Archive for January, 2013

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Boom. Therapy.

January 25, 2013

There are certain statements you never want to hear come out of your therapist’s mouth:

“I’m doubling your rate.”

“Man, I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

“I believe you and you alone are at fault for the misery of your childhood.”

“I suspect you experienced some sort of perceived sexual trauma when you were young, possibly pre-verbal, which is keeping you from having positive intimate experiences.”

One might expect the latter, which I had the pleasure of hearing a couple years ago, to be followed by the psychologist version of the Chris Rock mic-drop. I picture this 60-something, white haired, be-scarfed lady throwing her hands in the air and walking out of the room with a,

“BOOM. Analyzed.”

In my case, she had the decency to remain seated.  Though I thankfully didn’t spend the next year giving sidelong glances to uncles and older cousins, I was left with the gnawing feeling of being betrayed by my memory, aware that if she were right (and she’d never been anything but), and my body and mind were working this hard to keep me from remembering it, whatever “it” was, was likely pretty awful.

Enter BikeGuy.

BikeGuy was an internet dating find, one of those guys who rides around this city in matching, lycra-based tops and bottoms. What happens when a man puts on one of those outfits? Do they constrain their balls so much, thrust their junk so far up into their body cavity that they have no choice but to become arrogant, dispassionate cretons, careening too close to pedestrians, hogging bike lanes, and yelling “ON YOUR LEFT” too loud and too late to be courteous?

Ahem.

Despite his character flaws, BikeGuy also happened to be puckishly handsome, lean, muscular, and, most importantly, interested. To say BikeGuy and I “dated” would be to grossly overstate what BikeGuy and I did. To even say we “went out” would be inaccurate because truly we just “stayed in.”  After a series of emails, one honest-to-god date, and a follow-up of gchats that quickly spiraled into the obscene, he biked his skinny little biker butt over to my apartment on a couple chilly October nights.

Sidebar.  I have to laugh when I hear the adage that anticipation is the best part of sex; my body apparently never got that memo. Panic Attack is probably too strong a term for what I go through, but it’s not terribly far off – usually my stomach busies itself with liquefying its contents while my mouth goes dry and the rest of me lightly shakes. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps if I knew a man for longer than a single date, the fear would wane with familiarity. But I have, historically, had a problem with jumping into bed too quickly – a holdover, I suppose, from the overweight middle schooler no one ever had a crush on hidden in my head, who’s still quite convinced if a man is interested, he’s just doing her a favor so she should be grateful and jump at the opportunity before his charitable altruism evaporates and he realizes he could do far better.

(Relax, guys. That’s why I’m in therapy.)

Anyway. Back to BikeGuy. Sorry – no details. Other than, despite his tiny frame, BikeGuy…. well…BikeGuy had a lot to stuff in his lycra… let’s leave it at that. As I explained to my therapist shortly after our evenings together, it’s not that I was in excruciating pain, so much as I felt – overwhelmed? Like the whole experience of sex with him was too much to – forgive me – take in. She responded without blinking:

“Did you feel like you were going to die?”

Now. If one of my girlfriends had asked me this, I would have chuckled, probably, or rolled my eyes. But where my therapist asked me this, I instead burst into uncontrollable, choking, gasping sobs.

So then…. yes?

Mic-drop.  She high fives herself.

I cry for a while, don’t talk a whole lot, and then suddenly this memory floats into view and I decide to tell it. It’s not something I ever repressed – it is an experience that over the years had occasionally surfaced in the bobbing flotsam of my memory swamp – I just never assigned any significance to it. But at that moment, in this context, I felt compelled to mention it.

