Photograph by Ashely Armitage. Image Source.
My period arrived to ruin the first of many pairs of underpants when I was two years shy of crossing the tween border. I was 11-years-old and looking forward to graduating from year six when I was hit in the knickers by a warm rush of blood. In the garage feeding my pet mice, I initially mistook my period’s arrival for a lapse in bladder control but I sobbed for the passing of my carefree youth after a trip to the bathroom confirmed that Aunt Flo had arrived. Like most girls my age, I swore my mother and best friend to secrecy (and got my first taste of betrayal from both parties). To bleed was a great shame. I fought to hide my premature initiation into Club Period with great commitment.
Despite early suspicions that my experience wasn’t normal, I came to believe that the monthly pain freckling through my body was just part of being a woman. Once everyone else’s uteruses began to shed, and the shame of having one’s “jelly beans” subsided, PMS and period pain almost became a competition, with each of us boasting about our ailments to dramatic degrees. Most GPs I mentioned the pain to were quick to toss me scripts for pain-killers and the pill. My mum was supportive — hot water bottles were bought, days off school were allowed — but there was never really an answer for why I would lay on the floor crying of a night, curled up like Gollum from pain.
It wasn’t until I was in my third and final year of university that I even heard of endometriosis, through the very commendable efforts of Syl Freedman and the endo activism group she started with her mum. This was a time when my sole focus in life was to have as much fun and forge as many friendships as possible, so the link between what I was going through and what Syl talked about was never made.
Over the years, my only respite from the pain was heavy-handed doses of Pontsan, some generous ‘kidney massages’ from my ex-boyfriend (after many teary pleas), and laying in the foetal position, using my pillow as a soundboard for my dying groans. I waited to write this piece until I was in the thick of my period, because often I forget just how much it effects my life, both physically and mentally. In the last two years, the pain I experience not only during my period, but also while I ovulate, has intensified. Some extensive Google searches point to stress as one of the biggest causes of this. Consciously trying not to stress is a very stressful pursuit, FYI. Recently, I decided to listen to my body. I forced myself to acknowledge that drinking and smoking during my period made the pain worse, made me feel sad, and exacerbated my anxieties, as did eating gluten and dairy, and skipping out on sleep. I clocked that socialising out of obligation exhausted me even more when I bled. It’s almost admirable how much I silenced my body’s protests for so many years in my pursuit of hedonistic pleasure, but eventually it gets to a point where you’re like, “Fuck this. Enough is enough.”
This introspection is due in part to being (voluntarily) tossed out of a long-term relationship. To be in love is to neglect uncomfortable parts of your life, and once that blissful, safe cocoon unravels, it really forces you to take stock. I visited an integrated doctor yesterday as per a friend’s recommendation (something I’ve put off doing for months), and she all but confirmed my suspicions: liver depression, really depleted energy levels, and blood stagnation. The ~road to recovery~ is predominantly diet-based (plants FTW), and does not allow for previous life staples of mine like wine, cigarettes and coffee. Considering that I’ve carefully engineered my social life around drinking over the years, it seems like a hefty sacrifice and a strong personal brand shift, but one that’s probably better than the alternative.
To anticipate being in pain for a quarter of your life makes for a fairly glum disposition, but the worst impact endo has on my mental health comes from the inexplicable fatigue that I feel on a day-to-day basis. It literally feels like the endometriosis is sucking the life out of me, and mustering up the energy to see friends, stay focused at work, and partake in activities that I love has become pretty hard when it feels like my brain is running on a quarter tank of petrol. The mental ping-pong between really, genuinely wanting to be enthusiastic about carpe-ing the diem, and then realising I’d actually just prefer to lay in a dark room and stare at the ceiling is exhausting in and of itself. I feel guilty. Lazy. Moody. My mind feels heavy, my brain feels foggy, and I spend lots of time daydreaming about taking naps in various pockets of offices and libraries.
There’s also that little issue of infertility, which seems like an afterthought now, but was something that really fucking rattled me earlier this year. For the first time ever, I saw my body as something with an expiry date. “Fertile” is an adjective that’s been used to describe the voluptuous curves of my body on more than one occasion, and so it seemed especially cruel to think that my flesh vessel mightn’t be fit to house a tiny human one day. I have a tendency to read about symptoms on Google and then take it on-board as though I’ve just been handed down a diagnosis; If you’re anything like me in this regard, I recommend stepping the hell away from your keyboard.
All of this reads a bit like, “woe is me”, but I guess if I had to impart any advice, it would be to listen to your body. Surround yourself with female friends who don’t dismiss your symptoms as hyperbole. If you feel like your GP doesn’t really give a shit, or believe/sympathise with your symptoms, then go and see someone else. I can’t really speak to cures, because I’m only just getting around to doing something about my endometriosis now, but the best (albeit most clichéd advice) I’ve received so far is: know that you are not alone.
Sisters are doin’ it for themselves: