Let me explain: to be a supervillain, you must have endured crazy amounts of pain. Most women have that covered: we bleed several days each month, suffering through cramps that are akin to someone crinkling up our uterus with shrink wrap.
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My painful recurring UTI
I was doubled over from the pain of a terrible UTI with a bag of fries beside me when it hit me: all women have the capacity to be supervillains.
Let me explain: to be a supervillain, you must have endured crazy amounts of pain. Most women have that covered: we bleed several days each month, suffering through cramps that are akin to someone crinkling up our uterus with shrink wrap. Not to mention other conditions specific to having lady parts, like endometriosis, a chronic inflammation condition that affects 1 in 10 women during their childbearing years, and there is no cure.
As a supervillain, you also need to have kick-ass getup and a dark origin story in which your greatest weakness is revealed.
This brings us to my origin story, one rooted in my unexplainable painful recurring UTI. I’m one of the many women each year who get Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s) so frequently that my blood was made of cranberry juice and my doctor basically just shrugged and handed me some antibiotics with a “good luck” after I endured a battery of fun tests that came up inconclusive.
With the chronic infections still affecting me, I headed off to college. In November of my first year, I had just run back from my school’s television station in the rain and felt oddly fatigued out of nowhere. I had attributed my sluggishness to the fact I hadn’t had my usual six cups of coffee that day, but at the end of the day I realized it was something else.
I’m one of those women who doesn’t get traditional symptoms. Instead, the pain and fatigue comes out of nowhere and just hits me like a bus. And suddenly I’m crawling across my dorm room floor, and my roommate’s asking if I already hit the bottle as it’s only 6 pm. (To which I responded by pointing to the stash of unopened containers of Franzia, that boxed wine you drink in college before you’re old enough to realize wine shouldn’t taste like hand soap and vinegar.)
Faced with this sudden pain, I turned toward my trusty emergency drawer every woman has for an emergency like this. Filled to the brim with dark chocolates for period cravings, a heat compress for cramps, and pain pills as a last resort, these would definitely become staples in my villainous lair once the casual pain of womanhood turned me into a homicidal maniac. Looking back, I find it a bit telling of my uncoolness that my idea of a villainous lair was essentially a CVS but with mood lighting.
At the bottom of my stash, I pulled out my straight cranberry juice concentrate.
Now, this isn’t your Capri Sun Cranberry Juice. This isn’t any old apple-pomegranate-cranberry mixture that’s 99% sugar and 1% juice. This is the hard stuff, and it’ll put hair on your back. Probably. At the very least, it mixes really well with vodka.
I did a straight shot of the stuff, wincing like a sailor doing moonshine. In my mind, cranberry pills were for the weak and I was going to take this tried and true remedy like a woman.
With a doctor’s appointment made for the next day after my classes, I resorted to other black magic and witchcraft to struggle through the night. (Read: Tylenol.)
I didn’t have a car, so the next day I dragged myself across campus to the health center after screenwriting class, where I pitched some really weird jokes as I became more delusional.
After spending an hour in the health center so I could pee in a cup and request drugs, the on-campus pharmacy had already closed, so I had to make what became the longest trek to a pharmacy I have ever made in my entire life.
Let me paint a picture for you, shall I?
Imagine someone stabbed a bunch of little knives into your pelvis, and then put you on a boat in the middle of an ocean. So you’re not only nauseous and want to curl up in a little ball and fall asleep forever, but you’ve got a two-mile round-trip journey to make to the closest pharmacy, so you have to suck it up and do it anyways. Also, it’s raining, and it takes every ounce of strength not to pass out on the bus stop and just allow the urban toxic rain to wash you away to the sea.
(I wasn’t of the soundest of minds at this point in time.)
When I finally made it to the pharmacy, there was a huge line and I just couldn’t do it. I gave up, collapsing in one of those chairs next to the blood pressure cuff, listlessly puffing air through the little hand squeeze thing as I tried not to let my pain totally consume me.
It was in this moment that I reached my darkest point. I believed that I would wake up in a hospital bed, wasting away until some sort of witch doctor offered me a cure that would transform me. I’d be blasted with radiation or whatever secret formula this evil scientist had concocted, and I’d re-awake with telekinesis and could do cool things like levitate fries in my direction or move people out of line in a pharmacy anytime I wanted.
(It’s also in this moment that I discovered I would make a really lame supervillain.)
After a concerned pharmacist came over to help, I ended up getting the antibiotics and struggling back to my dorm with the quickest of stops on the way back to get french fries as the dining hall had closed, and I had missed dinner. The pain dissolved into a blissful sleep in which I did not awake with some grotesque disfigurement, but I did wake up with a different kind of power: the power earned from persisting through trials like these.
I eventually “grew out of” my frequent UTI’s as my doctor had predicted, subverting my destiny filled with mayhem and mischief, using my powers for good instead. And by good, I mean writing essays about my life on the internet.
Women suck it up and deal with pain of periods and UTI’s through our stockpiles of cranberry juice and pain pills and dark chocolate. But the chronic pain that goes beyond unexplainably frequent UTI’s — such as conditions like endometriosis — is often largely unspoken. I have female friends plagued by intense pain that they kept to themselves. Like some tragic backstory that, if revealed, will bring to light our greatest weaknesses and lead to our eventual defeat.
We’ve been conditioned to mask our pain, perhaps because we’ve just accepted that this is how it is.
It’s also not something we feel like we can talk about, especially with the men in our lives. Chronic UTI’s aren’t as common among men, and there’s also this added pressure for women to hide anything relating to our genitals that isn’t sexy or attractive. Aches, pains, periods, conditions like UTI’s — we treat all of these things like dirty little secrets that we just deal with in part out of fear of being perceived differently by the men in our lives.
“I hope for a world where illness isn't equated with weakness, where mental-health issues do not discount physical ones, because, guess what, we are complex beings”
Maybe that’s because we’re already trying to prove that we’re not weak or emotional. That we can be doubled over in sharp, stabbing pain but still make it to work or school with a smile on face even as we’re scarfing pills like skittles and praying to the good Lord in heaven that the pharmacy line won’t be out the door when we need to re-up a prescription.
I’m not a doctor and don’t have the degree nor the resources to come up with a fix for the kind of pain unique to being a woman. Other than encouraging some sort of Uber-like startup for delivering cranberry juice and pharmacy meds, one of the most important things we can do is increase awareness.
Men can be our allies here, too. Even simple actions like being there for us when we’re dealing with anything from period pain to chronic conditions, and validating our struggles without shame goes a long way. (Adding to our chocolate stash never hurt, either.)
Villains often act alone, unable to commiserate or share their struggles with others. Those with chronic pain or frequent illnesses related to their lady parts sometimes feel like they can’t talk about it — but less stigma and more openness might allow for mutual support and healing in a way that a new Catwoman or Wicked Witch of the West never could.