I was prescribed birth control before I was even sexually active.
That was 15 years ago, and I’ve been on it ever since.
And, I don’t know about you, but I absolutely DREAD going to the gyno.
I mean, c’mon, I don’t think anyone ENJOYS having a stranger poke around between their legs while trying to make meaningless conversation (as if asking me about my job is going to distract me from the fact that you’re scraping my cervix).
Also can I get a raise of hands of who else has been judged by a medical professional when they answer honestly about how many sexual partners they’ve had?
Or, how about this: who’s been shamed for having revealed their complete medical history including pregnancy termination?
Who else has been given the once over with disapproving eyes by someone they’re meant to TRUST with their health when they explain embarrassing symptoms?
I’ll get into all of my personal experiences with all of these instances in bit, but for now- I’d just like to put those questions out there, with the firm belief that at least ONE of you can relate.
But hey, maybe not.
Maybe none of this resonates with you at all.
Maybe you have a kind, compassionate doctor.
In fact, I hope you do.
But, here’s the thing- with my lifestyle of always being on the road, I don’t have a regular doctor.
So, every time I get a check up- whether it’s routine, or symptomatic, I typically have to see someone that I’ve never seen before.
And, oftentimes, I’m in extremely conservative and/or religious countries- two factors which play a role in the judgmental responses to my honest answers.
All in all, I don’t feel safe there.
In turn, my anxiety around gyno visits has been getting so bad that I actually lose sleep before appointments.
Sometimes, I even cancel last minute because I just can’t face that kind of discomfort, nor face the risk of hearing bad news.
Because of this, I’ve been pushing off some reoccurring issues rather than addressing them full on.
I was (am) scared, embarrassed, and ashamed.
Simple as that.
In the last few weeks, the issues started getting in the way of how I do my job(s).
I was unable to go on the excursions during my last retreat, because it was too painful for me to ride a bicycle.
I also had to skip days out to the temple because I was bleeding (irregularly).
And, finally- I had to cancel my project visitations, because the symptoms were not letting up (on and off for 6 weeks), so I knew I needed to be nearby a good hospital rather than escape into rural India.
Because my work is my passion, and my passion is my work- this was the final straw.
I decided to cave and see a doctor here in India.
It’s important to note that before this, I’d asked my boyfriend to schedule me an appointment in Australia (where I’m headed after this).
The week of said appointment- he called me to tell me that only male doctors were available, so he wanted to double check with me whether or not I’d be comfortable with that before confirming the time.
This simple text message triggered a MASSIVE response not only mentally/emotionally, but also physically as well.
Even the THOUGHT of a strange man in between my legs made me physically sick to my stomach.
To be totally honest, I sort of had a meltdown.
I started crying to the point I couldn’t catch my breath.
My heart was racing, as my body temperature skyrocketed, and my hands shook almost uncontrollably.
It was in that moment- alone in a small, dirty hotel room in Bangalore, that I knew I needed to re-examine what the hell was going on.
It was there that I realized how much my mental and emotional trauma regarding my sexuality was undoubtedly manifesting itself physically.
And I needed to get to the bottom of it.
Once I cancelled my trip to see Go Light Our World (GLOW)’s solar projects- I moved into a more comfortable (ie: CLEAN) hotel, and booked an appointment (with a woman) at a nearby hospital.
After I settled into my new space and took a hot shower, I had a chance to actually reflect on the source of my intense reaction.
I rolled out my mat, lit some incense, and laid down in a reclined butterfly position using one of the bed’s bolsters underneath my spine, and one of the bed cushions underneath my head.
I draped a sarong over my eyes, placed both my hands on my bare belly, and started to connect to my breath
It was here that I let myself just BE with all those gross, horrible feelings rearing their ugly heads.
I’ve found that getting as physically comfortable as possible (ie all the cushions, aroma therapy, blankets, etc) helps me to settle into that space of total DIScomfort mentally and emotionally.
I’m able to sit (or lay, in this case) with myself as I am.
And I’m able to get a little more clear where certain feelings are coming from, why they get triggered, and what work I can do to move forward.
After an emotional evening with myself, and myself alone, I was (thankfully) able to vent these experiences to a few close girlfriends via voice notes.
When I heard their responses, I realized that I’m nowhere near alone in these reoccurring issues, symptoms, fears, etc.
My conversations with them are actually the catalysts which inspired this post.
I’m a strong believer in doing as many things (if not ALL things) with intention.
