This time last year I had to leave a job I loved because I was too sick to work. I’ve since had two surgeries, cultivated an essential but bank-draining team of medical specialists, and developed a truly spectacular tolerance to painkillers.
For me, Endometriosis has been a nuclear bomb dropped on my life.
Scientifically speaking: Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) decides it’s a strong independent tissue that don’t need no uterus. Instead it grows…well, wherever it damn well pleases. Generally endometrium growths stick to your abdominal cavity — setting up shop on your uterus, ovaries, bowel, bladder etc etc — but there have been cases of growths being found in other areas of the body (like the nasal cavity, what the fuck?).
In severe cases, endometriosis growths can adhere your organs to your abdominal walls, or each other. Think Shelob’s cave from Lord of the Rings.
Oh but wait, there’s more.
The endometrium outside of your uterus sticks to the same hormonal schedule as the stuff inside of it. So when you get your period—when the endometrium in your uterus partly breaks down and sheds—so does the endometrium everywhere else. This results in the spread of the cells, meaning more growths, and potential scarring of the areas its already adhered to, because those tissues aren’t supposed to deal with this shit, dude.
All of this results in—surprise, surprise—a lot of pain. Like. I cannot stress enough how much pain there can be. I’ve had days where I can’t walk for it. I’ve thrown up from the agony more than once. If Satan needs tips on torture he should call up the uterus because holy fuck me dead.
Infertility is another common pitfall, and in severe cases growths can interfere with organ function.
Cool, I can hear you saying, so how do we cure it?
HA! We don’t. No seriously, there’s no known cure. Mostly because we still don’t know what causes endometriosis.
One theory pinpoints retrograde menstruation as the culprit, but since people can have full on hysterectomies and still develop growths, that’s obviously not the whole story. Another option is that your body has stashes of stem cells that spontaneously decide they want to be endometrium when they grow up, the shits.
At any rate, the only way currently to treat endometriosis is to manage the symptoms. This means hormonal medication (and all the side-effects that go along with it) to try and calm your menstrual farm, surgical intervention to remove growths when they develop (and redevelop, and redevelop), and a lot—like just, so so much—pain management.
I had my second laparoscopic surgery last week. They removed a strip of endometriosis the size of a AA battery from the back of my uterus, where it was getting up close and personal with a few very important ligaments and nerves. I manage my period with an IUD and the pill. I take another hormonal pill to manage the side effects from the IUD. I’m on a mix of four different painkillers at any given time just to make sure I can get out of bed. I see a physiotherapist because my muscles are in near-permanent spasm. I’m on the FODMAP diet for IBS because my abdominal cavity is a war zone and my bowel decided to throw a tantrum about it.
I’m not saying this to garner sympathy. I’m saying it because when someone tells you they have endometriosis, I want you to know what an ever-loving clusterfuck that can mean for them. One in ten people with uteruses have this condition. You probably know someone who suffers from it. At the very least, give that person a goddamn hug the next time you see them.