I have been sick the last few days. Constant nausea. Throwing up. Pain in the pit of my stomach.
But it’s not the flu. It’s not a stomach virus. It’s fucking shame.
I knew it was coming. This wasn’t the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
I had to make an appointment with a gynecologist earlier this week. I was actually supposed to make an appointment months ago. I had an issue back in July in which I was bleeding for longer than normal, and became so weak that I struggled just to hold my head up at times. I had to promise my therapist that I would make an appointment in the next couple months, but I (knowingly) kept putting it off. That is, until my therapist brought it up again. Then I had no choice.
There is a fear in going. I have never been to that kind of doctor before. I have never had anyone check that part of my body before. The thought is terrifying in many ways.
But even more pronounced is the shame I feel in going. There is so much shit tied up in that part of my body, that I don’t even know where to begin to work through it all. I don’t even know how. I don’t even know if it’s possible.
I grew up believing that I was sick. That’s what she told me, that I was sick down there and that’s why she had to do what she did. And I believed her. Because I didn’t know any other way.
And as I grew older, that belief that I was sick only grew stronger. I was the only one of my peers who hadn’t started menstruating. I didn’t understand. I thought something was wrong with me. Years went by and I still wasn’t normal. The only way I could explain it was that my mother was right — I was sick down there. It was the only thing that made sense.
Any time I needed a physical, I would panic whenever the doctor wanted to check my private area. My mother, who was always in the room, would tell the doctor I was shy, and the doctor would leave me alone. But I wasn’t shy. I just didn’t want them to see the sickness I was hiding there.
When I was a teenager, I had to go to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe. I remember the nurse asking me when my last period was, and I hesitated. My mother was standing right there. I didn’t want her to know I was still sick. I didn’t want her to have to help me anymore. But before I could make up something, the nurse sensed my hesitation and assumed I was hiding something. I couldn’t tell them that I was just sick down there. Mommy says I’m just sick. I swallowed my shame, just as I had done so many times before.
Doctors wouldn’t understand. So I just learned to lie better. Any time a doctor or nurse would ask about my period, I’d tell them I started the week before. No further explanation needed. They didn’t have to see my sickness. They didn’t have to sense my shame. But I sensed it. Every time I had to lie, I remembered why I was lying in the first place: I am sick there. My mother was right.
In my 20s, I experienced random bleeding, but nothing that lasted more than a day — and never regular. I would have spotting one day and never again for another 6 months, sometimes even a year or two in between. Other women would talk about the pain and frustration with that time of the month, and I could never relate. When I told the women close to me my experience (or lack thereof), they acted as if I were lucky in some way. They were envious. But I was disgusted with myself. Don’t they see? The reason I am not like them is because I am sick. If I wasn’t sick, if I didn’t do bad things, if I wasn’t evil, I would be just like them, too. I wasn’t lucky at all. I was sick.
I’m not even sure I could adequately explain how I felt during all those years, never experiencing what society told me I needed to experience in order to be a woman. I had already felt inadequate. That only made it worse. I felt alone. I felt less than. Too old to be a girl, not enough to be a real woman. Who was I then? Not a child. Barely a human. Just a sick bundle of flesh, bones, and fat, held together by viscous shame.
Things have changed, but I still struggle with those thoughts. I know I’m not sick anymore. I got my first real period in August 2015, one month after I ran away. And I’ve been normal ever since. I know there could be reasons that have nothing to do with me being sick: malnourishment, eating disorder, stress (physical, emotional, and environmental). I know all of these things can and do affect your reproductive health. I know the sickness may very well have not been in me, but in my environment.
But on an emotional level, I still carry the shame as if I were still sick. Like I am somehow still less than a woman. Like they can still see the sickness somewhere in me. It’s why I struggle so much with going to this doctor. I’m scared she will see all of my sickness, all of my badness, all of the disgusting things I’ve done, still lingering there, inside my vagina.
But maybe the sickness was never inside me at all. Maybe my mother was wrong. Maybe she was the sick one. Not me.
The only sickness I have is shame, and I don’t want to suffer with it anymore.