually goes away after withdrawal, but not always.”
In my case, it means that having sexual intercourse is extremely painful and, quite frankly impossible. Believe me, I’ve tried! Yes. That’s right. I said it. I’ve been having sex. Well, trying to have sex. And nothing is as “fun” as being with your partner in the moment and ready to go and penetration is simply impossible. I didn’t like it. I can assure you that HE didn’t like it. No one was happy in that situation.
In the immediate aftermath, I thought it was my fault. That it was something I was doing wrong or could control, but that’s not exactly true. There is something wrong, but it’s not my fault and it wasn’t my partner’s fault. That’s important for me to understand because I felt kind of like a freak at the time. After stewing over it for a few days, I did the only thing I could think of to do – go talk to my doctor and see what was going on and how I could fix the problem.
I’ve been told vaginismus is a mental disorder and I’ve been told it is a physical disorder and the truth is, it’s both. It really depends on the individual. In my case, the vaginal muscles are involuntarily tightening up whenever a penis tries to penetrate. There is once again a joke in here somewhere about my vagina being an inhospitable environment, but I’m not really laughing. Some women can’t even insert tampons without a lot of physical pain, but I’m fortunate that I haven’t had trouble with that. But again, that doesn’t seem to matter when you’re in the moment with a man you are attracted to and want to have sex with and it’s just not happening because your body is betraying you. That’s how it felt to me. Like a betrayal. And so very, very unfair.
I should say that when I decided to be intimate with my partner it had been many years since I was sexually active. I have no problem admitting that because for me, sex isn’t something I take lightly and jump right into. I don’t really care what goes on in other people’s bedrooms, but I know how I choose to live my life and honestly, after several years, I didn’t really care much anymore. Not having sex was the norm for me.
Plus, being overweight for mostly all of my life, it was easy to hide behind the pounds and the poundCAKE and say that men weren’t interested in me because I was fat. Well, I can also be really bitchy, so that might be part of it too. J After losing 40 pounds in the past year, I have found more confidence in my body and appearance and I generally feel really good about myself. When the chance came along to be with a man I was very attracted to and who, to my great astonishment, was actually attracted to me and wanted to have sex with me, I was absolutely interested. Wild horses couldn’t have stopped me.
We weren’t dating, but were friends and I considered him a “safe” person – physically, mentally, and in terms of his personal health – and he is still a friend (as far as I know), so be warned I will not entertain any negative comments about this man. I did make him aware that I hadn’t had sex in quite a while, but neither of us knew that there would be trouble ahead. I figured as long as we both knew I was going to be pretty awkward – and when isn’t it awkward to be naked with someone for the first time? – then everything else would work itself out. Hoooo boy. That’s what I get for thinking.
Now, there’s a slightly funny element to this story. It wasn’t funny at the time, but when relaying the situation now, as I did to my new counselor the other day, I had to laugh. Two people who had known each other casually for many years start flirting and after a few months decide they should have sex, even though they haven’t laid eyes on each other in years. Yeah. Because nothing could go wrong with that scenario, am I right? I mean, it’s all “Hey. How are you? Good to see you again! Oh, there’s your penis and here are my breasts. Haven’t seen those before, have we?” Yeah. Nothing could go wrong here. I’m still shaking my head over the naiveté of that one.
My partner and I attempted intercourse multiple times the first time we were together, but it was impossible. Not for lack of interest on either part, I assure you, but there was just no way. Finally, we were both frustrated and decided it was time to get dressed and move on.
I’m not sure which of us was bothered more about this. It might have been 50/50, but I was definitely unhappy. Since, as I’ve said, sex isn’t something I go into lightly, finally being ready again after many years and then finding out that your body won’t cooperate? Well, it sucks. There’s no prettier wording for it. It. Sucks.
After that encounter, I decided to take the bull by the horns and go see my OB/GYN, even though my annual visit had been less than 2 months prior. I knew that each year the pelvic exam was painful and it was hard to insert the speculum, but I figured it was once a year so I could live with it since the exam took 5 minutes max. My doctor never said anything to me about the tightness issues either, but I wish she had.