That being said, I’d like to say that my intention(s) in writing this post is to not only be a therapeutic exercise for myself by publicly sharing about something that often evokes a sense of shame, and causes me to shut down rather than open up.
But, I’d also like this piece to also be a reminder for someone (even if it’s just for ONE person) who is going through, or has gone through, similar experiences- that you’re not alone.
I guess this means I have to start from the beginning in order for you to fully understand.
So here it goes.
I should mention that this could come off as quite explicit, and might be difficult to read if you have sexual trauma of your own.
The choice to continue to read from here, is purely your own.
As I mentioned before, I was prescribed birth control before I was even sexually active. This was due to the discovery of ovarian cysts, which caused me incredibly painful periods in high school.
I’m talking so painful that I would pass out, throw up, have to leave school early- the whole works.
Apparently the “only thing” that would help ease some of these symptoms, was pumping a 15-year-old girl full of hormones.
I must admit, at the time, I thought it was pretty cool.
I mean, I wasn’t even having sex, but it sounded so GROWN UP being on the pill.
It almost made all the poking and prodding and ultrasounds worth it.
Fast forward another year and a half, and I’d lost my virginity to my (then) boyfriend.
A few weeks later, that same boyfriend’s best friend drugged and raped me at a party.
Although I was thankful to be on birth control (because of course he didn’t use a condom), I wasn’t so thankful that he gave me High Risk HPV.
This is when my gyno dread really started.
Here I was, a 16-year-old girl who was already living with the shame of being a rape victim (also being bullied at school for being a “slut” because of it), and now living with the fear that comes with a lifelong disease, as well.
I know that nowadays it seems like everyone and their moms have HPV.
But at the time, I felt completely alone.
I’d never even heard of it.
And when you hear the word “cancer” often associated with it, let me tell you- it’s pretty fucking terrifying.
I was so young, and so inexperienced- yet also felt incredibly tainted already.
It was a total mind fuck.
However, I was always diligent about yearly paps despite the discomfort of the examinations.
Let’s move forward another 7 years.
Those 7 years were as “normal” as anyone’s teens and 20s can be.
I had a handful of serious, as well as not-so-serious boyfriends, as well as quite a few flings in between.
I went to a party college, and I fit into that mold perfectly.
Despite losing my best friend to drugs my freshman year, I continued to dabble with them myself on and off throughout the years.
I was 22-years-old at the time that I started dating a guy (also a drug dealer, might I add) who had been my friend for years.
A guy who I ended up being with for nearly two more years after that, even though he was physically violent with me within the first few weeks of us dating.
The violence came in waves, as did his affection and (what I’d mistaken at the time to be) love.
I’d decided I’d had enough after his 26th birthday when he threw me against the wall of my apartment in a fit of rage- knocking the wind out of me, and leaving me with a bruised body (and heart) the next day.
He left shortly after his outburst, and when I went to the bathroom I noticed that I was bleeding.
It was alarming because I wasn’t on my period, nor was I meant to be anytime soon.
However, in the midst of what was happening between us- I actually forgot about it by the next day.
That instance provided me with the courage to break up with him FOR GOOD- to finally move forward, without looking back.
Two days later, I had blood in my underwear again.
When I saw it, I was reminded of the spotting from the other night.
With a heavy, sinking feeling of dread- I knew right then and there that I was pregnant.
I just knew.
Regardless of that intuitive knowing, I took a test to confirm my (at the time) worst fears.
I’d also like to add that I was still on birth control at this point.
I guess I was just fertile af.
I know a lot of people won’t agree with this, but that’s okay.
Because it wasn’t their choice to make, it was mine.
But, at the time (and even now), I felt that the only option for me was to terminate the pregnancy.
I had involved myself with an evil, abusive man- and I wasn’t going to bring an innocent being into such an ugly situation because of my mistakes.
Plus, I didn’t want to be connected to this monster for the rest of my life. And, if he was the father of my child- that would inevitably be the case.
All of that being said, I still felt it was his right to know what had happened, and what I planned to do- so I told him.
He didn’t take it well.
But he was “there for me” nonetheless.
For the sake of not dragging out this story anymore so than I already have- I’ll cut it short by saying unfortunately this event was the one that brought us back together.
The day he brought me home from the operation was the only time he ever got me flowers.
Not that I’m necessarily a flowers kinda girl.
But you have to realize, this was really one of the only thoughtful gestures he’d ever made for me.
