Be Gentle with Yourself: Self Care & Vaginismus
"Nothing in nature blooms all year. Be patient with yourself."
We all have them.
Sometimes, when struggling with vaginismus, it can seem like the bad days are all you ever get. Days when yet another attempt at sex ends in failure. Days when dilating or trying new pelvic floor exercises have you feeling anxious and tired and sore. Days when physiotherapy or treatments don't go as planned. Days when you feel like there isn't a single positive thing you could say about your body and it's many, many shortcomings. Maybe you're in the middle of one of those days right now.
I never truly realized the importance of self-care until my battle with depression. During that time, when I felt at war with my body and my thoughts, it was a true challenge to make choices that nourished and restored me. But since coming out the other side of that particular storm, all thanks to grace & the Lord's faithfulness, I've wanted to take more time to sit and address the issue in detail.
When I was depressed, self care was often in the form of choosing to eat in healthy amounts at regular intervals, stepping outside and giving my skin exposure to sunlight, and being mindful not to shut myself off from friends and family. I had daily tasks at times that would remind me to make positive choices, and I was oftentimes accountable to multiple people.
But through my journey with vaginismus, I discovered that self-care is just as crucial as it was during my depression. Sexual dysfunction can put you at odds with your body due to pain, discomfort, and low self-esteem. It's easy to get angry at our bodies—angry even at the One who created them—and feel as though they're a hinderance keeping us from reaching our desires, rather than a vessel to be used gently and respectfully.
In an effort to make peace with our bodies—dysfunctions and all—I'd like to put forth a list of things we can do to practice tender self-care. These can be daily, weekly, monthly...whatever works for you and your schedule. Maybe it can be for days when you have to dilate, and your body needs a little extra love and care to help ease the pain and emotions. Or the nights before an OBGYN appointment or a therapy/counseling session.
Whatever it looks like, here's my list of 10 things you can do to love your body extra well while you journey through vaginismus:
1. Go to Bed Early
I'm not talking about canceling your Friday night plans so you can hit the hay at 7:30pm, but oftentimes we neglect how much our bodies need genuine, physical rest. Try ending your day early—I've done this as early as 6:30p—and treat yourself to a nice, hot shower. Finish up your nighttime routine and make sure everything is ready for the next day. Pour yourself a hot cup of tea or decaf coffee and just climb into bed a few hours early. Read a book or watch an episode of your favorite show. Sometimes I just like to sit in bed with a podcast or audiobook on while I crochet. The whole point is to give your body ample time to rest and unwind at the end of the day.
2. Bubble Baths
If you don't have a bathtub at your disposal, then maybe this one won't work for you. But it's one of my all-time FAVORITES. Grab a bath bomb or some Epsom salts from a grocery store (or get fancy and treat yourself to a gift from Lush) and draw yourself a bath. Light candles, grab a book, play some music—go all out. Give your body some time to feel warm and comfortable. This is especially helpful on bad muscle days! (ps: if you feel no convictions against drinking, sometimes a small glass of wine can be another great way to relax and enjoy your time.)
3. Have a Mini "Pamper Me" Session
Real talk: dilating and pelvic floor exercises can suck. They hurt like nobody's business, they're uncomfortable, and sometimes you're just not in the mood. On days you do your dilating exercises, try pampering your body a little extra either before or afterwards. Do a facial routine. Shave & pick a favorite lotion or body scrub to use while you massage tight muscles. Grab your hubby and ask for a foot rub! If you've got the money and the time, try going out and getting a pedicure just to relieve some tension and get yourself into a good headspace before diving back into the lovely little world of vaginismus treatments.
4. Don't Neglect the Vitamin D
Get some sun! Numerous studies have linked vitamin D to mental health. If you're not an outdoorsy type, grab a blanket and go sunbathe in the backyard or lay out on your apartment porch/balcony. Or, if you do like getting out and active, go for a walk and leave your sweater at home to maximize the amount of contact your skin gets to the sunlight.
5. Make Your Favorite Food
Get your Gordon Ramsay vibes on and hit the kitchen! Make yourself an extra nice dinner or an extra sweet dessert and enjoy it. Do it with your spouse and turn it into an at-home date night!
6. Movie Night
I have a list of movies (and TV shows) that I could watch again and again. Find your list, pull up your Netflix account and get snuggled in while watching your favorite film. (sidebar: sometimes it's easier and less stressful to watch TV while doing your dilating, especially if you're working with a 20-30 minute timeframe)
There are so many aspects of yoga such as breathing techniques, increased flexibility and muscle tone that benefit women struggling with vaginismus. Plenty of poses can help strengthen your pelvic floor, and even those that don't help you feel stronger and more in-control of your body. Best of all: you don't need to join a gym! Look up yoga for beginners on YouTube and get stretching!
8. Create Something
I don't know what it is, but doing something creative has always soothed me in a way few other things do. I recently took it upon myself to learn how to crochet, and it is so relaxing. Learn to crochet or knit or sew and do it while in bed in your PJs. Or at a coffee shop while you have a favorite playlist or podcast playing in the background. The repetitive motions of crocheting and knitting have a real tendency of loosening you up and giving you something simple to focus on.
Or start a blog! (I'm only half kidding.) Writing has always been therapy for me. Many people find that journaling their thoughts or making lists relaxes them. Sometimes writing things out can just help you get the thoughts organized. Write a letter to your hubby. Write about the things you like about your body. Keep it positive and keep it loving.
10. Read Something that Encourages/Inspires You
I strongly suggest that you to hop over to The Unveiled Wife blog and peruse her articles the next time you're needing to take some time for yourself. She struggled with vaginismus in her marriage and has some amazing words of encouragement and transparency when it comes to sexless marriages and the relationship between spouses. But whether you check out her blog or not, try to pick up something that heartens and inspires you. Reading encouraging materials can help ease our spirits, which in turn eases our physical bodies.
The body you've been given is precious and handcrafted. Treat it lovingly with care and attention. And when you find yourself struggling with the ugly thoughts that come alongside vaginismus, try taking a few deep breaths and putting some self-care into action.
Have a slow, sweet, restful week.