I was recently diagnosed with something called lichen sclerosis. Never heard of it before, but I can tell you, it sucks. It sucks on toast. It's a skin condition, primarily affecting post-menopausal women and primarily occurring in the vaginal area. The skin gets a white bloom and then becomes very thin and sensitive, and itches like you could die from. If you rub or scratch in any way, it gets more inflamed and can bleed. Sometimes you get scare tissue, which can even narrow the vagina, making intercourse painful if not impossible. And there's no cure, gang.
I've now seen three different gynecologists about this. It ended up being three mostly because of scheduling -- the first was my regular GYN (though I hadn't seen her for some time). When I needed to go back I was working and couldn't work with her hours, so I saw a second doctor in the practice. Same thing again, and I saw a third.
The first doctor didn't even tell me what it was. I had initially thought it was simply irritation from wearing pads for stress incontinence. (Any men who have gotten this far -- I told you so!) So the first doctor gave me some cream -- actually two. One was for inside my vagina (I still don't know what was wrong there), and one for the sore outer area. I should have asked more questions but I actually spent more time talking to her about the stress incontinence. (I never did do the test for that, where they fill your bladder with water, but I've actually diminished the problem a great deal by doing kegel exercises.)
When I went back some months later, the second doctor told me the name of what I had (whatever the internal problem was must have been cured), and prescribed two creams. One was the same cream the first doctor had prescribed, and the second was a cortisone cream. She gave me directions very quickly and in a heavy accent, and when I got the creams, those directions were not there. So I called to ask about it, left a message that I was calling with a question about my medications, and she never called back. Each one just said to use twice a day, so I just kind of switched back and forth. I since learned, on my own, that you're supposed to use the first one twice a day for a couple of weeks, to clear up the symptoms, and then the cortisone one twice a day to prevent them from coming back.
Third doctor, the one I saw this past Thursday, explained things to me a little better. Hormones are involved. The hormones that dropping off after menopause contribute to this condition. That's a big factor. So she said to use the cortisone cream twice a day, and in-between, use OTC Vagisil for itching. And she's prescribed hormones.
I had never thought about hormone replacement therapy, or rather, I only thought about it in terms of something was was used for menopause symptoms, like hot flashes. I didn't even think about it recently, when I realized that my hair is getting thinner and my skin is getting a lot drier. But now I'm getting to understand this whole post-menopause thing, feminine itching and all, and if estrogen and progestin are the magic bullet, bring it on. I'm going to check in with my GP about drug interactions and such, since I have high blood pressure and Type II diabetes and am on anti-depressants to boot.
This is the age where you start to see the results of how well you did or didn't take care of yourself. I haven't been good about my weight, went through a period where I did exercise, and periods where I walked a good deal, but I haven't been consistent about exercise. I did stop drinking (24 years ago) and smoking cigarettes (about 6 or 7 years ago), and I feel really good about both of those. My liver pulled through without a scar, and my upper respiratory system is great.
I'm actually kind of excited about taking the hormones. I've been very bummed out about some of these age-related changes...I've always had great skin and thick hair. I'd love to see that stuff improve if not reverse, or even just stop progressing. Because I never had children, I didn't react much to the end of my childbearing ability, because when the time came to decide about children, I chose not to. So I didn't feel too bad about no longer being fertile-- I was already used to the idea of not being a mother. And I had sexual activity in my life for a few years after, so I wasn't feeling any lack of female-ness.
It's hard to explain this...I think I don't mind being older, but I do mind not being younger. Does that make any sense?
One more very interesting thing, which does not involve sore genitals. I have tried on and off to learn meditation techniques, and never even got close. For a while, when I was with Penguin, I worked with people who were involved in the TM organization, and I was very impressed with them as people. One fairly high-up member promised me free training and then reneged. (I made this mistake a couple of times when I was in book publicity, of thinking that a few authors actually liked me as a friend, beyond what I could do for them and their books.) TM was very attractive but the $3,500 price tag was a problem.
I did, however, get to meet Donovan, who was my huge favorite musician/crush when I was around 11 and 12.
So last night, I was trying to go to sleep, it actually happened, just for a moment. As is often the case, a lot of shit was rushing around in my head, very distracting. All of a sudden, it became silent -- and the floor fell out from under me. That's exactly what it felt like. My author had described it like being in an elevator and having the cable cut. I had just that short, lovely moment -- and have absolutely no clue how I got there. I suppose I've got to get some for-real instruction, because I definitely want that again.