The sweetness didn’t last, of course.
Once I was on the mend, he made sure to tell me what a horrible person I was for killing our baby.
All the time.
He also told his parents about it, as well.
His mom made a point to call me crying asking why I deprived them of a grandchild.
The only good thing about this experience was that the doctor put in an IUD when I’d had the operation, which made my hormones a whole lot more balanced, and also my periods a whole lot less painful.
Surprisingly- despite the abuse and the trauma of the abortion- I actually felt in tune with my body and my sexuality at the time.
I loved that I didn’t have to take a pill every day.
I trusted the durability of the device.
And I enjoyed the mild periods.
However, the continual berating from my boyfriend about the subject was a brutal cross to bear.
But now, I will say this- I still don’t have an ounce of regret for that decision.
And for that, it made the rest of the bull shit a little more tolerable.
Okay, let’s move on another 6 years.
These 6 years were some of the most pivotal in my life.
First of all, that abusive relationship came to an explosive end on my 24th birthday- which landed me in the hospital, and the guy in jail.
The physical injuries that occurred were nothing in comparison to the emotional beating I’d taken.
I lost plenty of “friends” who called me a liar, took his side, or just didn’t have enough of a backbone to take a side at all.
I was forced to unravel years of abuse, to see parts of myself that I hated, and to try- just try- to love myself again.
The light at the end of the tunnel for me was the justice I was sure he’s serve after what he did to me.
There were multiple witnesses, testimonies from the cops who arrested him (they caught him LITERALLY washing my blood off the walls), as well as the simple fact that I was telling the truth.
And I was sure that truth would prevail.
Unfortunately, after nine months of doctors, lawyers, and courtrooms- I was wrong.
Truth and justice don’t always prevail (at least not the way I thought they would).
He was let off of EVERY charge.
He walked free.
The verdict sunk me into a deep depression, that my dad quickly snapped me out of about a week later.
He gave me a talk that inspired me to follow my dream of starting my own non-profit and relocating to Kenya.
This is when GLOW was born.
The next 6 years were ultimately my journey of healing, travel, mothering my dream, my vision, and working on my overall well-being.
This is when I did my yoga teacher training, became vegan (which, in turn, caused my HPV to lie dormant since!), started GLOW Yoga Retreats, began using Instagram- and so much more.
This time period deserves a blog post in and of itself.
I’d rather not digress too much from the topic at hand (aka, my vagina).
So, here we are- summer of 2017.
I had started seeing (and sleeping with) a guy (who is now my current boyfriend fyi) that I’d been friends with for awhile.
We were both living in the Philippines on a tiny island where everyone knows EVERYONE’S business.
Because of our environment, I didn’t really want people to know about “us” until I was certain that I’d wanted it to be anything worth knowing about.
One day, we escaped up North so that we could be as lovey dovey as we wanted and not have to worry about anyone seeing us together.
Let’s just say, one thing led to another, and we ended up having sex in the ocean.
Apparently, that was a big mistake.
You’d think that being almost 30, I’d know that- but I guess I just needed to learn the hard way.
Within 48 hours, I started having pain…umm…down there.
It’s important to know that at this point in my life I’d yet to experience a UTI, a bladder infection, yeast infection, or any of the common sort of issues that women face regularly.
With the exception of traumas already mentioned, I had always had a pretty healthy situation down there.
I was also on my second IUD at this point, because the 5-year lifespan of my first had already come and gone.
I was lucky enough to be numbed when the old one was removed, and the new one was put in- so I’d still yet to actually FEEL the pain of the whole IUD procedure.
To be honest- I didn’t really give my lady bits a whole lot of thought (beyond regular hygiene and care, of course), simply because I didn’t HAVE to.
However, even though I had nothing to compare it to- I also knew that something was not right.
Like REALLY not right.
So, we went to the “doctor” on the island (I say this in quotes because I really have no idea how qualified this person in a one-bedroom shack of an office really is).
After my examination she concluded I had vaginitis.
That’s, like, the least conclusive thing EVER.
She gave me a suppository, a pat on the back, and sent me on my way.
I was told to put the suppository in at night, wear underwear when I sleep because some of it will seep out, and it should clear up in 3 days.
Well, I can assure you that is not what happened.
What did happen was that I had an allergic reaction to the medicine (something I found out almost a year later, mind you).
And, by wearing the underwear and trapping everything in- it actually made it WORSE.
