It seems surreal to be at this place where I am, more than three years after marrying my best friend and the love of my life, and more than three years after discovering that vaginismus was the ugly cloud that would follow me through the beginning of our marriage.
I’m like most women, in the sense that my diagnosis brought on an initial wave of anxiety and embarrassment, along with a crippling thought that I was the only one. But after reaching out and taking time to reach out through close relationships in our church and also through online groups, I discovered that I was not the only one, and that there was hope for women like me.
My husband and I completed the 2-week Women’s Therapy Center program for Vaginismus in December of 2018 after nearly three and a half years of a marriage unconsummated and full of crippling anxiety related to intimacy. In 2017, I was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder and put on medication accordingly, but in my mind I still battled with the overpowering anxiety that presented itself every day, especially when intimacy was attempted.
There are so many things I could write about how much this program has benefitted us physically, mentally and emotionally, but here I will focus on just one concept: denial blocks change. Denial tells us that the pain and tightness, and the “wall” that is our vagina, is wholly unrelated to the mind. It tells us that anxiety doesn’t need to be addressed or faced because this is just a “body problem”. Denial will steal our joy, our awareness, and our confidence. And it has no place in the room with us when we pursue treatment.
I was well aware of my struggles with depression and anxiety by the time I came to the WTC. When I sat in the room with Dr. Ross on day one, and she told me I would need medication to help me fight my anxiety, I knew she was right. I knew that my anxiety was the cause of how sweaty my palms were during that first meeting, and how fast I talked and how I couldn’t seem to keep my fingers from fidgeting with the lid of my water bottle. Anxiety was like a third, uninvited guest sitting in the chair next to me. It brought only panic and self-doubt. And I knew that anxiety would be the real enemy I fought during those two weeks, not my physical body.
Acknowledging my anxiety, and how I let it control me, and therefore control my vagina and my sex life, was critical in my treatment. Dr. Ross and Dr. Ditza will never stop telling you that your vagina doesn’t know the pain—only the mind does. How true those words are! When you lay on that table for the first time, you will probably assume that the fight will all be between your legs, against muscles that tense up and cause that awful pain. When, in reality, you’ll need all your fighting spirit to take on that unwelcome guest sitting in the room with you.
Had I denied that my anxiety existed, or even denied that anxiety played into my struggle with Vaginismus, I would have been denying myself wholistic success. I would have seen only 50% of the victory, and I would have come home still battling the things that were supposed to be cured. But instead, through Dr. Ross and Dr. Ditza and Dr. Lauren, and my wonderful husband, I was able to grit my teeth, pull on my boxing gloves and step into the ring with this unwelcome monster that had dictated so many years of my life.
I think that sometimes we deny our anxiety because we feel that it takes away from who we are. Instead of being “Jamie”, I would just be “the girl with horrible anxiety”. Those thoughts crossed my mind in the weeks leading up to treatment as I wrestled with whether or not I was going to accept that half of my struggle was mental. But then I realized that those thoughts gave my anxiety even more power. Now my anxiety was telling me not only that I couldn’t enjoy sex or dream of babies and pregnancy, but also who I was and who I wasn’t.
I remember one specific moment, when I was in the midst of the hardest day of treatment, and I was letting panic overrun my thoughts, I physically closed my legs and told Dr. Lauren that I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t. I’ll never forget what she said: “Well, then. Anxiety: 1 and Jamie: 0. How does that make you feel?” I was stunned for a moment. But her words put the fight into perspective: either I won and I ruled my body, or anxiety did. The captain’s chair was only big enough for one of us. I felt the panic slowly dissipate into anger, and I forced my legs back open and told anxiety to crawl back to the pit it came from.
I would love to say that I walked out of my WTC graduation today with Vaginismus and anxiety far behind me. But I didn’t—I walked out with something better: vaginismus in my past and a confidence that anxiety couldn’t control me from the shadows anymore. I knew where it lived, so to speak, and I was coming for it. I sit here in my chair knowing that medication and further treatment and sticking to my home plan are the tools I will need to keep fighting this irrational panic and spiral of negative thinking. I am not in denial, I am facing the root of my problem head-on, and that makes me feel like a real champion.
To the woman reading this, who wants to believe that Vaginismus is only in her muscles and that acknowledging her anxiety or OCD will make her even more “less than”, let these words from Robert Frost harden your resolve: “The only way out, is through.”
So get ready, my friend, gather your courage, grab your sword and and set your eyes on the light peeking through the end of this twisted jungle of anxiety and pain. The tools you need are already inside you!
Good luck, and enjoy the sunshine on the other side.
– Jamie (2018)