I went in for a visit for “painful intercourse” and after a pelvic ultrasound (also not my idea of a good time), the doctor and I chatted and she was able to tell me that all the internal parts were in working order. She was also able to assure me that righting this wrong wasn’t impossible. Then she told me about a physical therapist in Columbia that works with women on things like this and did I want a referral. Yes please! Sign me up! Anything to help my situation.
It should be noted here that “fixing” this problem was not and is not about the man I was with or any possible future sexual involvement we might have (and at this time, I don’t know that we will have any…or that we won’t). This was 100% about and for ME and no one else. I didn’t care if I never had another opportunity to have sex in my life; I still wanted to get my body working the way that it is supposed to. So off I went to the physical therapist back in late March.
On my first visit, the PT explained to me what was going on and how the various muscles work together and connect and she also said that no, it wasn’t a hopeless situation, which was a relief. I might not be particularly sexual person by nature, but we always seem to want what we can’t have and at this point I was already damned determined to get this figured out. After an exam, she set up regular appointments for me to come in and work on the issues. And once again, nothing says “big fun” like having to talk all about personal things with a total stranger.
Pelvic Floor physical therapy is for women AND for men and isn’t just about sexual issues. It can help with things like urinary or fecal incontinence or post-partum issues that the body is having and so many other things. I had no idea this sort of thing even existed so it’s been a fascinating experience for me in that respect. During a typical PT appointment, we work with medical dilators that come in various sizes and are used to stretch the vaginal walls. Once your body is able to accept one size without any pain, you work on the next size up until you have reached the dilator that is the size of the average penis (the large size dilator is the size of the average penis, I am told). The goal is working the muscles to stretch them and make penetration possible and comfortable. There isn’t a magic cure for vaginismus and the therapy isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it. It just takes time. Therapy can also be done at home, which I do once or twice a week, in addition to my in-office physical therapy.
Before anyone gets any smart ideas, let me say right now that there is nothing remotely sexual or arousing about this. Nothing at all. I can’t even imagine how it possibly could be. Pain doesn’t arouse me and I assure you there has been pain. Not horrible, screaming, agonizing pain, but definitely pain. But I work through it and things have been slowly improving. Every move forward is a big victory to me that I celebrate.
A few weeks into the start of my physical therapy, my friend and I decided to get together again and be intimate. I’m sorry to say that once again, penetration wasn’t possible and we were both extremely frustrated. Again, I’m not sure which one of us was bothered more, but I will say that my friend did not want to hear about what was going on with my health. He stated so straight out when I tried to talk about it. I fault him for that reaction, but you can’t force someone to hear what they don’t want to hear. It would have been great if he had been interested in what was going on and how we could work around that to try and make intercourse work (or just have a hell of a lot of fun in other ways!), but that’s not how things worked out.
As I’ve said previously, we were friends before we decided to become intimate and we remain friends (again, as far as I know) and I’ve given him the opportunity to see this before I ever post it on the internet.  Once again, I’d like to say that I would appreciate folks NOT speaking negatively about this man. It’s not going to change anything and I could list numerous ways that my relationship with him has been so very good for me.
If we had attempted intercourse a 3rd time, I would have insisted on a conversation about my medical situation and how we could work around that. A few months back, my sweet physical therapist wasn’t going to see me for a full week and she was giving me the step-by-step directions on how intercourse could be successful if the opportunity presented itself before I saw her again. The key is to take things very slowly, have good communication with your partner, and a lot of stopping and starting. Stop penetration when things get uncomfortable and then practice your relaxation breathing and pelvic floor contractions until any pains subsides and then move forward with further penetration. Repeat that process as often as necessary until the penis has fully penetrated the vagina. Ha. And you all thought sex was simple and easy?? I wish!!
