If you’re suffering with vulvodynia or another chronic pelvic pain syndrome you are probably all too familiar with the frustration of having your day to day activities limited by your pain.
Maybe, like many of the women I work with, your symptoms are aggravated by exercise, having sex, sitting or standing too long, wearing pants, driving, going to work, going out to eat, going to see a show, playing with your children…..or even just getting out of bed.
Sometimes you may feel like there isn’t much of anything that you can do or enjoy anymore. You may even avoid making plans because of the anxiety that your symptoms might flare up while you’re out.
It’s no wonder you feel frustrated and angry and you want your life back!
Of course you want to get rid of the pain. I get it. I’ve been there.
Unfortunately, no matter how reasonable that is, I can tell you from my own experience (more on that later) that if you want to get out of pain…. even if it may sound impossible right now…..you’re going to have to find a way to let go of the struggle.
Living in a constant battle with your body and your symptoms creates a tremendous amount of stress and tension in your body – which of course make pain worse. But more than that, this constant struggle cuts you off from your body’s wisdom – and that is exactly what you need right now to heal.
I know the idea of accepting your symptoms seems counter-intuitive. Most of us think that if we stop fighting, if we allow our pain to be there, it will NEVER GO AWAY!
In fact, with very good intentions, we support each other by saying things like, “Don’t give up. Keep fighting!”
Really though. The exact opposite is true.
Fighting creates the conditions that allow pain to perpetuate – including an over stimulated nervous system, increased anxiety, increased physical tension, and increased stress hormones and neurotransmitters. Think about it. How do you feel in your body when you’re thinking things like, “I’m missing out. I have to find a way to get rid of this pain. It’s stopping me from living.”
I’m going to take a wild guess that at the very least you notice an increase in physical tension.
To heal your body you’ve got to take off those gloves.
I’m not suggesting that you give up on yourself or your life, but that you give up on the fight – that you actively choose to embrace your symptoms, for now…… and get really really curious about what’s actually going on.
This is the first step towards relieving your pain.
It’s the first step towards releasing tension, understanding yourself and your body, and discovering what you need to heal. As Ekhart Tolle says, “Accept whatever arises in this moment as if you had chosen it, and your whole life will be miraculously transformed.”
Miracles Begin with Acceptance.
Here is a story to help illustrate why this is true…..
Imagine that you are in a boat on a river that has a very strong current and you’re paddling as hard as you can upstream – against the current.
Can you get a sense of how much energy you’re using? This is what most of us are doing most of the time because we’ve learned that everything we want, including pain relief, is upstream.
So you get in your boat and you paddle as hard and as fast as you can so you can get where you want to go as quickly as possible.
But, there’s a problem with that.
What you want isn’t upstream.
And to get there all you have to do is drop the oars and float down the river. Really, that’s all. Just drop the oars.
I LOVE this analogy especially for pain relief, or any issue you’re struggling with related to your body and your health, because it so powerfully illustrates what happens in your body when you’re resisting where you are.
That contracted feeling in your body, the sensation you feel when you imagine paddling hard upstream, the resistance you feel when you think things like “I’m missing out” or “My life is over”, those feelings are an indication that you’re heading in the opposite direction of where you want to go.
Drop the oars and go with the flow.
Floating down the river relaxes your muscles, improves circulation and digestion, releases feel good hormones and neurotransmitters (that by the way block pain receptors), and puts your body and nervous system in the state they need to be in in order to heal and repair.
Your body is a healing machine. It’s just waiting for you to get out of the way.
When you accept this moment, even if you’re in pain, even if you can’t do all the things you want to do, even if on the surface it appears that your life is very limited and not at all how you want it to be……not only do you drastically change your physiology, you open yourself up to all the wisdom your body has to share with you – and the gifts in the experience you’re having right now.
Pelvic Pain is a Gift
No. I’m not crazy, or unrealistically optimistic. I can’t help but see that this is true as I work day in and day out with women who are finding their way to lasting relief.
Without exception every woman I know who has relieved vulvodynia or any other chronic pelvic pain syndrome – my clients and myself included – has ultimately found their pain to be a tremendous gift.
