The anxiety of being well

Have you heard the parable of the boiling frog? It’s one of those metaphors that everyone seems to know, but don’t know where they know it from. The parable goes that if you drop a frog into boiling water it will just jump out, but if you drop a frog in cold water and heat it slowly the frog will boil to death, not noticing as the temperature rises. [1]

When my pain first started, it was very much like that pan of gently heating water. It came on slowly, a discomfort that grew and grew, until all of a sudden I was boiling alive. While my pain levels fluctuated, for almost a decade I was never not in pain. 

And then, 3 months after the catastrophic break up of 2018, I woke up and realised: It doesn’t hurt anymore. 

The pain developed so slowly, and disappeared so suddenly, that I live in fear of it coming back. There was no reason for it to start, and no reason for it to stop, so I can’t say for certain that it won’t come back as suddenly as it left.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on

Every time I feel sore after sex (still about half the time), every time I wince during, every time I feel my pelvic floor clamp down, a part of me is instantly afraid that the pain will come back. It’s probably nothing – pain during sex is suprisingly common amongst women – but I never know if this is the time that it won’t go away. 

I have to watch it, this worrying. Fear of the pain could be the very thing that invokes it to return. My doctors warned me at the time that stress and pain create an awful, amplifying loop. The more I tense and stress and worry, the more likely that my body will wind itself back up again. On bad days I can feel the muscles in my pelvis twist and tighten, coiling in on themselves. I have to force myself to relax, to breathe slowly and remind myself that I am ok. I am well. I will remain well. I repeat the mantra to myself until my muscles relax. 

I don’t know that, of course. There is no guarantee that my vulvodynia wont come back, that my lichen planus won’t flare up again as suddenly as it left. I’m still dealing with the vaginismus – that never went away, it just became easier to manage without the other things on top. It helps that I feel safe now, with a partner who respects my boundaries rather than resenting them. 

That’s the biggest difference, I think. And probably the reason that the pain went away in the first place. For the first time since the pain started, I don’t have any anxiety around sex. I don’t have to worry that my partner will get angry if I ask him not to do something that hurts me. I don’t feel like my worth as a person depends on my ability to perform in the bedroom. I don’t think there’s anything less conducive to good and enjoyable sex than feeling obligated to have it. 

I want to enjoy my mostly-pain-free present. I want to catch up on all the time and all the experiences that I missed in my twenties. I want to enjoy a healthy sex life like a normal woman, without the constant gnawing anxiety in the back of my brain. I tell myself not to worry about the future, to live in the present, but it’s a narrative that I can’t 100% get behind. 

My mind flashes forward to the possibilities that I had previously considered unavailable to me. Could I have kids, if I wanted? I always assumed that my various conditions would make conception and pregnancy impossible. But maybe now that choice is back on the table. Do I want kids? Will pregnancy and childbirth bring the pain back? Will I recover like a normal person? Am I ready to give up on the freedom that I’ve only just reclaimed?

So many questions, so many possibilities. And no guarantees at all. I guess that’s life for everyone though. You never know what’s around the corner. All I know is that I don’t want to live in the shadow of my fear.

I think I’ll treasure this freedom a little bit longer, and make the most of the good times while I can. After all that came before, I bloody well deserve them.

1. For what it’s worth, this has been proven to be untrue. The frog will jump out when the water gets hot. Frogs are smarter than humans that way.

Published by QuirkyCnt

I've spent 10 years living with chronic pelvic pain. Vulvodynia, vestibulodynia, vaginismus - I've got the set. I've even got lichen planus, which is an autoimmune disorder, and adenomyosis. This blog documents my experience with chronic pain, sexual dysfunction and all the ways I've tried to manage it. Expect fetish clubs, polygamy and explicit conversations about sex and sexuality.

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