I’m no doctor, nor scientist (clearly), but all I know is that our vaginas are super a super fucking delicate ecosystem.
There’s already a whole lot going on down there when it comes to moisture and temperature, so when you put something in that you’re not only allergic to, but something that’s also adding to the moisture and turning up the temperature (due to the fever)- things will get ugly.
Whatever infection I had got so bad that my fever skyrocketed in, and I got insanely sick (if you know me at all, this will come as no surprise to you- you know how my body responds to illnesses).
Because there’s no actual hospital nor qualified health care on the island, I took a two-hour flight to Manila to get the help I desperately needed.
Much to my surprise (and gratitude), Michael came with me- taking care of me every step along the way.
This is when things took a turn for the worse.
To be honest, this next part is still difficult for me to write about.
But the point is to share my story, so here it goes.
It’s important to keep in mind that the Philippines is primarily Catholic, which- in turn- means it can be pretty conservative (especially when it comes to sex-related topics).
So, when I met with the doctor and told her that yes, I’d been pregnant before- but no, I didn’t have any children- her face immediately changed.
Look, I know there’s a high chance that my emotional state might’ve exaggerated this whole experience. But, I also know that my judgment of energy is typically pretty spot on.
When I sense judgment, it’s usually because it’s actually there. Whether that other person would ever admit that or not is another story.
That same doctor all but sneered when I told her that, no, Michael and I weren’t married.
Her face was aghast when I told her I didn’t know how many sexual partners I’d had in my lifetime.
Then she examined me.
Let me just interject here to say that I was in a great deal of pain to any sort of touch.
It was difficult for me to WALK.
I couldn’t wear anything other than a dress, because having any sort of fabric even just graze against me was excruciating.
Tears were rolling down my face before she even started the examination, but by the time she was done- I was hyperventilating with pain.
And, I could tell you for damn sure that she didn’t care.
Once she finished, she told me (stone faced) that I had herpes.
Then attempted to walk out of the room.
Sure, drop a bomb on me that I have a lifelong disease, and then leave me to process that alone.
I was obviously in shock, but managed to get a few questions out before she went on her way.
In that time, she told me she didn’t need to run a test because she could tell just by looking.
She also went onto say that unless I’d gone outside of the relationship- then Michael had clearly cheated on me, and that I should break up with him.
Luckily, all of this unsolicited advice truly didn’t bother me because of the status of our relationship- and the simple fact that I trusted (and still do) him.
But, fuck, imagine if your DOCTOR- a person of authority- insisted your partner was cheating on you and that you have a chronic disease.
WITHOUT TAKING ANY TESTS.
Due to my plethora of experiences with ridiculous doctors, I insisted on getting ALL the tests done- pap, culture of the rash area itself, and blood.
I ended up having to be in the hospital for 5 days.
In that time, every single nurse and doctor there treated me like I was an American harlot.
Every examination I had left me crying in pain because of how callously and indifferently they treated my wounds.
During these 5 days, Michael also went to the lab to get tested himself.
A completely separate doctor there went on to tell him that I’d cheated on him, and that he should break up with me.
Seemed to be a reoccurring theme in the place, right?
All of Michael’s tests came back negative.
When I asked for the results of mine, they kept saying it would take time.
Finally, they told me that they came back positive.
She even said the words, “I told you so.”
It’s safe to say that I wasn’t in a good place mentally.
I felt like I was finally damaged beyond repair- depressed, disgusting, broken.
I wanted to give up on life right then and there.
When I was discharged from the hospital, a different doctor was reviewing my charts for me before I went.
In that time, she said that all the tests came back negative.
I cut her off, and asked her to repeat what she’d just said.
She looked at me strangely, repeating that they’d all been negative.
I wanted to punch her in the face and hug her at the same time.
Keep in mind that in this span of time, I had already begun the process of accepting this disease I thought I was living with forever.
I started looking into supplements and natural remedies to keep outbreaks at bay.
I’d even written my mom a long email in my pain killer induced state- telling her everything.
And, I love you mom, but her response also made me feel a whole lot worse too.
Then, after all that- I have a doctor tell me that the tests were negative.
What the actual fuck.
She looked at me like I was stupid, telling me that false negatives happen all the time- but they’re still confident that’s what it is.
Essentially letting me know not to get my hopes up.
But I couldn’t get those results out of my mind.
Plus, I was all about hope- and I was clinging to what was left of mine.
