Written by a former patient, V.G. (2018) as a school assignment.
When I think of a previous bad experience that I am grateful for going through, the first thing I think of is my struggle with vaginismus.
Vaginismus is a condition (and a symptom of anxiety) in which the vaginal muscles clench up, making it impossible for one to have sex. I struggled with vaginismus for a year. Before my diagnosis, I knew something was not right with my body, but I did not know exactly what. When I got the diagnosis, I was distraught; I knew nothing about vaginismus, and I did not want something to be “wrong” with me.
Before I was cured of vaginismus, I struggled heavily with the condition. Vaginismus took a heavy emotional toll on me- as it does for most women. Before I was cured, I felt so alone. For a long time, I did not know anyone else who had the condition, so I felt I was the only one dealing with these issues. I felt very abnormal because I could not have sex- something that many of my peers were engaged in. I also felt abnormal because I could not do the one thing a woman is “supposed” to do. Granted, I knew that I was worth more than just sex. However, women are child-bearers, and I could not even engage in the act that would one day allow me to have a child. Having vaginismus caused me to feel as though something was wrong with me. Having vaginismus was also very upsetting because I could not engage in sex with the people I cared about. This condition was very frustrating for both my partners and me.
One of my sexual partners made me feel horrible about myself at this time as well. He undermined my condition, and he judged me for it. He was not patient with me whatsoever, and he would not engage in any sexual activity with me until I “got my problem fixed.” Along with all of this, treating vaginismus is difficult and expensive, so I did not know how long I would have to wait to get treated or if I would ever get cured. These factors caused me to feel hopeless for a long time; I felt I was doomed to struggle for the rest of my life.
Despite all the sadness, anger, and frustration of vaginismus, my experience affected who I am in positive ways. Having vaginismus made me a more independent person. I refused to be doomed to a lifetime of sadness, so I was determined to get the condition cured.
The first step I took was getting my first job to save up money for the treatment. I paid for the treatment all on my own, which is something I am very proud of. The next step I took was working with my health insurance company. My health insurance did not cover my treatment, so I had to fight for an in-for-out exception. I spent hours on the phone with my insurance company. At the time, this was the most independent thing I had ever done. In the past, I relied heavily on my mom, especially when it came to anything medical. However, my determination to get cured pushed me to become independent. I am so proud of myself for talking to the insurance workers and my doctors, despite not having any prior experience in this area.
Having vaginismus not only helped me to become a more independent person, but it made me a stronger person as well. I had the strength to overcome the condition- I did not allow vaginismus or my anxiety to “win.” I was strong as I worked to treat the condition.
Having vaginismus and working to cure it made me a stronger person, which added to my personal development. We learned during a lecture that, according to Ryff and Singer, personal growth is one of the aspects of one’s psychological well-being. The strength and independence that I gained from my experience allowed me to grow as an individual. This growth has made me a more well-rounded individual and has helped me to love myself even more. This self-growth improved my psychological well-being.
We also learned during the lecture that people gain life satisfaction through physical illness. For these cases, life satisfaction occurs because an elevation of strengths such as bravery and hope occurs. I feel as though I had an elevation of strengths during my experience. I was brave enough to go through the treatment without my mom’s assistance. I did not let any medical fears stand in my way. I did not let fears cloud my positive mindset either. My hope was elevated during this experience because I never gave up on myself. Once I began working on getting the treatment, I did not lose hope. I was determined to get my in-for-out exception from the insurance and to complete the treatment successfully. I was so hopeful that I would one day be cured.
Having a positive, hopeful mindset makes going through challenges easier. In Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Diener and Biswas-Diener state that a person’s mood affects their levels of motivation. They state that “positive emotions make goals seem easier to achieve, and therefore happiness adds an extra boost of enthusiasm and perseverance to our personal pursuits.” My experience proves this to be true. My positivity kept me motivated to reach my end goal. I know that getting cured and doing my physical therapy exercises would have seemed impossible if I had been negative. I chose to be hopeful and persevere through the treatment. I was enthusiastic about the treatment and being on track to get cured. This enthusiasm is what allowed me to get fully cured.
I am very open about formerly having vaginismus. Vaginismus is a fairly common condition, yet it is hardly spoken about. Many people do not know what vaginismus is, and many women with the condition suffer in silence. I have chosen to speak out about vaginismus to educate my peers and be heard by those suffering in silence. When I struggled with vaginismus, no one around me ever talked about vaginismus, so I felt very alone. I do not want any woman to feel alone the way that I did. I have successfully used my voice because people have approached me with concerns regarding their own struggles with vaginismus/vaginismus-like symptoms. People have also reached out to me on behalf of friends who are struggling. I am always open to answering anyone’s questions, and I always recommend my doctors to anyone struggling.
Looking back on my entire experience, having vaginismus was a blessing in disguise. Not only did my situation make me a better person, it unintentionally weeded out the negative people in my life. The boys in my life who were not willing to be patient with me cut ties with me. Looking back, I am so thankful that I did not have sex with these boys because they were not worthy of my time or body. This experience also brought positive people into my life. I once cried to a counselor about the boy who made me feel terrible about myself. This woman is now my wonderful therapist. She is the woman who diagnosed me, introduced me to the term vaginismus, and advised me to go to the treatment center that I eventually went to. This condition also brought the lovely women that work at the Women’s Therapy Center (the center where I was treated) into my life. These women understand me and treat me with so much respect. They treat me like a daughter- I have never felt such love from anyone who has treated me medically. They cured me and saved me from being “doomed to a lifetime of sadness.” I do not know where I would be without these women.
This happiness assignment fit me very well and benefitted me just as well. I love looking back on my experience with vaginismus because it makes me appreciate how far I have come as an individual and how far my body has come physically. I am now so appreciative of everything my body can do. Looking back on my experience makes me appreciate sex as well. Sex is something that I did not always have in my life, and it was something that I was once not physically able to participate in. Now I can participate in and enjoy sex, and that is something I am thankful for. This exercise reminded me how fortunate I was for being able to get treated.
Vaginismus was once a sad topic for me, and now it is my favorite topic to discuss! Remembering the bad is not sad for me because I believe that everything happens for a reason. I know that I had to go through those struggles to have the negativity removed from my life and positivity enter my life, grow as a person, help those around me, and truly appreciate my body for all that it can do.
Reference: PageDiener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2011). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Malden (Massachusetts): Blackwell