Because it taught us how to understand our body , connect to our soul, find our truth, and access our own personal magic.
You can transform your current struggle into relief, healing, and magic too, and the first step is to make the decision to accept your pain…..and open yourself to the possibility that it is present in your life right now to help you learn something.
Something you never could have learned otherwise.
When I had vulvodynia, and none of my doctors could offer any effective solutions, I made the decision to stop trying to get rid of my symptoms, and instead start listening to my body. It was scary to stop researching solutions and embrace where I was. There was a voice in my head telling me to find another doctor or a treatment that would work….but I had a gut feeling that looking for a solution was preventing me from tuning in. That what I actually needed was to stop pushing against what was happening and that listening to my body was the only way I was going to find my way out.
So, I stopped ignoring my body’s signals and started honoring them – including discomfort of any kind. Especially discomfort of any kind.
And something amazing happened, not only did my body start communicating with me, I began finding all kinds of things I COULD DO in new ways that felt a lot better to me than the old ways I was doing them. For instance, I actually could exercise if I slowed down and tuned into my body and did what it wanted to do. And, I actually could experience a lot of pleasure and intimacy with my partner, when I tuned into what my body really wanted and allowed it to guide me. I started to realize that my body was actually guiding me! It felt like navigating downstream by steering around the rocks.
I became aware that my symptoms were merely an indicator that I needed to slow down and get curious and allow my body to point me in new directions.
As it turned out, I got my life back way before I relieved pelvic pain, and the things I learned in the process have relieved my pain and transformed my life.
How To Embrace Your Pain
I know that like me, you are probably scared to accept where you are and start listening to your body. I know it’s hard to put down those gloves.
But I promise you, you have all the solutions you need right inside of you – even if you can’t hear them yet. You can’t hear your body’s guidance because there’s too much resistance in the way.
It’s kind of like trying to hear your best friend whisper from across the room while you’ve got your ears plugged, music on, your eyes closed, and you’re singing “la la la la la la la la” as loud as you can.
I mean really, who could understand that!?
You’re not giving your body a chance.
One step at a time.
Start seeing your pain as a teacher.
You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to want it to be there forever. But for right now get curious and allow your pain to guide you.
If something hurts don’t do it.
If your body wants to rest, rest.
Look for the ways that you can experience pleasure in your life now, even while you’re still in pain.
Listen to your body and stop pushing past discomfort.
Get curious about what’s really going on. Start to consider the possibility that the answers are inside you and the pain is guiding you to them.
So, if it hurts to sit long enough to go on a trip, or go out to dinner or go see a show, don’t go.
And if it hurts to get out of bed than as often as possible, stay there.
And if your usual ways of having sex with your partner cause any discomfort (before, during or after) than explore other ways to experience intimacy, pleasure, and connection. Believe me there are plenty!
If the only place you can be comfortable is home, start exploring things you love to do at home. Maybe you love to read or garden or watch movies, or you’d like to start writing or painting or taking a class online.
Stop beating yourself and your body up for being where you are. All that is doing is keeping you stuck there!
Wherever you are see if you can let go of your resistance to vulvodynia or pelvic pain and how it’s affecting your life. Assume that your body and soul are trying to help you. Let them guide you.
Like me, you just may get your life back a lot sooner than you thought you would.
