For whatever reason, the area between my legs has always been a place of curiosity for me, perhaps not helped by my discovery of the vagina-brain connection theory discussed in Naomi Wolf’s Vagina. Recently, and with help from my psychosexual counsellor, I’ve realised that this ‘curiosity’ might have meant I always had a certain ‘vulnerability’ to something like vaginismus. Perhaps it was always lying in wait and it would just take an unfortunate combination of events to trigger it.
But it’s not just the vagina that I’ve been curious about — for most of my life, the uninary system has caused the most trouble. The exploration into gynaecological causes of my pelvic pain over the last couple of years has overtaken a bit, especially since when I raised the subject of urology with my doctor last autumn, he said, “you don’t experience painful periods or painful sex unless there is a gynaecological problem.” It was only last winter, when I was clearing the loft with my mum and considering starting counselling, that I found some note cards from 2007 that made me wonder if my bladder might be playing a role in my present situation.
As part of a public speaking exercise, I chose to talk about cystitis and toilet access in schools. What inspires an eleven-year-old to give a speech about urinary tract infections (UTIs)? A long and complicated history with them and bladder weakness, even at eleven. I had a few kidney scans as a kid but the general consensus from my doctors back then was, “she’ll grow out of it.” Lo and behold I did not. The UTIs subsided during puberty, but once I started having sex they returned. I had a reputation as an obsessive pee-er as a kid, I planned my day around when and where I was going to wee, a habit I still sometimes catch myself practising now.
Throughout this whole process investigating my bladder for something like interstitial cystitis seemed like such an obvious path to take and it’s finally happening. Last month I saw a urologist and, as always, I was armed with a list of things I thought relevant to mention, and for the first time ever, all the points on my list came up as a result of the doctor’s questions. I didn’t have to suggest anything myself. Dr K was immediately nodding and it was like my body was doing all the right (or wrong) things to have been sent to this department.
Dr K has referred me for (yet another) ultrasound, took a urine sample and then started mentioning some elusive “other procedure” and because I’m a moron I didn’t actually ask what this third procedure was. And then a letter came in the post while I was on holiday informing me that fairly soon I’ll be having a camera up my urethra (flexible cystoscopy). OH GOOD.
As always, I’m excited to explore another orifice (lol) but I’m worried about traumatising my body with another pelvic procedure, especially since I’ll be conscious for this one. I was given almost no information about what to expect or how to prepare other than to “bring some small change and a urine sample” — are the two connected? I rang the department to try and find out a little more and was told “it’s just like a smear test,” which is really helpful because a) I’ve never had one as I’m under 25, and b) pelvic examinations have been so painful in the past that I was diagnosed with vaginismus. So I wouldn’t say I’m feeling totally relaxed about the whole thing, but when I look back on the last two years with fresh urological eyes, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Like the fact my pain started around two memorable events, only my doctors chose to focus on one; a) a period so painful I left work to go home and vomit/cry and b) having a drink spiked and feeling like I was hungover for three months because of what turned out to be a bladder infection.
My GP isn’t convinced that the answer to all my problems lies in my bladder, and neither am I. Going back on the pill certainly hasn’t ‘fixed’ me but my body’s reactions to it and the adjustments in how I take it have confirmed that there is undoubtedly something hormonally abnormal going on in my body. And yet I can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that a piece of the larger puzzle might be in my bladder.