Your Invisible Illness Is Valid
Sam Escobar

My cunt is acting up.

Behind door number 1, we have thrush, the one most of us will have heard of at one time or another; along goes the cycle of pain, of sitting on your hands trying to succeed in the battle of mind over matter, of late-night trips to the freezer, to retrieve the bottle of frozen water to wrap in a tea towel for just a few minutes of blessed, cool relief.

I can’t come over tonight, I tell him. I’m having…lady problems. He’s heard of thrush. He’s an intelligent man. But the words don’t come out.

Behind door number 2, we have bacterial vaginosis. It’s common, I’m told, really common, so very common that I’d never heard its name until now. I sit behind my desk and wonder whether they can smell me, whether my odour has somehow escaped from between my legs and travelled the breadth of the office, like cartoon stink lines. Whether they think I’m dirty.

I can’t drink tonight, I tell him. I’m on antibiotics, for a…thing. He’s ten years older than me. He’s travelled the world. But I don’t say a word.

And behind door number 3, we have bleeding. Outside of the normal cycles; after sex, sometimes, or coming away on a tissue when I least expect it. Red as an emergency light, accusatory, damning.

I’m having some tests, I tell him, between meetings, as I’ve gone through his diary, reminded him where he needs to be. I’ll probably have more appointments. I can’t tell you what it’s for, but I’ll keep you posted.

My cunt is acting up.

I go through the process, each time; strip to the waist, tissue paper between my thighs, feet in stirrups, relax your legs, fingers probing and my very self opened wide for inspection. Each examination brings a humming throb of panic, of invasion and the urge to run as far as I can from probing fingers and tools. This is the opposite of pleasure.

My cunt is acting up, and I can’t speak; barring the answers to the questions I’m used to hearing. My period ended on Thursday. We used a condom. I don’t have chlamydia. I’ve never been pregnant. No, I’m not in a relationship. No, I’m still having sex.

My cunt is acting up, and I can’t speak; even as I wait a trembling, terror-filled three minutes for the home test to complete; even though it’s a precaution, even though every fact points to a result I want and need — the humming throb of panic threatens to rise into a roaring scream. Even despite getting the outcome I expected, I pull the duvet over my head, crashed out by panic and fear.

We don’t talk about this. We don’t talk about the physical downfalls of having a cunt; of when it plays up or acts out or worries us when it deviates from the norm. We don’t talk about smell and discharge and smear tests and blood. We’ve been on earth for millions of years and still talk about periods in a whisper. We are not meant to be dirty, or scared, or broken. We are meant to be beautiful, and without error.

I have a radical proposal: that we talk about this. That pregnancy tests and STI tests and meds and smears aren’t hushed up and sources of embarrassment or shame but mentioned with clarity and empathy — that we compare notes and reassurance as women who have been through this and are able to discuss when they know things aren’t right. Every moment we spend wincing and blushing and mumbling is a moment missed to bring support and tea and love to someone who could use it. Your friend had a pregnancy scare the other day. Talk to her. Your friend made a mistake with a condom and is ashamed of what the doctor found. Talk to her. Your friend is bleeding. Talk to her. Illness is not shameful or criminal and the words you’re holding back could help calm someone who’s stuck in a maelstrom of pacing and worry. They could save a life.

My cunt is acting up.

I’m worried. Can I talk to you about it?

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