In the year and half since that incident, I’ve had 4 pap smears and blood tests from 4 different doctors.
They’ve all been negative.
When I told one doctor about the experience, she told me it sounded like I was allergic to the suppository medication- and that she’s seen reactions like that before (I had photos).
I’ve never had an outbreak.
Not because I’m healthy, and mindful- but because I don’t have fucking herpes despite one judgmental doctor’s false diagnosis.
I'd like to clarify here that although I think (I can't be 100% sure, of course) that religion played a role in this judgement and unprofessionalism- I don't blame Catholicism, nor the entire Filipio race/culture, by any means.
As most of you probably know, Filipinos are often the most wonderful caretakers in the medical field, and outside of it.
My experience should not be read as a way to clump ALL people of a certain race or religion into just one generalized box. Because that's far from the case.
But the thing is, that experience changed me.
Not only has my female ecosystem never really been the same since- but my sexual drive and self-love have also been at an all-time low, as well.
Like I said, I finally felt damaged beyond repair.
Although the diagnosis was incorrect, I still just felt horrible in my own skin and extremely uncomfortable with my sexuality.
There was (and still is) a thick coat of shame, which suffocates any of my feelings of being sexy or beautiful.
Not to mention the frequent physical discomfort since then.
I’m suddenly much more sensitive to EVERYTHING:
Wearing leggings or bathing suits for too long, bicycles, sitting for long period of time without changing clothes (long flights and bus rides), humidity, dry cold, surfing (straddling the board).
The list goes on and on.
I’ve had to modify huge chunks of my daily life.
Some activities I’ve had to cut out altogether (I haven’t surfed in a year, because of it).
However, despite how much these reoccurring issues have been getting in the way of my life- I’ve also been terrified to go to the doctor to try to get things back on track for good.
My healing process has sort of been like running on a hamster wheel- running constantly, but moving nowhere.
Sure, I’ve continued to get check ups, but other than that- I haven’t had a whole lot of answers.
After my meltdown last week in my Banglore hotel room, I knew that it was time to seek those answers in a way that felt right to me.
I certainly value doctor’s opinions, modern science and medicine- TO A DEGREE.
But I also value the wisdom of my body, my intuition, and Eastern practices, as well.
During that meditation, I realized there was a reason that there was no scientific explanation for the reoccurring symptoms and physical irritation that keeps happening.
I realized that even if it felt like I had moved on from the stories of my past, they were still stored quite deeply in my body- and I still have a lot of work to do in order to get to a more balanced and healthy place.
This is why I’ve decided to write this post- an attempt just to just start getting these stories OUT of me.
And, to actually start the healing process OFF the hamster wheel, instead.
This is also why I decided to get my IUD taken out.
To be totally honest, up until this point- I hadn’t even realized that I’ve been on some form of birth control for over 15 years.
That’s half of my life.
I find it very alarming that consuming a strong hormonal substance was such an ingrained, REGULAR part of my life that I didn’t even give it a second thought for 15 years.
How could I ever tune into the natural rhythms of my body if there’s an unnatural substance standing in the way?
In my opinion, I can’t.
At least not right now.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m not promoting unprotected sex.
Nor will Michael and I be careless with our intimacy. Especially after already having experienced an abortion, I don’t ever want to go through that again.
So, we won’t be entering this chapter lightly, by any means.
But we will be entering into it together- exploring the effects of certain foods and drinks, as well as maintaining a regular fasting practice, and exploring a variety of movement therapies.
The point is that I want to keep getting to know myself.
I want to get to know my body better- to understand what it needs, to observe where it’s storing trauma, to notice areas that are imbalanced, and to recognize which substances trigger different physical reactions.
Because god knows this last year and a half has been a brutal whiplash of ups and downs when it comes to my relationship with my sexuality and my body.
And, truth be told, this toxic relationship with myself (one which has been built on shame)- has had a damaging ripple effect into my relationship with my partner, as well.
I want to return to a space of pure, honest love and acceptance for myself- as well as for those around me.
And, guess what?
I can tell I’m already on the right path to do just that.
Even though getting my IUD hurt like hell, I still felt an energetic release after.
I was like a huge weight had been lifted, and despite the cramping- there was also a massive sense of relief.
I’ve had the same reaction since writing this post- discomfort mixed with liberation.
But hey, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30 years on this planet- it’s that oftentimes the greatest lessons and moments of growth come from being completely uncomfortable.
So, bring it on.