Friday, April 29, 2011

Part VI: Psychologist for Vulvodynia

Disclaimer/Warning: This post mentions specific sexual issues that some people may find too graphic, offensive, embarrassing, or personal. If you know me personally, you may feel awkward reading about these issues. Rest assured that if you are not embarrassed, I am not embarrassed. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

This is my last post specifically dedicated to my struggles with vulvodynia and related issues. I hope that sharing my story has helped people better understand this rarely discussed disorder. To my sisters with vulvodynia, you are not alone!

Though I consider myself a well-adjusted person, I have seen my fair share of counselors and psychologists to help me through tough times. Whenever I saw someone in the past, it was because I sought that person out. My latest experience with a psychologist, however, was because the pelvic health center told me I should see one.

At first I thought they were implying that my vulvodynia was in my head (a knee-jerk reaction because I was once told by a terrible doctor to see a psychologist because there was no such thing as CFS...), but that is not what they meant. Their therapy focuses on the whole person, and working on the mind is merely one aspect.

I did not know what to expect from the psychologist they recommended. I needn't have worried, however, because the psychologist has been good for me. She's helped me deal with all kinds of emotions that surround vulvodynia, including guilt and shame. Turns out that not being able to have sex with one's husband produces all sorts of psychological issues. Go figure.

She's also helping me to deal with other issues related to my health, like dealing with chronic illness and coping with the horrible PTSD flashbacks I get every time I see and hear an ambulance ever since my anaphylactic reaction to a medication my old neurologist erroneously prescribed (long story, still too traumatized and angry to give all the details). Sorry about the run-on sentence just now.

Digging up all these emotional issues has been the epitome of "un-fun," but I think it is something I need to go through to be on my way to complete mental health.

Just as I haven't seen any direct improvements of the vulvodynia because of my nutrition change, I have not seen any direct improvements of the condition because of the psychologist. However, I suspect that my overall mental health is improving.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Part V: Nutritionist & Turning Point

On my first visit to the pelvic health center they suggested that, in addition to going to treatments at their facility, I see a nutritionist and a psychologist. They explained their center uses an holistic approach to healing. After I got past the "so you think I'm fat and crazy" reaction (sorry, but this is really how I felt at first), I realized that it couldn't hurt for me to follow their advice. It could even be a good thing.

I have lost 14 pounds since February, 8, 2011. That's 14 pounds in 11 weeks! What's even better is that I have not been on a diet of deprivation (i.e., starvation), nor have I had to go hungry or eat just small bits of "rabbit food" (i.e., tiny salads). I am eating as much food as I want (without overeating), and I am still losing weight. The trick is that I have changed what I eat.

As I mentioned in a previous post, PCOS and Pre-Diabetes, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance in January as a result of my PCOS. I started taking a medication called metformin to help with the condition, but I did not really see any results after a month.

Even before my first appointment with the nutritionist, I started a new diet program in February (they actually call it a "lifestyle change") through my work. The basic concepts I took away from the program were to:
  • cut sugar intake -- no sugar in the first few weeks of the program, then in moderation after that; when having anything with sugar, it must be with a meal that includes protein (this helps the blood sugar and insulin levels from spiking)
  • eat protein at every meal -- protein will keep you from feeling hungry for longer periods of time
  • keep the size of your stomach in mind -- while the program did not focus on portion control, it explained that the human stomach is naturally about the size of a loosely held fist; somehow knowing my stomach really isn't that large keeps me from eating too much
  • eat more slowly -- eating slowly will naturally cause you to eat less because your brain will feel satisfied sooner
  • stop eating when satisfied -- which is before you have overeaten
The program lasted 10 weeks, so there are many more concepts that were covered; however, the ones I listed are the ones that have stuck with me. What made this particular program so doable was that it did not tell you specifically what to eat or not to eat (other than the sugar thing). Just cutting sugar (desserts, sweetened snacks, sodas, sports drinks, and anything else with sugar added),  allowed me to lose four (4!) pounds in the first week alone.

I saw my nutritionist a couple weeks after I started the above program. He agreed that I should not be eating any sugar. He also strongly believed that many of my problems were rooted in gluten sensitivity. Though skeptical at first, I embarked on a gluten-free and casein-free diet. (See my post Gluten-Free Me?! And Casein, Too? to read about the start of my gluten-free diet.) In my second appointment with the nutritionist, he gave me a personalized diet and supplement plan.

The main points I've taken away from my nutritionist's plan for me are:
  • No gluten
  • No casein (milk-derived products, including butter, creamy dressings and sauces, etc.)
  • No sugar -- in addition to the obvious, this includes fruit drinks, fruit jams/jellies/preserves, and random food items with sugar added (reading food labels is more important than it used to be); I am allowed to have dessert about half a dozen times per year on very special occasions (such as my birthday, my husband's birthday, and special holidays)
  • Eat more veggies and less fruit -- fruit contains so much sugar that it can act like a dessert and spike sugar and insulin levels; if I eat fruit, it is always as part of a meal along with a protein and healthy oil
  • Eat the three macronutrients at every meal or snack -- protein, healthy oil high in omega-3's (like olive, almond, or avocado), and a complex carbohydrate (like spinach, other veggies, beans, etc.)
  • Take supplements -- he gave me a pretty extensive list, but the most significant change was to take huge amounts of pharmacy-grade omega-3 fish oil (interestingly, I was already taking most of the supplements the nutritionist recommended; I will list my current supplements in a future post)
Because of my huge improvement in the way I feel, I have no doubt that I needed to go gluten and casein free. I have much more energy and am the closest to feeling truly healthy than I have ever felt since getting sick with CFIDS about ten years ago. I never imagined that just changing the way I eat would help me so much.

Embarking on this "extreme diet" has been easier than I anticipated. Don't get me wrong, it's been challenging and sometimes maddening; but it's been worth it. I think I was just so desperate to start feeling better and so tired of being sick and tired for so long, that I was ready and willing to make such a big life change. It took me about 8 weeks before I started to feel a big difference, and now that I am seeing so much improvement, I don't want to stop. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in a long time, I am starting to believe that I will get better.

Interestingly, because my genetic test showed that I had two copies of a gluten sensitivity gene, it meant that both my parents gave me the gene. I told my parents about my results, and they decided to go gluten-free, too. Incidentally, they are feeling better on a gluten-free diet.

I can't say that my healthier eating habits have directly helped my vulvodynia, but they have certainly helped so many other aspects of my health. I'm amazed.