Consider this your get to know me blog.
We can go back sometime and rehash the details of my education, my training, my mentors, and my work experience, but for now let's just jump right into the nitty gritty of why I do what I do—specifically why my life's calling is to stick my finger up peoples' vaginas and anuses and why I want to work yoga into the mix.
I know what it's like to have pelvic floor issues. I know how it feels to be completely blown off by physicians and to feel like my body is betraying me. I’ve bitten my lip—hard—during sex,out of pain instead of pleasure, then winced alone in the bathroom afterwards as I tried to pee without hurting some more. Speaking of pee, my former boyfriend watched me lose control of my bladder and urinate all over myself. Conversely, I know what it’s like to not poop for days at a time. Finally, I understand firsthand and all too well how humiliating and shameful all of this can feel, and how isolating it is to feel like there’s no one safe or knowledgeable or compassionate enough to talk to about it.
I am by training and vocation a Doctor of Physical Therapy, but my personal experience is what really fuels my passion to help people with similar issues. I’m bring to this work a holistic combination of clinical expertise and real empathy for my patients. And because I’ve been there, I can say empirically that pelvic floor dysfunction in any of its manifestations f***ing sucks. I wouldn't wish them on anyone! I'm here to tell you that you’re not alone. There is a growing community of people with whom you can talk about these issues and there is help. If you're a dude or if the symptoms I’ve experienced don’t exactly match yours, keep reading. The concepts and the approach to healing are universal.
Of course, I know that simply giving you this information won't completely eliminate your pain or shame or fear or anger or embarrassment, but there's healing power in storytelling itself. It is my hope that after reading my story you'll understand my passion for helping people with pelvic floor dysfunction and why I'm such a huge proponent of treating this constellation of issues (or really any physical ailment) holistically and with mindfulness, from a yogic perspective.
I guess a chronological approach is probably the best for our purposes. Shall we get to it…?
I've had varying degrees of pain with intercourse from the time I lost my virginity to, occasionally, even now. I've had a couple of urinary tract infections (UTI), but for the most part my vaginal and vulvar health has been good. In college I finally got up the courage to ask a few physicians about the symptoms I'd experienced for years: tearing, burning, deep ache and sharp pain during and after intercourse; bleeding after sex; burning and urinary frequency in the absence of infection; and itching that drove me mad without any identifiable reason. Here are few things I was told by physicians along the way (and unfortunately, that many of my patients in the pelvic floor world have heard as well):
"Relax and have a glass of wine before sex.”
"Use more lube."
"Try different condoms."
"Switch partners and try to find someone with a smaller penis."
Despite giving this the old college try, I can definitively say that booze doesn't do the job. Lube wasn't my problem as I have always purchased the highest quality, hypoallergenic, organic, BPA-free lube on the market. Latex-free condoms, for what it’s worth, have been better in my experience, but even this was not the solution to my problems. As it turned out, in case you were wondering, even the tiniest of penises still caused irritation.
My personal favorite clinical recommendation (as in, the very worst by far), however, came from a physician who told me, "There's a form of plastic surgery that I don't know much about, but it can pull your cervix up and out of the way. You'll probably have to have that at some point."
There is nothing wrong with the position of my cervix. Having surgery suggested for what I now know the doctor had misdiagnosed as a uterine prolapse in a healthy 22-year-old woman (with no history of giving birth) is to date one of my most traumatic doctor's office experiences. I know a lot better now, but never once was it suggested that my symptoms could be due to:
My musculoskeletal system/ pelvic floor muscle dysfunction/ history of back pain as a gymnast
Decreased blood flow
Hormones and birth control use
Stress, my psychological state, my emotions
History of infection
The list could go on....
Fast forward to my second year of physical therapy school, where I met my first pelvic floor PT and mentor, Judy Florendo, DPT. My mind was blown open to the fact that there were other people out there like me—and those in much worse shape than I was—and that there was something physical therapists could do about it. As a new PT, I loved the idea of being able to put my hands on a musculoskeletal problem and fix it. I would later learn that there's a lot more to being a PT than putting my hands on people and fixing them (because, in fact, I am not magic), but in that moment I was excited to begin personal treatment with Judy and to start pelvic floor coursework to further my professional interests.
Thanks to my work with Judy I learned a heck of a lot about my body and my pelvic floor, and generally felt quite a bit better after just a few sessions. I stopped bleeding with sex, started to become more comfortable communicating about my pain with my boyfriend, and could finally stop faking orgasms just to get things over with. My excellent experience in treatment left me feeling enthusiastic about choosing this as a career path so that I could help other women like me enjoy sex.
If this were a movie, the story would end here and my pelvic floor and I would run off into the sunset with a box of gloves and lube to save the world. I’m going to leave you with that image for now, but remember: real life rarely involves a Hollywood ending. Want proof? Check out my next post in which I’ll get brutally honest about peeing in my pants.