As of the time I am writing this – July 2016 – my physical therapy continues twice a week and I have made good progress. In the past couple of weeks, it’s like a switch flipped and there was no more pain with the medium size dilator and the PT and I have both been able to do some very good, hard stretches with it. We’ve started with the larger size, which is the average penis size, but it comes and goes as to whether there is pain and how much progress can be made. Mostly I keep reminding myself how much progress has already been made and that eventually even the larger size will not be painful.
I mentioned that vaginismus is a mental disorder too and that being the case, I elected to start mental health counseling. I had been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder back in 2002 and did about 6 months of group therapy and thought it was time to speak to someone again to figure out the mental aspects of this.
I started with one counselor back in May, but after a few sessions things just weren’t clicking. She did make me laugh in our first session though by suggesting that maybe it was my comfort level with that particular partner that was the problem and that things would work out better with someone else. She suggested putting out feelers to see if there was anyone else I knew who might be a good candidate to help with my “physical therapy”. Um…I think she was only half joking when she said that, too. It was funny, but also really weird. I will not be taking applications, by the way. Just in case anyone thought I was crazy enough to try that recommendation.
Recently I got a referral from a trusted source for another counselor and have only had one session with her so far, but I think the fit is right this time. When I told her about the physical therapy I am doing, she immediately knew what I was talking about and was excited that things have been progressing well. That impressed me since the previous counselor only knew of it as a mental disorder. I won’t see the new counselor again for several weeks and we have a good bit of work to do, but I think it’s going to be very positive for me in many ways.
I’m interested in what I may find out in my subconscious as to why this is happening. Did I grow up thinking sex was “bad”? Did I get some kind of skewed notions about sex, whether from television and movies or my parents or things I heard kids saying at school? My assumption has been that my subconscious is causing problems for my body and I’m interested to see what the counselor and I can dig up. My conscious mind is clear that sex isn’t bad and shouldn’t be painful, that it’s something our bodies were made to do and that it is pleasurable with the right partner. I am a Christian, but don’t hold on to any particular religious notions that pre-marital sex is wrong.
I can also say with 100% surety that the man I was with was someone I wanted to be with and I was absolutely sure of my decision when we decided to get together. At no time did it feel like the wrong thing to be doing or the wrong person. So all in all, I’m not sure what my mind is coming up with, but I’m going to find out.
I have to say that my physical therapist has the best personality for doing this kind of work. We have gotten to know each other very well over the past few months (as a friend who has the same problem – this is what you find out when you are willing to talk about things! – said, “You get to know someone really well when they are all up in your hoo-ha.”) and have all kinds of conversations about so many things. She’s even been interested in my mental health counseling and what I may find out, so sometimes I feel like I’m getting physical AND mental therapy when I go to PT and that’s a blessing. It’s nice to be able to talk about the issues and situations with someone who understands what you are trying to accomplish.
Maybe it’s more physical than mental, but I am leaving no stone unturned. I want to get well. I want to have sex again one day and for it to be GOOD sex. (Who the hell wants BAD sex?!?!) In all honesty, I’d love for things to get worked out so that I could have sex – ridiculously good sex – with the friend I’ve talked about. I mean, I think we deserve it after two frustrating encounters. That’s not a path I think we’re going to go down, but I suppose anything is possible. I never thought we’d go down that road the first time, but I have to say that I’m more than glad we did.
Yes, things didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. Yes, we were both very disappointed by that fact. And yes, he should have been more understanding and interested in what is going on. But in the end, I learned something very important about my health and have felt amazingly empowered by this new knowledge. I am not embarrassed to talk about it because PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW. Plain and simple. People need to know. Women need to know that there are ways to get help. That this isn’t hopeless. That they aren’t alone. I’ve heard stories about doctors who have told their patients that there is nothing wrong with them and that is not true! These women need help. They also need patience and understanding from their partners.
I’ve shared my struggles with many friends over the last few months (either in small groups or one-on-one) and each time – EACH TIME – I find someone who needs this information or knows someone who has dealt with the same situation. I actually carry my physical therapist’s business cards in my purse and have given them out many times. As a society we don’t like to talk about issues that happen “down there”, but we should. We need to. If we don’t, women (and men) will continue to live in the dark about how they can get treatment and get healthy.
