Life was good. The birth of a first grandchild, the holiday of a lifetime in South Africa and, at the age of 58, the feeling that after 6 long years I was almost back to my pre-menopause happy, flush-free, sociable, confident self.
Then WHAM! Just a week after our return I awoke to a burning, prickling vagina. After only a couple of days it had become unbearable. What on earth was going on? If I’m honest, I had had what I can best describe as discomfort and a vague soreness at the entrance to my vagina for a few months but, in the excitement of preparing for a new grandchild and planning a holiday, I had done what women are so good at and sent it to the back of the ‘sort it out’ queue. My husband was recovering from prostate surgery earlier in the year and sex had been sidelined at this point. Maybe if that hadn’t been the case I would have been more aware of what was developing. Sadly, circumstance decreed it was the perfect storm.
Anyway, within a couple of days I found myself unable to sit or walk without wanting to cry, which I did...a lot. Vaginal Atrophy feels as though a large cactus doused in acid has been vigorously rammed up your vagina. And there it stays. Whatever you do every minute of every day it’s there. The pain can be overwhelming. As well as burning there is a dreadful soreness of the vulva with constant itching and prickling. It becomes impossible to focus on anything else and impacts on your life in a way that is so difficult to describe to a non-sufferer. It eats away at your very core. As an extra bonus the vagina also produces a watery, thin, viscously acidic discharge which leaks continuously, making your vulva sore and sensitive.. I was unprepared and in shock. I felt total panic.
I had never appreciated how isolating and lonely having chronic pain can be. I’m so lucky to have a wonderful husband who has been an absolute rock, but I needed someone to talk to who understood. But who? I had never read or heard of any of this before. Surely if someone I knew had felt like this they would have mentioned it? I have friends, many of whom are of a similar age and number a midwife, several nurses and a physio amongst them. We have known each other for years and discuss literally anything; no holds barred and no topic is out of bounds. Or so I thought.
I made an appointment to see a GP and then by complete luck, via a convoluted online path, fell upon a private Facebook group, Vaginal Atrophy. What a revelation. This is a new world to me, populated by about 2000 (and growing) women who are battling this condition. It has been a complete eye opener and a godsend in equal measures. Thanks to the amazing Jane Lewis and other ladies there I was able to see my GP forewarned and forearmed with information to ‘do battle’ to get the treatment I need. My GP is lovely but has no idea of how devastating VA is - it’s apparently just a little vaginal dryness!! (Another story, another time.) It was also a revelation that planning my life around the nearest toilet as I had been for many months was all part of my oestrogen deprivation. Who knew?
The emotional impact of VA is immense and 6 months after it struck I’m still feeling it. VA takes over your life and impacts on every part of it. I’ve become a slave to my vagina, but not in a good way! She’s the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of before going to sleep at night. The uncertainty of not knowing whether each day will be a good one or not is all-consuming and exhausting and takes the edge off planning anything. My husband, family and friends are often on the receiving end of my unpredictability.
But mostly I’m furious. Furious that I had never even heard of VA before it struck. If I had then I would not have ignored the symptoms and they may not have become so acute. (This lack of knowledge MUST change.) Furious that I’ve become a member of a secret club that I had no say in joining. Furious that, despite my husband doing his best to understand, I either retreat into myself or become a snappy harridan on a bad day and then beat myself up with guilt. Furious that I know I have to be on medication for life to try to control this and furious that I have had to educate and continue to battle with my GP to get it. Furious that I can no longer ride my bike, go for a run or swim; if I do I pay for it for days afterwards so it just isn’t worth it. Furious that I can’t wear jeans; floaty dresses and going commando are fine in the summer but as winter approaches...?!! Furious that my underwear is now straight out of Bridget Jones’ top drawer. Furious that my sex life has suffered - see above re bikes, running and swimming! Furious that I feel less of a woman and a wife.
And when the fury subsides I just feel sad. I want to be me again.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.