in her own words
I’ve been suffering from vulvodynia, the almost constant burning and/or knife sharp pain in the vulva, for as long as I can remember. As the case with many conditions that only affects women, very little is known about vulvodynia and even though more than 10% if all women suffer from it, most people still haven’t heard of it. I have fought to get medical help since my early teens and it wasn’t until I came to England for university that I finally got in contact with doctors that took me and this condition seriously.
After 5 years of intense (yet not effective) treatment in England I was finally offered to have the surgery where painful tissue in the vulva is removed. This is considered effective however is the very ‘last resort’ and not many women decide not to go through with it. I had been reading stories online of women that had gotten completely cured thanks to this surgery and could have pain free intercourse only two months post op. Unfortunately, my healing process came to be MUCH longer than that.
Even though the damaged tissue was removed I could still feel pain and I was constantly worried that something had gone wrong during the operation. Prior to the surgery my pain was mostly upon touch, but now the pain was constant and I could barely walk or sit. Weeks and even months went by and the pain remained. My surgeon had confirmed that the wound had healed beautifully and there should be no reason for me to be in such pain. I was in complete despair.
In common for all chronic pain conditions, I believe, is the long term effect it has on your mental health. After countless of efforts to get help and after numbers of romantic relationships to end due to my inability to have pleasurable intercourse – I was close to just giving up. Having chronic pain in your most private body part is nothing you feel comfortable talking about freely – leaving your feeling isolated and hopeless.
My first appointment with Richmond was unforgettable. I had been recommended Richmond by my surgeon and I had no expectations as I thought this would be just another physiotherapist, using the same treatment method that I’ve tried millions of times already. However, I can honestly say that I left that first appointment feeling hopeful for the first time in years. Richmond is an amazing coach and such an inspirational speaker! In just a few sessions he completely changed the way I look at and understands pain. His approach is very different from all other physiotherapists I’ve ever met – it was so refreshing and turned out to be the right thing for me. Instead of just focusing on the painful area, Richmond focuses on the whole person and so teaches you to understand your pain; why you feel it, what’s triggering it and how you easily can move your focus from it. He gave me easy exercises to do daily and thought me visualisation and breathing techniques which has changed my everyday life.
Even though I’m almost completely pain free today, I do still have bad days where things feels worse. However, something I’ve really learned through my sessions with Richmond is to not go into the state of panic and let all those catastrophic thoughts take over your life. Pain is constantly changing and there is no reason to believe that it will get worse just because you’re having a bad day.
I wish there were more physios like Richmond out there. Vulvodynia is a hell to live with and I wish that all women suffering from it could get as amazing support and treatment as I finally got.
I see many women who are suffering a range of painful problems. Often they tell me how they have not been heard, taken seriously and given treatments that don’t help much.
I am sure that most clinicians and therapists try to help in the best way that they can, yet this is how many people feel. And this adds to the suffering.
There are major problems with the healthcare system and the training of doctors and other clinicians/therapists. The model is set up for acute problems, clear disease states and pathologies, but not for chronic (persistent) or complex conditions. Yet the chronic and complex is the cause of much of the global health burden. The model of care is wrong, and its application causing further issues.
Training for chronic and complex conditions is scant. Pain education is not a priority, yet it is one of the main reasons people seek help. This makes no sense.
what can we do?
Fortunately there is a model that can explain pain of all types, the biology, the test results and the lived experience of the person. It is called Embodied Predictive Processing. More on this to come.
But actually, the most immediate changes are simple and the foundation of my approach, or way of being with people who are suffering persistent pain.
We can listen to the person, validating their experiences–they are real! We can see the person and their strengths, come through a compassionate lens and create the conditions for the person to feel safe and cared for.
From there, we can look at all the different ways of moving forwards, easing pain and suffering and re-connecting with what matters to them, the person.