I thought I was dying.
I was on a family holiday, lying in our camper trailer bed with my mum and my little brother. I was 12. I think my poor mum, who was a nurse, was at her wits end by sunrise, and had given up trying to diagnose me after an hour or so. The pain in my abdomen had me convulsing, crying and curled up into a ball clinging my legs to my chest for dear life while I rocked back and forth. I was given some Panadol, and while my mum and brother proceeded to sleep, I made the cold, windy walk up the hill to the campsite toilets over a dozen times throughout the night thinking, “This is it. I’m going to be one of those news articles, where a young girl dies a mysterious death in a caravan park”. I remember sitting in the showers in the middle of the night, on my thongs (so I didn’t get butt tinea from the shared bathroom) and just feeling like I should have been at a hospital. But I was so desperate not to cause a scene or be put on to a helicopter in front of the entire Robe Caravan Park.
Alas, I was not dying. I was ‘becoming a woman’. Well, I tell you what, my mum was extremely excited (and relieved) when I informed her of the milestone the next morning, but I, on the other hand, was mortified and equally terrified at the thought of this happening on the regular.
If this was to be normal, I was pissed off that nobody warned me that ‘period cramps’ felt like hot lava and barbed wire having party in my uterus. Over the next six or so years, I missed a fair whack of school, wrapped up on the couch with hot water bottles and blankets, and a plethora of pain medication – much to the confusion of my parents who wondered how I could possibly be in that much pain. I skipped classes regularly to go and hide in the change rooms so that I could lie on the floor in the foetal position and try and survive the rest of the day.
For the next 10 years, I was assured that this pain was normal, and that all girls go through it. I was admitted to hospital twice with ‘suspected appendicitis’ when in actual fact, it was just a period. Lucky old me also didn’t have to wait a precise 28 days. Oh no. I was blessed to have 10, 65, 4 or 27 day cycles. They were never normal and they were never short. Because of this, teachers didn’t believe me when I would tell them what was going on – “you used that excuse the other week/day” they would say. I suspect (sorry mum) that my parents also thought I was just piking out of school most of the time.
At one stage in my life, I even had a boyfriend who laughed in my face when he saw me fall out of bed after rolling around in agony whilst howling with tears. That same night I was having difficulty seeing clearly because the pain was, literally, blinding. I could barely walk, yet I was told to drive myself to the hospital while he begrudgingly slept in the passenger seat, because “calling an ambulance is a bit dramatic, don’t you think? I will go, but for the record I think you’re overreacting”. So I did (this was also before I grew a backbone and some balls – not literally). Word to the wise ladies, if this is something you are facing in a relationship, kick them to the curb! Even typing this out makes me mad.
Now, before this story gets any darker, I will stop with the descriptions. I’m sure you get the picture. There were a lot of times where this wasn’t an issue and I got to live a normal life. I am in a far better position than so many other Endo Warriors. For that, I am beyond grateful and humbled.
However, pain that stops you from living your life and carrying on with normal day-to-day activities isn’t normal. Let me just repeat that:
IT’S. NOT. NORMAL. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are overreacting. Or that it’s a normal part of being a woman.
If you look at my more recent Endo situation, this is where I am at:
My current varying symptoms include extreme pelvic pain, severe back pain between my hips (which gets far worse if I eat any gluten or stay seated for long periods of time). I get shooting pain down my legs, experience hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety and extreme fatigue. Add on to this more than occasional bouts of IBS, sore breasts, headaches, irregular bleeding and emotional fluctuations that I can never keep up with. I have suffered with these symptoms for over 15 years and not just when I have my period (if only it were that simple!).
I have had two laparoscopies, my first when I was 20 and the Gynaecologist ‘found nothing’. Fast forward 7 years to my second surgery, where not only was there Endo, it was so severe that my surgery was extended from the expected 30 minutes to almost two hours, where they removed lesions throughout the left side of my outer uterus lining, and cut out adhesions on the right side which had fused my bowel to my abdominal wall. I still remember seeing the doctors face –I wish I was a mind reader- I could have sworn he was surprised and almost felt ashamed that he had initially said to me: “there’s probably nothing wrong with you if nothing was found in your first laparoscopy”. Oh how wrong he was, and this was said to me by an Endometriosis specialist.
In the almost two years since this surgery took place, my back pain, digestion troubles and fatigue have only increased. The one upside is I finally found a new and fantastic Gynaecologist who has treated me and my Endo from every imaginable angle. I am now in a position where I am managing my pain with a combination of medications, suppositories (fun!), and being put on the FODMAP diet which eventually led to me finding out a huge trigger for my poor operated-on-bowel, was gluten.
So, aside from saying goodbye to three big loves of my life: pizza, pasta and bread, things could totally be worse, and I know right now I am doing ok, but tomorrow could be a totally different story.
I am only one spokesperson for women with Endo, but I feel like I am not alone in saying most of the time, we just want to be understood and accepted, and our pain and suffering to be acknowledged appropriately.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and I will be wearing yellow every day to show my support and involvement. 1 in 10 women have Endo- think about how many women you know. Chances are more than a few of them have been suffering in silence for a long time.
I honestly believe that if we want things to change, for young girls to get diagnosed and cared for earlier, then it’s the responsibility of everyone, to recognise what Endometriosis is, and what toll it takes on women all over the world. How will you show support for women with Endo during awareness month or in the years ahead? What will you do differently?
There are so many resources and links with information online, but the other thing that can be really informative- is to ask us, the women with endometriosis the questions. We live with it every day, and when someone shows interest or concern, that’s one more person who is on their way to understanding and accepting and helping us see some change.
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