Thanks for the wonderful and positive writing. I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosis after After numerous visits to Gyn doctors and a dermatologist. The dermatologist told me my condition didn’t look like LS. She was reluctant to do a biopsy and only after I insisted did she concede. Less than a week later my biopsy came back positive for lichen sclerosis. One of the many symptoms is vulvar pain. I was at my lowest point today with my condition (I was crying my heart out) and reading your writing lifted me out of that negative and bleak place. I quickly got up and started on some simple yoga poses and moved into doing a short meditation. Just for this present moment I am coexisting with my condition. I’ll listen to my body and let it tell me what it needs to heal itself. Thank you Wil
Hi Wil. I know there are always moments that feel harder with vulvar pain and I’m sorry you were having one today, but am so glad to hear that my writing helped to lift you out of a low point and inspired you to gentle movement and connection with your body! Every moment you can make a choice to drop the struggle like that and be with yourself is one moment you are moving closer to healing. It means so much to me that the post helped you in your difficult moment. Thanks for letting me know. Keep listening and continue to be as patient and kind with yourself and your body as you can. You both deserve it! xoxo, Lorraine
Thank you for this eloquent and positive post. I agree with many of the points that you make here, such as listening to your body, working to let go of the maddening anxiety that comes with looking for answers/treatment from the medical community, which simply isn’t at a place where it has all the answers for this condition, and continuing to find joy in your life even through the pain. That said, there are a few points that you make that I have to respectfully disagree with: I don’t believe pelvic pain is a gift that happens in your life to “understand our body , connect to our soul, find our truth, and access our own personal magic…” As an atheist, I don’t hold that “everything happens for a reason”, and while I think it’s great to look for lessons and meaning in the things that happen to us in our lives, I think it’s a stretch to say that we should see pelvic pain/vulvodynia as a gift that bestows upon us truth and the release of “personal magic,” which I assume means that it is meant to unlock our potential as human beings…I believe that when you frame it this way, it puts a great deal of pressure on women who are struggling with a painful chronic condition to view it as some sort of spiritual quest that they are lucky to have had the opportunity to go on, which simply isn’t the case. Also, I think it’s a bad idea to encourage women to stop looking for solutions and embrace where they are. As I’ve already mentioned, it is difficult to find medical providers who are qualified to treat vulvodynia or any chronic pelvic pain condition, however, they are out there, oftentimes people just have to go to what seems like extraordinary steps to get to them, such as traveling to another state, trying treatments that don’t have a ton of research to back them up, seeing a PT for many months or even years, etc. However, when these measures are successful, as they were in my case, it’s 100% worth it. All that said, I think you are great and your commitment to this patient population is amazing!
Hi Bonnie! It’s wonderful to hear from you. Thank you so much for your feedback and comments. I really appreciate the opportunity to clarify some things that I may not have expressed as clearly as I could have as well as the opportunity to engage more around these important topics giving all of us the chance to learn more. My schedule is pretty full over the next 24 hours, but I look forward to responding and will have a few more thoughts to share in the next day or so. Thanks again for writing. Best Wishes, Lorraine
Thanks again for your comments! Of course I can only share my own experience and those of the women that I’ve worked with who have relieved their pain using a Mind Body approach. For us, what we learn about the connection between our body, mind, and emotions as a result of pelvic pain – is a gift! And I think it is so incredibly valuable and important for women to hear that perspective because most of them don’t hear it anywhere else. I didn’t say, or mean to imply, that women “should” believe this, only that if they can open their mind to this possibility, it can relieve a tremendous amount of pressure, tension and stress in their body and at the same time allow them to start accessing the guidance their body is giving them.
My intention is to help women take pressure OFF of themselves. Most women I work with have been putting a ton of pressure on themselves about everything in their lives since well before their pain started. Pressure to meet expectations, to succeed, to do things right, and then when they are in pain they start putting a ton of pressure on themselves to get rid of the pain. I have found that this pressure really interferes with the process of actually relieving it. On the other hand, when women can make peace with where they are and embrace their pain for now, a lot of that pressure is relieved, and along with it the stress it is putting on their body and mind. This makes it so much easier for them to actually relieve their pain. It seems to be true that what we resist persists.
As for magic, living in the culture we live in, we have come to rely very heavily on the intellect and completely discount the wisdom of our bodies (as well as anything else outside the scope of our limited senses). As a result, when we learn to access guidance and wisdom from our own bodies, it does in fact seem magical! But, you’re correct. It’s not actually “magic”. It is the natural outcome of learning how to fully understand the very highly sophisticated Mind-Body-Emotion-Soul system that we each are – and that western medicine only scratches the surface of.