I’m little. Maybe 4. I’ve been getting chronic urinary tract infections.  Because of these UTIs, I find myself on a gurney, naked from the waist down, revealed by what covers me: a piece of paper with a square hole cut out, exposing the parts of me I’d most prefer be hidden. My mom’s there. A couple female nurses are there. A man is there. I don’t know what the man is doing exactly, but it involves sharp pain “down there,” and he’s getting increasingly frustrated with me. I am crying. I am, as my mother would later say, “Not cooperating.”  There might be some sort of restraint system. After numerous failed attempts to do whatever it is he’s trying to do, he gives up, and I remember knowing I’ve done something wrong, failed some sort of test. There is a transition to another exam, a sonogram, this one administered by a nice lady, and nothing hurts about that. The gel is warm and the wand they use is gentle and round and noninvasive – the contrast of “sharp” versus “dull” sticks out in the memory. And that’s it.

My therapist believes my little kid self experienced this – whatever this was – as a rape trauma, and the panic attacks and discomfort with sex stem from that. Trauma I get but… rape? Come on. That’s a big assertion. But since neither of us know what the hell this was, she suggests I do some digging to see if I can learn anything about the mystery procedure.

Conveniently, that night I have dinner with one of my best friends, who happens to be a neonatal intensive care nurse, and I ask her if any of these memories of mine add up to a procedure she’s heard of. I barely finish a sentence before she calmly says –

“Sure, of course. A Voiding Cysto-Urethrogram or VCUG with Renal Ultrasound.”

Sure. Of course.

Armed with new knowledge and a name I go home and do what I do best: google. Just for the hell of it – just to see if this crazy, insane rape trauma theory is all it’s cracked up to be – I google:

“VCUG rape.”

Lo and behold, there have been a number of studies examining language behavior and memory accuracy of children suffering from sexual PTSD, wherein rather than put a child who was raped through the stress of interviews on the subject, they instead work with children who have undergone a VCUG because they are the most analogous population to rape victims.

Mic drop.

BikeGuy turned out to be even more of a jerk than his outfits predicted, and I never saw him again after our two nights together, but at least he gave me the gift of awareness. I wish I could say as soon as the trauma was unearthed from my unconscious I was relieved of the burden and have had nothing but constant amazing sex and deep meaningful connection in the last year since it all transpired but no dice. It has been a period of healing and self-investigation with some attempts at connection peppered around, still hampered by fear and insecurity. But, hey, that’s 90% of life anyway.

I found a video today made by a medical center that explains the procedure to parents, and instructs them on how to talk about it with their children.  If only we had YouTube in the 80s… What shook me most emotionally was the care and communication of the staff depicted in the video.

Maybe back in 1986, this dude got a parking ticket in the morning, and a stale muffin, and a rotten orange and then someone stepped on his foot and then there was no toilet paper and then he got a bill for unpaid taxes and then his partner called and yelled at him and then he found out his mom was in the hospital and then he stepped into my examination room. Our actions have consequence not just at the moment, but rippling through time and between strangers who will never meet. In 1986 a man had a bad day and attempted a VCUG on a terrified child, and in 2012 a 30 year old woman trembled on her therapist’s chair, discovering she’s unconsciously viewed every sexual partner she’s had as the doctor telling her if she’s being bad or good.

Be nice to people today. Be nice to people every day. But especially if you’re catheterizing a 4 year old.

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The World’s Most Popular Virus

January 17, 2013

I sit on my gynecologist’s metal table with the requisite paper over my lap, and catch a reflection of myself in the glass-framed, generic art print on the wall.  In utter absurdity to the situation, I look great. Arguably lovely. I don’t know, it’s just a good hair day, I guess, my eyeliner held up well despite all the fought tears on the subway, and I’m fully clothed from the waist up, such that this particular glimpse doesn’t broadcast that I’m about to have my cervix snipped.

Colposcopy.  If you are female and know the meaning of the word, the sphincter of your vagina probably just seized a little. If you are unacquainted with the procedure, let me fill you in on my last dance with the devil.

There comes a time in 50-75% of sexually active females’ lives, when you get a call from your OB/GYN, about a week after a Pap Smear, informing you that the test has come back abnormal, and she needs you to come in, as soon as possible, for a colposcopy. My doctor (whom – I should note right off the bat lest my snark get too heavy – I love) moves appointments for me, books me a week later, tells me to take 2 Advil before I come in and lastly instructs me, “don’t panic.”

