Like most girls, I learnt about getting my period at school, as well as through the hundreds of stories that were told by the women in my family. While the thought of getting my period was daunting to me, I was also so excited to ‘become a woman’ and finally be just like my older sister.
When my first period came, I was 14 years old and it was Good Friday. I was sitting in church with my family and a pain in my stomach hit me suddenly. I’d eaten a significant amount of chocolate that day (I mean, it was Easter) so I blamed my sore stomach to my over consumption of dairy and attempted to ignore the sharp pain that continued throughout the day and night.
It was my period.
To my mother’s delight I was finally a woman. All of my aunties were called to welcome me into the club, dad affectionately patted me on the back after he realising he was officially outnumbered in the house, and again, I happily ate all of the chocolate I wanted, because that was literally all I wanted. Chocolate.
In the beginning, my period was not what you would call a ‘regular’ visitor. I was told this was normal when you first get your period though, so I didn’t really worry. What I wasn’t prepared for was when it decided to stick around for 6 straight weeks, conveniently while I was on a summer holiday in Europe with my family. Knowing that this was not normal, my parents took me to my GP when we got home. This is where it really began.
Over the next four years, I was treated hormonally to contain the constant bleeding and ultimately control the pain that soon followed. During my period, the pain would cripple me. I was severely anaemic, constantly nauseous, weak, emotionally drained and at times I couldn’t even get out of bed. Being lucky enough to be treated by a kick-ass Gynaecologist (whom I love and still see to this day), when the hormonal treatment didn’t work, and the many ultrasounds didn’t have a definitive answer for what was going on inside me, she recommended I have laparoscopic surgery.
I was diagnosed with Endometriosis when I was 18 years old.
Finally, I had a reason as to what had been dictating my life for so long. While there was some relief in that diagnosis, it was the beginning of a new challenging chapter in my life. Living with Endometriosis.
After my first surgery, I was told that the procedure would bring me relief and hopefully my endo wouldn’t reoccur. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. I have since had 4 surgeries which has consisted of 3 laparoscopies and 2 D&C’s (dilate and curettage). I am now 24 years old and while I have a better understanding of my condition, I still have days where endo threatens to completely take over.
Endometriosis has infiltrated almost every aspect of my life; work, school, my social life and even my relationships. Being a naturally private person, in the beginning it was challenging for me to juggle my normal everyday life, with managing my pain. I was never ashamed of what was going on with me, I was just afraid that people would see me as weak or less capable if they knew what I was going through. I decided to change my way of thinking because I knew I wasn’t weak and I knew I was damn well capable of doing anything I wanted to. This was when I really started looking after myself. I started to pay attention and listen to my body so that I knew how to make the disease work for me, and not the other way around. I had professional conversations with my employers and openly spoke about endo with my friends and partners, encouraging open dialogue about what I was going through with all of my networks. I had to show them that I wasn’t scared of my disease and they shouldn’t be either.
My team of medical specialists have always encouraged an integration of holistic and western medicine for treatment of my endo. As it has affected my digestive system quite heavily, having the guidance of not only my medical specialists, but also a dietician and acupuncturist, I am able to use nutrition as a way of healing. I practice yoga as a form of meditation and gentle exercise, and I have learnt to rest when I need to.
Listening to my body and giving it what it needs is a practice I am still trying to master. Some days I need my heat pack, bed and Netflix, while other days I get up and continue the day as normal. I have really good days where I feel completely pain-free and then days where endo will rear its ugly head. The most important thing I know is to never ignore or deny my body of what it needs, and to never push myself to what is out of my comfort zone.
Each woman’s endometriosis story is going to be unique and this is only a small part of mine. What has worked for me may not be what works for you, but I think we can all agree that there needs to be more discussion and awareness surrounding women’s health issues in general. Endometriosis is just one of many reproductive issues that we as women face. So, I urge you to have the conversation, advocate, sign petitions and take surveys so that more and more people become aware of these very real and often very painful diseases that have been almost ‘taboo’ for so long.
Words by Averil Reckerman