'Doctors Told Me My Burning Pain Down There Was In My Head. Then I Was Diagnosed With Vulvodynia.'
Women are more likely than men to have their symptoms dismissed or downplayed by medical professionals. When they get a diagnosis, they often face stigma and judgment. In light of this, WH created the “Owning It” package—which spotlights various women with complicated and often difficult-to-diagnose conditions who decided to take a stand for their health. Our hope is that their stories help empower women everywhere to advocate for themselves and get the care and attention they deserve.
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A few years ago, my post-work ritual looked like this: rush home, rip off my jeans and underpants, and ice my vaginal area. That was the only thing that helped with the burning pain I felt down there.
I was working on a master’s in fashion marketing and interning in New York City when I first started experiencing these issues, but I eventually moved back home to Mexico City, where I continued to try to get help. I was lonely in NYC, plus there was always a bit of a language barrier, so it made sense for me to deal with my health in my home country. No one there could tell me what was wrong, though. Most of the doctors I saw were men, and they often suggested therapy, implying that I had experienced sexual trauma.
In 2015, I was rewatching an episode of Sex and the City that mentioned vulvodynia, the term for chronic pain in the vaginal area for which you can’t pinpoint a cause. I Googled it and found the National Vulvodynia Association website, and I was like, “This is what I have.” I saw specialists in the Miami area, where my dad lived, and in 2016, a gyno confirmed I had vulvodynia and pelvic-floor dysfunction.
I tried a bunch of treatments: nerve blockers, pelvic-floor therapy, other medications, acupuncture. Some worked and some didn’t. But the biggest lesson I learned is that knowledge about your condition is power. My pelvic-floor physical therapist in Miami asked me what it was like to be treated for vulvodynia in Mexico, and after hearing about my experiences, he pushed me to start advocacy work. In my culture, it’s taboo to talk about conditions like vulvodynia, so there’s not a ton of info or support available.
To help address this, I created the social media account @peacewithpain and posted information about vulvodynia in Spanish to make it accessible to more women. Two years later, the account has more than 10,000 followers—and we won’t let shame silence us.
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Women’s Health.
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