If you’ve read this entire post, my hat is off to you. And now you know a lot more about me than you probably ever wanted to! Ha ha Sorry about that, but I don’t regret it.
Please feel free to share this post and this information with whomever and wherever you’d like. I want the word to get out. I have called myself the “covert poster child” for vaginismus to some friends and it was covert because, out of respect for my friend, I felt like I should keep this information mostly to myself until I thought we were no longer considering any sexual involvement. I don’t know if we are or we aren’t, but I’ve thought about it and prayed about it at length and now is the time. If just one person learns something from what I’m going through, then it is more than worth it to have shared my story. I am absolutely confident that it will have a happy ending.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

If I wasn't confused on a regular basis, I don't know just what I'd be

This past week has felt like everything is tilting off its axis. July is a very busy month for me, but I seem to forget that each year and go into the month thinking it will be no big deal, then it hits me out of left field and often knocks me on my ample posterior. This year has been no exception, but at nearly the half-way point in the month, I’m still keeping my head above water. Mostly. It just doesn’t always feel that way. Soon July will bleed into August and then my vacation arrives and almost immediately after that, a new season of recruitment arrives and the games begin again. Yeah, I think there’s some relaxation in there…if I ever learn how to relax, that is. I never have been good at that.
I’ve seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail” too many times and certain scenes and lines always stick with me. This one in particular:

“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void!” Kathleen Kelly (You've Got mail)

I don’t necessarily think I lead a small life, but I also don’t think I lead a big one. I get up and go to work and do my thing, but I’m not moving mountains or doing anything earthshattering. It’s what I do and how I pay the bills and then I move on. But sometimes I wonder, as stated above, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?

And blech to that word, “brave”. Perspective is an interesting thing and if you asked some people, they might say that I’ve been brave. If there is anything I’ve ever done that seems “brave”, then it was done because I felt like I had no other option. That the action I was about to take was the only road I could possibly travel down. But if you ask me if I’ve been brave, I’ll look at you funny and go back to work. I’m just living my life. I never feel brave. I’m not even sure how one would.
I don’t talk to God as much as I used to and when I do, it tends to be a one-sided conversation. All about me. That doesn’t seem the way to go, but when I ask God for answers, he never seems to respond. I continue to wonder why certain things happen. Why people behave the way that they do. Why horrible things happen. Why this. Why that. Why the other. Maybe I think too much. I talk too much, of that I am absolutely confident, but I’ve always been that way. I talked fast and loud as a kid. Maybe it was because if I didn’t, then no one would listen. Nothing makes me crazier than when someone cuts me off mid-sentence. If they’d just let me finish a thought then I wouldn’t talk as much because I’d get it out of my system. Makes sense to me.
Sometimes I don't feel like I live in my apartment. I walk around it. I function in it. But I'm not sure I live there. It's sort of like the living room in the house I used to own. Every now and then I'd go in there and sit. Nothing more. Just sit and look around and wonder who lived there. My things were there. I recognized everything around me, but I never lived in that living room. I went in there to dust and that's about it.
That's how I often feel in my apartment. I recognize the things around me as my personal belongings, but I don't always feel like I belong there. I spend most of my time in the bedroom and it's rare to find myself in the den, actually sitting on the couch. I sleep in my apartment. I cook there and sometimes eat there (there’s a whole other thing here about how I eat way too many meals at my desk in my office), but I’m not sure I feel like I live there.
I don’t love to exercise, but my body does. It’s my brain that has the trouble with motivation, but my body loves the way it feels after I’ve worked the muscles hard. And my brain does like the end result of feeling better (and yes, looking better) than I used to.
Oh this week, the end cannot come too quickly. Too many disjointed thoughts and feelings and nowhere exactly right to put them. Like having pieces leftover when you finish a puzzle. Just what are you supposed to do with them? Damned if I know.