*A general disclaimer for this episode/post deals with some real frank talk about challenging our anxieties concerning Lichen Sclerosus via gratitude. If you don’t feel like you are in a place to hear this yet, feel free to skip over this episode/post.
Before wrapping up this season, I wanted to bring you all one more episode, and, to play into how I’ve been feeling lately, I wanted to discuss the topic of gratitude; particularly, how we can harness the power of gratitude to overcome fear and anxiety related to Lichen Sclerosus.
How do Fear and Anxiety Impact Mental Health When You Have Lichen Sclerosus?
There are so many negative emotions and thoughts that come with a Lichen Sclerosus diagnosis. For example, fear, anger, sadness, shame, resentment, and confusion are just some of the many emotions you might experience. You might have thoughts such as, “What if I can never have sex again?”, “What if I can’t have kids?”, “What if I get cancer?”, “Why is this happening to me?”, “Will I be in pain forever?” These thoughts are understandable, especially since a lot of us never heard of Lichen Sclerosus until our diagnosis. Gratitude is probably the last thing that you are feeling concerning your disease.
Armed with a prescription for steroid cream and little knowledge of the disease and what it entails, you do like we all do: turn to google, of course! This often results in horror for many of us – I know it did for me! The horror stories we read on various Lichen Sclerosus forums, the pictures we see, it is absolutely terrifying. It’s no wonder so many of us are filled with fear and anxiety post-diagnosis. Of course, we are filled with fear when we have no idea what will happen to our future; fear and anxiety are natural responses to a diagnosis.
However, it is important to work with our fear and anxiety for us to have fulfilling lives because there is no cure for Lichen Sclerosus. Therefore, we need to find a way to make peace with Lichen Sclerosus. We need to make space for acceptance and gratitude despite the difficult hand we were dealt. So, if you are struggling with fear and anxiety due to Lichen Sclerosus, keep reading for ways to overcome them.
How to Use Gratitude to Help with Fear and Anxiety
Gratitude can be a potent antidote for fear and anxiety. Before diving into how gratitude can help with fear and anxiety, let’s break down fear and anxiety into specific concerns regarding our Lichen Sclerosus.
Fear and Sex with Lichen Sclerosus
Many of us with Lichen Sclerosus have anxiety concerning relationships and sex. For example, we worry we will never be able to have sex again, we won’t be able to have sex without tearing, itching, burning, or causing a new flare. These are very valid fears, but the truth is women with Lichen Sclerosus can still have healthy and satisfying sex lives.
Astonishing Ways Gratitude Can Squash Fear and Anxiety with Respect to Sex
To illustrate how gratitude can help calm anxiety about sex, I’ll provide an example from my own life. Before my diagnosis, I didn’t have too much pain during sex; often it was more like a little stinging. But I didn’t know how to take care of myself then, because I didn’t know what was wrong and what I was dealing with. I wasn’t using lube, or moisturizing my skin. However, now that I know about Lichen Sclerosus, how to treat and manage my symptoms, I can reduce the likelihood of painful sex.
Top Three Tips I Use to Have Safer, Pain-Free Sex with Lichen Sclerosus
First, I can use lube. Not just any old lube that you would pick up at your local pharmacy, I mean some good quality lube. (Stay tuned for Season 2 of the Lichen Sclerosus Podcast as I have a whole episode dedicated solely to Lichen Sclerosus and lubricants).
Second, I can use my steroid cream/ointment properly to get symptoms like itching, burning, and fissures under control so I'm less likely to have pain during sex.
Third, I can moisturize your skin properly afterward to keep it supple and elastic, reducing the risk of tearing.
Armed with this knowledge, I can now have a healthy sex life with Lichen Sclerosus, and I am so grateful for this. I’m grateful for the knowledge I have gained through the research I share with you. This gratitude I feel overpowers the fears I have because I now have the tools I need to stop those fears and anxieties. I learned to flip the script through gratitude. Instead of saying, “I can’t ever have sex” or “sex will always cause me to tear”, I focus on gratitude by reminding myself “I’m grateful I have the tools to minimize those risks “and “I’m grateful that I can still have sex (but I just need to modify how I have sex).
The Moral of the Story
My advice to you: reflect on your life. When you were having sex were you using your medication properly, managing stress, and using proper lubrication and barrier creams? Chances are these will greatly improve your ability to have sex. If they don’t help, don’t stress! There are still more options out there: for example, there are dilators, vibrators, various sex toys, medications, laser treatments, and surgeries! There is hope! (See my episode/post about how to work through fear and sex for more guidance https://lssupport.netis-lichen-sclerosus-lowering-your-sex-drive/)! Find gratitude in the fact that there are still options out there for us Lichen Sclerosus warriors.
Fear of Cancer with Lichen Sclerosus
Now let’s address another common and very big fear with Lichen Sclerosus: cancer. This is an incredibly valid fear that paralyzes many of us when we receive our diagnoses. Your doctor may have in passing mentioned you are now at a higher risk for developing vulvar cancer. For most of us, the thought of having/getting cancer is downright terrifying.
To address this fear, let’s look at some numbers. Realistically, there is a 1-5% chance that you will develop cancer from Lichen Sclerosus, which means there is a 95+% chance that you will not develop cancer.
