Aged twenty-three with an intimate area that had begun to itch with a persistence I had never previously encountered, I bravely took myself to see the lady doctor at the local GUM clinic. My fiancé swore he had been completely faithful from the day we met six months earlier so I was not too concerned – but I was aware that he had a checkered past as a bit of a playboy when he was single and working as a DJ in the nightclubs of York so there was a small nagging doubt of mistrust in the back of my mind. As I entered the medical examination room, trying desperately not to scratch, the doctor, a woman in her late fifties, briskly greeted me, fired off some questions to establish what the issue was and within ten minutes had me splayed on the treatment bed, knees propped up, legs akimbo, and her face uncomfortably close to my vagina. Before I could even point out where the itchy patches of skin were, she leaned back and exclaimed, “My God, I’ve never seen that before!” Holy sh*t – not a phrase you ever want to hear any gynaecologist say. If I could have run out of there in a dignified fashion, I would have. My mind was racing. What on earth had she seen? She wasn’t the first person to see my nether regions, how was I only learning of some sort of deformity now?! Had I missed a weird growth? Did I have a second vagina I didn’t know of? WTF??? I was freaking out and felt like a freak. Any minute now I was expecting a team of medical students to eagerly bounce in to see the bizarre abnormality the doctor was evidently shocked by…. But that didn’t happen. When I tentatively asked what was wrong, she laughed and said “I didn’t realise that was the fashion now. You young folks….” And then I realised what she meant. My fiancé had asked me to go fuzz-free as a treat and I’d been happy to oblige. That was all it was – my shaven haven of pleasure was unexpected at a time when it wasn’t the norm. And the itch that had been driving me mental – it was just a post-shaving skin infection. I’ve never been so relieved!
It’s funny how concerned we all are when growing up about whether our bodies are normal. We take surreptitious looks in the school showers to see if our friends and peers have all the same parts we have in similar proportions. To my dismay, my breasts seemed to take forever to sprout, though my hips and arse were not slow on the uptake, and then when they did pop up and out, one boob decided to be bigger than its sister. It made me feel like a mutant. I used to compare my boobs to those proudly displayed by the fantasy women in The Sun newspaper and magazines, wishing that the smaller one would hurry up and sort itself out. I spent so many years trying to camouflage my ‘deformity’, before I learned that unequal breasts are quite common and never had any complaints from the men I deemed lucky enough to handle them when I became sexually-active.
When my health began to decline in my late thirties, again I was concerned with the abnormality of my body. My hands didn’t seem to work properly anymore. My eyesight would go when I was over-tired. My movements became stiff and I wanted to sleep all the time. Periods of brain fog seemed to last longer and longer. I knew something was very wrong but I was too scared to find out – MS was the biggest fear – until the pain became unmanageable, disturbing my sleep and day-to-day life. When you are facing this kind of situation, sex is the last thing on your mind. I didn’t feel attractive, the thought of dating made me want to poke my eyes out (plus I was emotionally invested in my ex anyway) and the energy required for sex was too much for me to contemplate when my health was at its worst, in the months before my Fibro diagnosis. My mojo went into hibernation. I had more important things to think about.
Post-diagnosis, one-year of medication helped me to cope with the demands of my working life and once I left my job, I was able to go medication-free, rest and focus on my recovery. As my physical and emotional strength came back, it got me thinking about dating and intimacy for those of us with chronic illnesses. Is Fibro a turn-off? Maybe not for someone who is genuinely interested in you but I can’t imagine this would be a selling point on your Tinder profile (“I like long walks on the beach, oral sex and have Fibro”). Hmm. I want to be honest with potential suitors – I have a chronic illness but I’m doing really well at the moment – but I don’t want to put them off before they’ve had a chance to properly get to know me. At what point is it appropriate to disclose a chronic illness? On the first date? After the first night together? On your Wedding Day? (that’s perhaps a little late…). It’s a dilemma. Fibro is what I have but I don’t want it to define me or affect how people look at me.
I guess this is something I will figure out in time. I know I’m not so fussed anymore about my boobs endeavouring to touch the floor as I get older or the cellulite map of the world imprinted on my thighs. I’m just glad my body is now in a better state of health than it was and at the moment, I am still taking everything day by day, focusing on self-care, having fun, loving my travels and embracing my inner sex kitten (ha ha just kidding). How do you get your mojo back after a period of prolonged illness? There are lots of things you can do. Treat yourself to a new hairdo or some sexy undies. Get a massage (if touch is not too painful for you Fibro buddies). Listen to tunes that put you in the mood. For me right now, I’m just doing things that make me happy and give me joy – like tracking down street art in the places I visit, exploring nature, having a laugh with the new friends I’m making, rather than actively searching for a new partner. That will come with time. I believe that when you are at peace with yourself, you attract the right person into your world to share that journey so there’s no need to worry or rush things. Me (Fibro and all) and my mojo will be ready for the lucky devil when the time is right. I hope he’s ready for me! 😉
Take care, Lisa.