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Happy New Year! A reflection on 2020 & my goals

It's the moment we've all been waiting for! 2020 is over and 2021 is here! Covid is gone! Wait. What? It's still here? Nothing magically changed when the clock struck 00:00 on Friday? Well shit. I guess we can't blame 2020 anymore.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with 2020. The start of 2020 was basically my best year ever. Unfortunately it went rapidly downhill from there, for everyone, everywhere. I'll skip the details but all in all, I consider myself very lucky to have been able to get back to the UK and to spend so much time with my family and friends (even if it's at a distance) when others are coping with loss. I've had the support of family to get me through a difficult financial period, when others have nothing and are losing their livelihoods. I've been able to work from home when others have been working long shifts day in day out for months in PPE (or worse, not in PPE), putting themselves and their families at increased risk.

I got to spend several months with our family dog before we had to say goodbye to him unexpectedly in November. So although the loss hit me like a train, I'm glad I came back so that I had that time with him. I've picked up skills that I'd forgotten about like drawing and painting, I've connected with all sorts of people over Zoom, started a career support group, hung out with my friends' kids at a safe distance, and been able to help my elderly relatives through isolation.

Most importantly I'm grateful for the amount of free time 2020 gave me, because for sure not everyone got this!! Hats off to key workers and parents of home-schooled children. The additional time, although at times maddening, meant that I was confronted with the reality of needing to do something about my Vaginismus. I started with a little dilating and it quickly snowballed into writing this blog, which has honestly kept me going (thank you!).

Don't get me wrong, it has not all been good. I don't want this post to be a big old gloat about how wonderful my year has been. I have been a huge messy ball of anxiety for a lot of 2020 and there have been incredibly low periods. Something that will undoubtedly affect me long after Covid has gone (assuming it goes..). I'm just very aware that there are MANY less fortunate people out there who have had much worse years than me.

Don't freak out

There is a small obsession in our culture with using New Year as a point at which to measure ourselves up against our expectations. This can be useful but I like to use it as a point of reflection of the things that you DID do rather than a list of things that you didn't do. I have spent many a New Year and a birthday punishing myself and feeling like a failure because I didn't do what I set out or I felt like I hadn't achieved enough in 12 months. That was mostly because my goals were too big so I was expecting too much of myself. My picture of 'success' was ridiculous and I've had enough of it.

For me, that isn't the point of reflecting in the New Year because it minimises what you actually did achieve. Yes, I set goals and I want to see how I'm doing against those goals, but it's just as much about recognising my achievements, whatever they may be, as well as seeing whether or not I achieved them. If I don't achieve a goal partially or fully, I don't see the point in beating myself up. It is sometimes hard not to but when you think about it there will be a reason why I didn't achieve it. Perhaps the goal was too much for me at that point. What can I do to make sure it's more achievable - what about if I cut it in half, would that be more realistic?

Here's an example. (Spoiler alert!). I went back a step with my dilating late this year. Technically I could see that as a failure, but I don't. I can't control everything my body does. I have to just turn up, do my dilating, and control as much about the situation as I can. And I know I did those things, so the fact that I didn't get to dilator 5 doesn't make me feel bad (most of the time).

2020 vs Vaginismus

Before I talk about specific goals, I think my biggest achievement his year is just turning up, putting the effort in and focusing on myself. And OK, so I still can't have penetrative sex, but also that wasn't actually my aim in 2020 so I'm cool with that. It has also been illegal to go within 2m of anyone for the past 9 months so technically I'm just following the rules. And yes, I've taken very long breaks, but it's been a rough year and I needed them. I did what I could and that's enough for me!

First up: Continue to get more comfortable discussing my vaginismus

I think setting up an online blog where I talk in intimate detail about my vagina, my vaginismus and my emotional state probably ticks this box. If I'm being picky, I would say that I'm not actually convinced that anyone reads this blog AND I haven't done any verbal or in-person communication, which I should focus on in 2021. Just as soon as it's legal.

Find someone that I can talk to privately about my vaginismus

OK this is actually very similar to the first goal in hindsight but I can honestly say that I have just about managed to squeeze this one in before the end of the year. PHEW. In the final days of 2020 I made a vaginismus friend and we now regularly exchange emails. Again, I'm doing this in a fairly anonymous non-verbal way but you know, baby steps.

