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If I had been as religious (or paranoid) as I was as a kid, I would have thought god sent me to a personalized hell. If I had had a basic grasp on gynecology, I would have known I had an easy-to-treat infection that the majority of people with vaginas get for one reason or another.

All I had ever heard about yeast infections was that you get “cottage-cheese-like discharge,” which unfortunately didn’t happen in my case. I say unfortunately, not because I like the idea of cheese coming out of my vagina, but because it would have saved me so much blind terror.

On any given day, I think about my crotch area a decent amount of time. But on this particular day, I became nothing BUT a giant, angry crotch solely focused on its next itch.

I had to excuse myself from dinner. (And by “excuse” I mean I ran out of the room without saying anything, leaving my slightly picked over plate on the table, in front of my roommates.) Once in my room, I proceed to scratch my crotch for 20 minutes straight. I wanted to stop, but before the idea of continuing to itch was even conscious, I was already doing it.

“What if I burrow through myself?” I thought, “Is that something anyone has ever called an ambulance for? If that happened, could I walk outside to meet the EMTs casually enough so that my roommates didn’t think I was insane? Oh, I’m just meeting up with an ambulance for something that isn’t a big deal...”

Eventually, I pulled myself together for long enough to finish dinner and hit up google. To my great embarrassment, I first had to look up the official name of the body part that was driving me toward insanity.

How could a 27-year-old not know this?

Outside of the middle and high school health classes I took over 10 years ago, I’ve always heard people bundle the different parts of female-associated genitalia under a single word, like “vagina.” This is a lot like referring to a car as “wheels.” It’s fine in everyday life, but if you have a steering problem, googling “wheels problem” isn’t going to be of much help.

My actual vagina, what I like to call “just the tube,” felt fine. Clitoris: impacted—as if by hundreds of tiny, dried-out paper cuts—but not the worst, which gives you an idea of just how bad the rest was. The area that was screaming for my attention was the pinkish middle folds: my vulva/labia minora.

The first itch article I read literally said my symptoms could be from “anything,” but went on to list a few specific culprits: detergent (or anything in contact with said detergent), soap (or anything in contact with said soap), certain foods, bacteria, an STD, pregnancy, having a new sexual partner, etc.

Everything around me was potentially the enemy. I fantasized about lighting all my possessions on fire and starting a new life of crime with my angry crotch.

Luckily, I also discovered multi-starred reviews of over-the-counter anti-itch creams designed for crotches, for which I took a 3am journey to a 24-hour CVS. (Earlier, I naively thought I could sleep through the night without itching myself awake every few hours.) During the half-mile walk home, I continuous fought the urge to jump behind a parked car and apply the cream immediately.

The next day, it was forecasted to snow so much that many businesses were closing early. “If I can’t get a doctor’s appointment I will cut out everything in my crotch area and throw it in the snow,” I thought. I could see the news report clearly: massive storm claims X lives and 1 person’s vagina.

Thankfully, Planned Parenthood agreed to see me that day. As I ubered over, went through the metal detectors to get inside, even while the doctor spoke to me, I retained a certain level of fear that I wasn’t going to get help.

What if they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me? The pain was so excruciatingly self-destroying I worried that it wasn’t from a typical problem. If tons of other people felt this shitty, surely I would hear about it all the time. Surely, there would be thinly veiled references to the condition in sitcoms, news segments on prevention, or at the very least, a friend would have told me about a similar situation they had.

And yet, it WAS something completely normal. Something that could be cured with a 3-day over-the-counter treatment. I was diagnosed with a yeast infection. (The medical reason for why the infection was in my vagina, but my vulva hurt is because of the drip from my vagina to other areas.)

The situation left me wondering: why aren’t more people talking about this? Do I need to hide/lie about why I’ve been so stressed, unproductive, and anxious-looking for the past couple days? Why I contemplated setting my apartment on fire?

When a friend asked how I was, I just said “sick.” When she followed up by asking what was wrong with me, I decided to just to be upfront about it. Out of the four female friends I eventually told about my situation, three of them said they also had a yeast infection before. Those few people made me feel infinitely less insane and alone.

Thinking about how much mental stress those few days caused me left me contemplating larger issues like education, body shame, and medical access. But it mostly made me feel really fucking thankful that I live in a time and a place where there are Planned Parenthoods and 24-hour pharmacies.

Image: Flickr/Wade Roush

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Laura Merli is a Boston-based standup, improviser, and writer. You can read her thoughts on Twitter @passiveabrasive.

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