Of course, for the most part, our medical system does not acknowledge this or the fact that our thoughts and emotions have a very real physiological impact on us – a big enough impact to create pain. But that doesn’t mean that that is not the case. In fact, there is more and more research available on the connection between the mind and body all the time – as well as more doctors who acknowledge the very real connection between the mind, body, and emotions. Are physical methods of treating pelvic pain enough for some women? Yes! Is it important for women to find good providers who know how to treat pelvic pain? Absolutely! I refer women to PT all the time and educate them as best I can about what good PT is, and how to find a good provider. At the same time, given the lack of understanding of the connection between the mind, body, and emotions, it is not surprising that a large number of women won’t find relief for their pain through traditional avenues alone.
Also, just to be clear, I am not encouraging women to stop looking for solutions! I am encouraging them to drop their resistance and the frantic search for solutions that goes along with that. When women can embrace their pain, they find that they are then able to tap into their intuition and inner knowing about what is right for them. Each woman needs something different to heal her pain, and for her to know what that is she has to have access to her body’s wisdom. She has to trust her gut instincts. But she can’t access that if she is pushing so hard against her body. Feeling angry at it and betrayed by it. Not every woman will get the same guidance when she tunes into her inner knowing, but in order to connect to what is right for her, she has to be able to connect to and trust her body, and since the pain is in her body, making peace with the pain “for now”, is the first step to making peace with her body and accessing it’s wisdom. That intuition is so important to navigate the sea of choices and information, available for treating pelvic pain. Women relieve their pain the fastest when they are able to lead their healing process, and in order to lead effectively and know what is actually right for them they need to drop the struggle against where they so they can tune into their body’s guidance.
When I was able to drop the struggle with my symptoms and tune into my body the guidance I got was to stop looking for solutions outside myself – that I had all the answers I needed inside myself. I trusted that guidance and it worked out very well for me! Not all women will get the same guidance when they listen to their body. I have seen women stop struggling and start trusting themselves and then find the right practitioner for them – or leave the wrong one – and I have seen women tune in and recognize like me that the answers they needed were inside themselves. Whatever the path, the point is that they needed to tune into their body to find these answers. The endless struggle against their body and symptoms prevents them from ever hearing the guidance that they need to heal.
I’m sorry for that very long reply – and thank you for reading if you made it this far! This is a topic I’m really passionate about and I appreciated the opportunity to clarify these points because I think they are commonly misunderstood. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, wisdom, and experience Bonnie. I also appreciate your commitment to women with pelvic pain and am always happy to have the opportunity to talk with you more!
Thank you for the most incite full & intelligent article on this miserable condition.
Hi Roberta. You’re welcome! Thank you for reading and for your feedback. Warmly, Lorraine
Hi. I have Pudendal Neuralgia and no treatment has helped. I am intrigued by your approach and am interested in hearing more about it. In some ways, I don’t understand it, because I have learned that my condition is from a result of a very difficult menopause and excessive sitting. I have been told that the current thinking is someone must have a genetic predisposition towards PN or PNE, otherwise everyone who sits a lot would have it. I do have a tendency towards auto-immune issues. So the factors are very real. I do accept my condition and see the gift in it because I’ve been force to slow down and take better care of myself. Also my relationship with my husband is better. I tend to be more in “the present”. And finally, I have much more sympathy toward those in pain.
Hi Dawn. Thanks so much for your comments. I’m so glad that you’re already aware of some of the gifts in your pain. As for physical and genetic causes for the pain, yes, those can be a factor in some cases – and of course emotional and mental patterns affect us physiologically also (hormones, blood flow, neurotransmitters, etc) so sometimes it’s a little of a chicken and egg situation determining which came first and what’s the true cause. Either way, learning and applying the mind body approach can help significantly. I will say also that we have to realize that Western Medicine sees the body as purely physical for the most part and so it of course is going to assign purely physical causes for pain or any other issues with the body. Have you signed up for my free call next week? It will be an introduction to a mind body approach and a good opportunity to determine if you think that some of these issues may be playing a part in your symptoms. You can sign up here: http://www.saygoodbyetopelvicpain.com. I hope to see you on the call! Thanks again for your comments. Warmly, Lorraine