Continue to invest in my own self-esteem and self-worth

I have focussed more on this during the past few months than I ever have in my whole life. Again, this is partly thanks to 2020 giving me the time to sit and reflect on what I want from life (still not entirely sure) and what I enjoy doing. I've picked up old hobbies, tried a million different things, practiced mindfulness and yoga (occasionally) and it has made me happier. I even made friends with some horses down the road - Louis, Silver and Gwendoline.

Get comfortable with dilator 4 - UH OH. Not achieved.

Well, errr, I have both achieved and also not achieved this one. Technically I did get quite comfortable with dilator 4 and then unfortunately went a bit backwards and now I'm on dilator 3. Oops. What I can say is that I am (on the whole) sticking to a dilating routine. That's the first step to cracking dilator 4 so I am on my way. I'll roll this one over to 2021!

Get comfortable removing dilators

I have actually smashed this goal. Thanks to trial and error and perseverance, I am now really good at comfortably removing dilators. This used to be a massive obstacle for me and still plagues me when I use tampons (which I really don't ever do as a result) so to have some level of control over this, at least with a dilator, is huge.

In summary, I think I did pretty well at achieving the goals I set myself in 2020, especially considering the circumstances. Sure I didn't complete everything 100% but I'd say I made significant improvements in each area and that's all I can really ask for. Some positive progress means I will eventually overcome this.

Recognising the small wins

There are tonnes and tonnes of small wins that you will have achieved, maybe without even realising it. These are the little things that set you on the right path towards recovery even if they aren't technically goals. They are super valuable and recognising them enables you to feel like you are making progress which gives you momentum. Here are some of my key small wins:

  • I no longer hide my dilators in a Russian-doll system of boxes, which demonstrates that I'm getting more comfortable and less ashamed of my condition (wahoo!)

  • I've tried a LOT of new lubes and found some lifelong friends (and identified some enemies)

  • I have continued to educate myself about my body, vaginismus and the psychological processes around pain

  • I went on a socially distanced date (it was terrible and ended in utter failure, humiliation and a crisis of confidence but still, good to try new things...). True story, I received a Whatsapp from said Date earlier today, FIVE months after it all burst into flames.

  • I've drawn and painted a lot of vulvas and dilators, just for laughs and also to get more comfortable with looking at them

  • I've got better at not catastrophising situations (better is a relative term)

  • I've named my Vulva Narla

  • I've found at least 5 TV shows / Films about people with Vaginismus

  • I figured out some positions that help with dilating e.g. lifting hips off bed

And so onto 2021

I still have a long way to go until I can say that I am rid of vaginismus. I don't think it will be over in 2021, it would be a lovely surprise if it was! I think it will be another year of steady improvement which I know will get me there in the end.

As I said at the top of the page, I'm someone who responds well to setting small achievable goals rather than pie-in-the-sky ambitions. Everyone has their own preference. For me, setting smaller goals allows me to celebrate the small wins that I have throughout the year rather than slogging it out trying to get closer to that big end goal. That can feel like too much pressure for me. But each to their own! Whatever works for you. I'm going to set out some goals here so that I can look back at them throughout the year.

Before I start, just a quick reminder of my ground rules for setting personal goals. You can view the full post here if you want to read some more.

  • Make it achievable - challenging enough to motivate you, but not so much that you give up

  • For the love of God, WRITE IT DOWN

  • If you are struggling, move the goalposts - Don't beat yourself up

  • Recognise your achievements & your commitment

  • Accept that there will be set backs and move on from them

  • Have some perspective - review the progress you've made from time to time

Drumroll please, Ladies & Vaginas, here are my 2021 Vaginismus goals:

  • Dilate regularly (whelp)

  • Get super comfy with dilator 3 - focus on movement as much as insertion

  • Introduce myself to dilator 4 hopefully in the next few months (TBC)

  • I'd like to re-attempt tampons so I can swim more

  • Reposition how I think about dilating - that it is my friend, not my enemy

  • Talk to a real life human about my vaginismus

  • Connect with professionals to educate myself more

  • Sign up for more CBT Therapy again (if and when Covid ends?)

  • If I'm lucky enough to find myself in a relationship, enjoy a healthy and fulfilling sex life. Communicate with them and educate them about my needs, take PIV sex off the table.

And so that's it folks! Myself and Narla (my vulva) wish you a super duper Happy New Year. Let's hope 2021 brings you health and as much happiness as this dog:

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