The other day, I decided to give my pain a name.
"I'm going to call her Doris," I texted to my boyfriend. "She makes me feel like an old lady."
"Very good, dear," he replied, sticking to the old-lady theme. "I hope Doris buggers off very soon!"
After almost a decade, I was fed up with saying the words pelvic pain. Too alliterative, too repetitive, too vague. I wanted to yawn when I said it.
"Sorry, I can't, I've got pelvic pain" or "Sorry, it will take twenty minutes to walk ten blocks" or "Can we get off this bus, as the jolt of the wheels is fricking un-pleas-ant."
I guess it's a form of chronic pain, yet I don't regard myself as one of those people, with one of those things. If you clock up the minutes and hours, I don't even have it most of the time.
My school friends tell me Doris first showed up when I had to leave the Valentine's disco early. "My vagina is sore," I told them, and hobbled home. Later, at fourteen, lying in bed next to a friend, she flung her arm out and mistakenly whacked me in the vagina. I couldn't sit down without a grimace for two days.
But the real "Uh-oh" moment was at nineteen, when I was home from university for the Christmas holidays. I had lost my virginity the week before to a student who dressed in a gilet, and as he went down on me, I held on to the headboard with both hands, writhing with discomfort (he thought with delight) as his tongue darted at my clitoris.
A week later, while jogging, the pain arrived. BAM. As if someone were taking a small but pointy knife to my genitals. The vaginal lips felt inflamed and complained at being touched, wiped with toilet roll, and rubbed against tight jeans. When I moved, it hurt. The spasms and pain only stopped when I was totally still.
A blip, I thought. But the next day, I limped home from my jog, defeated.
Cue Doris and her frequent, doddering cameos in the film of my life. Although I imagine she is much older than me, she is spritely and persistent and can nag at me for — her longest recorded stretch, this June — 21 consecutive days.
Doris looks wistfully at fellow elderly citizens in electric wheelchairs. She is grumpy. She complains at how quickly those damn traffic lights at the end of my street change from "walk" to "don't walk," leaving her stranded halfway across. Doris has kindly contributed to my temperamental libido, and my near inability to orgasm during intercourse. (Just as well Doris didn't totter into my life much earlier on, so I had time to figure out how to do it just fine on my own.)
Doris has illustrated how pain links your whole body together, from your legs, pelvis, and hips to your stomach muscles and spine, all the way to your neck. The vagina and pelvis are at the center of all of it, at the center of what makes you feel young, womanly, and human.
What does my pain feel like? It alternates: from a painful stabbing, to an electric-shock feeling, to a tearing across my pubic hair as if someone is pulling a Velcro tab on a sneaker. Sometimes it's just a tightness, a warning sign that pain may come, or it may not. At that point, it's best to ward it off with a pillow under my knees, focusing on deep-belly breathing and watching repeats of Grace and Frankie.