So I’m sitting there looking surprisingly adorable from the waist up, paper clad from the waist down. I had considered shaving before I came in – you know, clean up the edges a little – but then I thought… who the hell am I trying to impress? The doc comes in and we get down to business. She puts the usual speculum inside me, but ratchets it up to what feels like 3 times its normal width. There is poking and prodding, cue-tipping, looking, peeking, peering. There’s discussion with her assistant about whether or not her sister-in-law can come work for them, idle chat echoing around my birth canal. There is a second speculum inserted into the first speculum – two for the price of one! – and the bizarre and horrible feeling of a swab probing beyond my cervix. There is talk of “infection between 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock,” and I resist the urge to ask what the happy hour specials are.

Then the real fun begins – the biopsy. The doc gives me “fair warning” which consists of “1, 2, 3 – pinch.” The first one isn’t bad, but she apologizes and says she took too small a sample. The second one… is bad. Very bad. I gasp. She admits this one was too large. It’s at this point that I can’t hold it together anymore, all the breathing exercises I know have failed me, and tears stream down my face. My doctor is all apologies – but then she’s all apologies when she sticks her finger in my ass during a routine pelvic, so I’m used to it. In between assuring her it’s ok, I take tissues from the assistant and some part of me that isn’t going through this hell notices how beautiful the assistant’s skin is. That part of me makes a note to tell her that later. The doc finally gets a mama-bear size sample and the nightmare is over. She swabs some more – antibacterial somethingorother, perhaps a coagulant, fairy dust and unicorn sweat, I don’t know, and finally removes the metallic duck-beast.

She tells me not to sit up right away so as not to get faint, and to “put my legs up.”  What she means is to stretch them out on the table she has since adjusted, but what I hear is lift them into the air like a giant 31-year-old baby waiting to be changed. It’s hours later before I realize my mistake and retrospectively cringe.

We talk a little about when test results will be back, what treatment options could be, and she tells me for the next 10 days while I heal, no tampons, no baths, no swimming and, of course, no sex.  She tells me to take as long as I need before I get up, get dressed, and pay $1,000 for the privilege of feeling like I’ve been fucked by a gigantic man with a rusted nail on the end of his dick.

She closes the door behind her and I finally let the tears go. I wish I could say I’m just crying from the physical pain, but I’ve been in therapy long enough to know I’m not; I’m bathing in a cocktail of sadness, fear, anger and, worst of all, shame.

I know, you guys. I know. I know it’s practically impossible in this day and age to be a sexually active, 30-something female and not contract HPV. I get it. I know I’m supposed to join the forums on Jezebel and be willing to openly talk about the STI. I know – especially since this is my SECOND TIME with all this – that I will be fine, and that my likelihood of developing cervical cancer is low. It’s just that… maybe it’s from an unfortunately Catholic upbringing, but I can’t help feeling like I’m being punished by some unseen force in the universe for letting a couple guys into my life (and my vagina) since my last clean Pap six months ago.

And aside from the unnecessary feelings of shame, I can’t help but feel plain old pissed off that in 2013 we still have no way of testing men for HPV, treating men for HPV, or preventing them from carrying/spreading HPV.  Or maybe I’m just angry that I’ve undergone great pain, expense, and emotional stress, and whoever gave it to me – which, where the virus can lay dormant, could have been any partner in my sexual history – need not do a thing, need not undergo a test, need not concern himself in any way.

I eventually get up, get dressed, exhaust my credit card on the experience, and forget to tell the assistant about her skin.  I’m too concerned with slowly walking back to the subway, and making my way to my computer so I can write this.  I write this partially to find the humor, partially to process it all, and partially to let some other woman out there, who gets that phone call from her Gyno, know that she isn’t alone, in any of it: the fear, the frustration, the anger, the sadness, and even the unnecessary feeling of shame.

Because even if it’s unnecessary and unfounded, you should still know you’re not the only one who’s felt it.