It may be invisible to others. But the people managing this condition are not. The pain they feel and the way the debilitating symptoms disrupt their lives are very real. Endometriosis affects approximately 10% of women aged 15 to 44.
Common symptoms are heavy bleeding, bleeding between periods, painful intercourse, and severely painful periods. Unlike a broken arm, people cannot see these symptoms. And when someone describes them, they may be dismissed as having a bad period, or even worse, exaggerating about what they are feeling and how it is interfering with their life. Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in places outside of the uterus. It can attach to the ovaries and fallopian tubes, causing inflammation and pain. Endometriosis can even lead to infertility. No one can see the physical and emotional scars, making it an invisible illness.
People with endometriosis often go several years without a proper diagnosis. They may be dismissed as having a mental disorder. They are left to deal with this illness on their own, regardless of what medical treatment there might be to relieve the suffering. Imagine the frustration, time, and money spent on trips to medical professionals who provide no assistance, treatment, validation, or comfort.
Many people living with endometriosis experience depression and anxiety. Other symptoms include painful urination or bowel movements, diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, and nausea during periods. Some symptoms of endometriosis are the same as illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome and pelvic inflammatory disease, making diagnosis more difficult. This can also increase the chances of a misdiagnosis. Although pain is a symptom, you can still have endometriosis with mild or no pain. If someone walked by with their arm in a cast, they would probably receive empathy and support. The lack of support for those suffering from endometriosis and the skepticism, disbelief, or dismissal of the illness compounds any emotional and mental distress caused by living with the illness. A person with endometriosis may not need you to open the door for them because their arm is in a cast, but they need support, too.
Endometriosis Awareness Month
People may be adversely affected professionally as they are less productive or miss work due to endometriosis symptoms. Feelings of isolation can set in as they miss out on social events and encounter misunderstanding, skepticism, and a lack of support from friends and family. March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Whether you are someone bravely managing endometriosis or not, everyone can play a role in eradicating the stigma of this indivisible illness.
People! Let’s talk more about our bodies. Let’s have more discussions about issues that relate to us. Even if you do not have endometriosis, you may have some other challenge that you are managing silently due to the shame of public discussion. Until we feel liberated to talk about the joys and challenges of being women, matters we uniquely face cannot be addressed.
Allow someone to educate you on endometriosis, whether you are male or female. The next time someone, especially if they are a woman, says she is sick or not feeling well, believe her and listen. Encourage her to speak openly. Let her know that you are here to give her the support she needs. For those managing endometriosis, researching the illness can help you validate your ` suffering and challenges. It can help you understand what the appropriate procedure is for diagnosis and available treatment. Education can help you find strategies that may lessen your pain and other symptoms, improve your quality of life, and help you feel less alone. You may find that a certain diet, exercise, or some other regimen is beneficial. For example, some foods have been found to be inflammatory and trigger endometriosis pain symptoms:
• Sugary drinks
• Fatty meat
• Processed food
You may want to reduce these foods as much as possible when you are on your period and see if it helps. Everyone is different, so keeping a food journal may be helpful. Once you see a pattern of how your symptoms are affected, you can adjust your diet. Stress is linked to worsening endometriosis symptoms. Stress also triggers inflammation. So be kind to yourself and find ways to manage your stress, like regular self-care and exercise.
If you are experiencing symptoms, trust yourself and listen to your body. Seek medical attention until you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment. Consult an endometriosis specialist. Although endometriosis is invisible to others, do not beat yourself up or discount its impact. If it causes you to miss events, give yourself grace and compassion, and do whatever it is you need to do to feel better. Even if you cannot control the pain and other symptoms, allow yourself to set this time aside to rest or engage in enjoyable activities that you can handle. Know that you will feel better and that whatever had to be put on hold can wait. Talk to someone you can trust. And most importantly, love yourself!