Hi, this is my first time posting here. Possible cw for sexual trauma -ish stuff and mental health issues, I guess?
I'm 24 but have only started having regular gyn exams recently (first exam + pap smear a year ago, and had this year's annual appt earlier today). I had a really bad time with last year's exam. The doctor was nice, and asked me multiple times throughout if I was ok/if there was any pain. And it wasn't physically painful, so I said I was fine. But the internal exam felt like a violation. I don't know exactly how to put this into words clearly, but it felt like "this is something I've just got to deal with, I want to get preventative care to catch any potential issues, so even though I strongly do not want anyone to stick their fingers inside of me, I just have to suck it up and get this over with". Emotionally, it felt awful, I cried a little during the exam and then went home and cried for a few more hours. And it brought up a lot of feelings about past sexual encounters I've had, which were not sexual assault or anything, I was verbally consenting and thought that I wanted it at the time, but with a similar line of thought of "I like this person, and I like being close to them, and want them to like me, and they really want to have sex with me and I don't really have any objective reason for why I don't feel comfortable having sex, so I will just have to put aside the fact that I'm really pretty uncomfortable with this and just deal with it." (I know there's a lot of messed up stuff in that line of thought, but it's how I felt at the time)
I'm not sure if the similarity between these situations is clear outside of my own head, and I don't want it to sound like I'm downplaying the seriousness of sexual assault or of situations where doctors actually do procedures without patients' consent. But both the sexual experiences that I mentioned and the gyn exam have left me shaken and upset for a long time afterward. I have had panic attacks when I remember those times. I flash back to those moments on a pretty regular basis, and it's always deeply upsetting to remember. Both of those experiences made me feel like I had no real options or agency, and I think that's what makes them feel so traumatic. (I hesitate to use the word trauma because I'm not sure it's an accurate way of describing my experiences, but the symptoms I'm experiencing seem pretty similar to how other people describe trauma/post-traumatic stress, so idk.)
Today I had this year's gyn exam, and it was much less upsetting (my doctor said that since I haven't been sexually active since my last exam I could skip the pap smear and just have an external exam this year). But I still was pretty stressed out about it from last time, and as a result I panicked and said I didn't have any questions or concerns just to get the appointment to end sooner, even though I had intended to ask about my very painful menstrual cramps and if there's anything else I could try to reduce the pain. (I did talk to her about my cramps last year, but I guess she probably forgot, and now because I got too scared to mention it this time, she's put in my medical notes that I have no issues with cramps).
I think I'm going to try to find a different ob/gyn for next year's checkup, since maybe I would feel more comfortable with a different doctor? But at some point I'm going to have to have another pap smear done, and I don't know how to deal with it. Does everyone feel violated when you get an invasive exam like this that you really don't want but that is necessary for keeping you healthy? Are there different strategies that could help me deal with this better? Off the top of my head I can't think of anything the doctor could do differently on her end to make the exam less stressful, but are there possible things that could help that I'm not thinking of?
I should maybe note, I have tried going to therapy before, with various different therapists (though not to talk about this specific thing), and it consistently made me feel more emotionally volatile and less able to deal with my mental health issues in my day to day life, so I don't do therapy anymore. I've found it more helpful for myself personally to read books and other resources about mental health on my own, where I can process information at my own speed and don't have the stress of trying to communicate my issues clearly to another person in verbal language. I of course don't say this to discourage anyone from doing therapy since I know it's hugely beneficial to a lot of people, I just mention it because it's not really an option that I'm open to at the moment, but if anyone knows of any books/websites/etc that have information or tips about how to manage trauma reactions as they relate to medical stuff and especially gynecological stuff, I would be very grateful for that!