Critically, the fact you are listening to my podcast/reading this post ups your 95+ percent chance because unfortunately, those that fall into the 1-5% are those who go undiagnosed for long periods of time, who don’t use their medication/treatment properly and choose to do something else. But if you are here, listening to me, listening to the medical professionals I bring on the show, you’re stacking the cards in your favor against developing cancer.
If you use your medication properly, perform your monthly vulva check, ask the important questions, visit your doctor/specialist regularly, advocate for yourself, speak up if you think something is wrong, take pictures of changes, and track your symptoms, the likelihood of you developing cancer is slim.
So let’s flip the script once again. Instead of focusing on that small 1-5%, let’s focus on the 95+ percent. Let’s feel gratitude we know what we need to do to decrease our risk and stay cancer-free, and gratitude for the fact that the chances of us not developing cancer is actually very high. Let’s be grateful we got our diagnoses – some ladies don’t get their diagnosis until it is too late.
Gratitude Tips and Tricks to Overcome Fear and Anxiety
Before summing up, I want to offer a tip for helping overcome fear and anxiety: write down your fears/concerns!
Unique Strategies for Safely Dealing with Fear and Sex
With regards to sex, write down what your fear is. For example, “I am afraid it will hurt” or “I’m afraid it will cause a flare”. Then next to it, write what percentage of the fear is true in the scope of what you have going on. What percentage of sex is pain and what percentage of it is pleasure. Then, critically, write down a plan for what you will do if your fear manifests. For instance, if it is painful I will back off of penetrative sex and work with dilators, I will make an appointment with a pelvic health physiotherapist, or if it causes a flare, I will default to my flare-up treatment plan (whatever plan your specialist provided you with) until the flare subsides. Then, once it subsides, perhaps look into talking to a professional for help decreasing pain with sex.
Unique Strategies for Dealing with Fear and Cancer
With regards to cancer, write down your fear. For example, “I’m afraid I will get vulvar cancer”. Then write down the percentage of this realistically happening – recall that it is a 1-5% chance. Then remind yourself and write down the percentage of you not getting cancer – 95 + percent chance. Write down that if you do the right things – use your medication properly, vulva checks, regular check-ups, etc. – the likelihood of you developing cancer is slim.
Writing it down helps solidify and reinforce these positive spins on negative situations/thoughts and helps bring us to a place of gratitude. When we feel grateful, we feel lighter and less stressed; we can start to reclaim our life pre-Lichen Sclerosus.
Lichen Sclerosus is not fun, but it doesn’t have to take over our lives. I know plenty of women with Lichen Sclerosus that have healthy sex lives, have children, have vaginal births, and workout regularly. One of our fellow Lichen Sclerosus warriors is a bodybuilder and did not let Lichen Sclerosus stop her from her passion: weightlifting. We are more than our diagnoses; gratitude for all that we still have can help bring us out of the dark anxiety pit and into the light again.
My Personal Expression of Gratitude
I am not only grateful for my Lichen Sclerosus and all it has taught me, but I’m grateful to all of you. I’m grateful for each and every one of you who reads, listens, and reaches out to me via DM or email. Please, never feel worried about reaching out. I love being there to help.
One piece of 2020 that I feel tremendous gratitude towards was reaching out to the co-hosts of one of my favorite podcasts – Black Millennial Marriage (check them out on Instagram: @blackmillennialmarriage). I toyed with the idea of reaching out to them for months but kept shying away. I thought, “they’ll be too busy to answer me”, “they might think I’m just a silly fan-girl”. Finally, I emailed them, despite my fears, and guess what?! – they responded. I was over the moon ecstatic, my heart swelled with gratitude and joy.
The moral of this story is I want you to know I’m here for you, on the other end of the internet. I will answer your DM’s, your emails, and your messages. I am here for you, ready to support you, and offer advice or words of comfort. So please, if you are thinking about reaching out, don’t put it off as I did, message me. I try to check as often as possible so that I don’t leave you alone for too long. I literally check my DM’s on my work breaks, in the mornings, whenever I have a second.
If you want to talk with me in person and meet other women with Lichen Sclerosus and talk about our joys, our struggles, and ask questions, sign up at lssupport.net/connect. We do these virtual meetups every other Saturday from 2-4 and 7-9 PM EST, and they can be a great source of support. Let’s work on fostering a sense of gratitude and acceptance together, as a family, as a community.
In summary, thank you. Thank you for listening, and reading. I am so grateful that you stuck around for Season 1 and that you trust me; this is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Thank you for your DM’s and your emails. I truly appreciate each and every one of you. As the holidays come and we kiss 2020 goodbye, I want to wish you a beautiful holiday season, however you celebrate. I hope you go into 2021 with a renewed sense of gratitude and a hopeful heart. You got this; you are more than your Lichen Sclerosus.
Do you struggle with fear and anxiety due to Lichen Sclerosus? Are you able to find gratitude despite your diagnosis? Let me know: DM me at IG @lichensclerosuspodcast, FB @lichenscleorussupportnetwork, email Kathy@lssupport.net.
See you February the 5th, 2021 when Season 2 of the podcast will air! Subscribe so you are notified when I’m back! Sign up for our virtual meetups at lssupport.net/connect!
The Podcast is also available on YT and your smart speakers – search for Lichen Sclerosus Podcast and follow me there.