by JK, UK
I am a woman who has been a women’s health statistic – I had endometriosis for over three decades, which I found was an extremely painful and debilitating condition.
I recently re-visited some statistics on endometriosis and found that approximately 176 million women and girls worldwide suffer from endometriosis; 8.5 million in North America and 2 million in the UK and rising. ‘Endometriosis; the presence of tissue, histologically similar to endometrium outside the uterine cavity and the myometrium, is one of the most common gynaecological conditions in women of reproductive age, but it remains one of the most complicated and baffling’ (Rizk & Abdulla, 2003). I too had found the condition baffling…
I started my periods at age 11 in my first few weeks of starting senior school. I knew something didn’t feel right within my body not long after I started my periods, given the amount of pain and discomfort I had each month at the time of my period. I found it debilitating and sometimes had time off school (or work), lying on my bed with a hot water bottle and taking painkillers. My tummy was sore, my breasts were sore and my period cramps were extremely painful; with often no painkillers touching the pain, to the point that on a couple of occasions I went to A&E even in the middle of the night, desperate for some pain relief. I would sometimes nearly pass out with the pain. I remember walking home from school one day and having to lie down on the pavement as I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. I would have hot sweats and feel nauseous from the pain as well as having thick clotty lumpy dark brown period blood. I would get bowel pain at the same time, diarrhoea and lower back or right hip pain. I knew some of my friends had painful periods but they didn’t seem to have the other symptoms, and often for them a painkiller would do the trick.
My mum scratched her head with despair to find a solution for me. We tried many different pain killer combinations, different foods, vitamins and hot water bottles. When I was around 13 my mum suggested we seek medical help from our local GP, who said apart from painkillers the only other solution was to take the contraceptive pill, which I and my mum consented to, as I was desperate to seek relief for the condition and to get on with my life. At this point I found the doctor offered me little understanding for my symptoms. The pill took the edge off the pain, but many of the other symptoms remained, albeit to a lesser degree.
In my 20’s, just as I was about to get married I wondered if there was anything further that I could do for my symptoms; I was then referred by my GP to a gynaecological consultant as my GP suspected I had endometriosis. On the day of my appointment I went to the hospital hoping for a solution or explanation for my symptoms. The Consultant Gynaecologist ushered me into a room and asked me what was wrong. I told him the symptoms I had and he said “you need to get pregnant and have babies… having babies will solve your problem”, then he ushered me back out of the room. I found this an upsetting experience as I felt backed into a corner, left with the same symptoms, no further support and no more than a nod of confirmation that it was very likely endometriosis. I was just about to get married and having a baby was not on my radar. From that day forward I felt the best I could do was to grin and bear it, take painkillers and accept my predicament.
Whilst I knew oral contraceptives could be supportive in my marriage as a form of contraception, I was aware by this time I had already been on them for over 7+ years. My mum had a history of blood pressure problems and the GP/family planning clinic were already raising their eyebrows as to whether I could stay on the oral contraceptive pill in case of blood pressure problems, so they monitored me closely.
Some years later, I went back to the GP who said I had endometriosis for further investigations, and during the few years that followed I experimented with different types of contraception so as to avoid using the oral contraceptive, and also with different types of pain medication. At that point, from a routine smear test the doctor found I had pre-cancerous abnormal cells on my cervix and referred me for laser treatment, which I had shortly afterwards. After the removal of the pre-cancerous cells my cervix was closely monitored and there has been no return of these since.
At one point my GP suggested I go into hospital for a D&C (dilatation and curettage is a minor surgical procedure to remove tissue from the lining of the womb). I never did take up the offer of a D&C or a laparoscopy (a type of surgical procedure that allows the surgeon to access the inside of the abdomen and pelvis without having to make large incisions). I had become hardened, stubborn and independent in that I would ‘find my own way, exploring any kind of herb or other remedy I could find (none of which helped). I was also fearful of having a general anaesthetic (another story…). At that time I wasn’t convinced that a D&C would help, although I got to understand a little more about the medical aspects of endometriosis from doctors and nurses I saw over the years that followed. In hindsight, I now feel it would have been more self-caring to go along for the D&C and laparoscopy rather than relying on high doses of pain medication and struggling through.
Why am I sharing this alongside the initial few statistics on endometriosis?
Because, whilst I was offered pain relief, oral contraceptives and at a later date a surgical exploration and I did over time gain a little more understanding about the medical condition of endometriosis, at that time I couldn’t find any inspiring stories of how other women had managed to treat their endometriosis successfully. More so, I was never asked anything about my life and the way I was living it. I was never asked what it felt like being a woman and what in my life I was struggling with about being a woman. No connection to the physical symptoms was ever made to my daily living choices. In recent years I have found that connecting my physical symptoms to my daily living patterns and choices has helped me in not only understanding my condition further, but as a further support to myself. I wondered how much awareness of this link and the potentially helpfulness of this is considered by medicine?
This realisation of the connection between my physical condition and my daily living choices occurred when I attended a presentation by Serge Benhayon of Universal Medicine where I became aware of how these symptoms in my body were my body’s way of alerting me to the fact that something was wrong, and that something in the way I was living was not working. For the first time in all of my years of living with endometriosis, through this simple point expressed by Serge Benhayon, the penny dropped. This prompted me to reflect deeply over a period of time about the way I was living. For the first time in a long time I didn’t feel the powerlessness I felt with endometriosis; I became aware I had something to do with my condition, and as this was the case I could make some changes. And make changes I did – see for instance my blog From Black Belt Kickboxer.
Gradually over a number of years with the support of Universal Medicine practitioners (who never told me to do anything, but instead offered me gentle questions to reflect on, that then prompted me to consider my life more deeply), I made many, many gentle self caring changes to my life – from the pace of my life, to ensuring I had adequate rest, nourishing foods and exercising gently (walking for instance) etc. In this, I started to take notice of the messages my body was showing me (that it had been showing me for 30 years with the pain and other symptoms of endometriosis). Now as I write this, during my periods I no longer have any of the symptoms of endometriosis, apart from a very occasional sore breast or nagging crampy feeling in one of my ovaries; which I now use as an indicator that something in the way I’m living my life is not supporting me and I take time to reflect and honour this.
How does this then connect with the statistics and the ‘bafflement’ as cited by Rizk and Abdalla (2003) above?
What if we realised that having a diagnosis of endometriosis for example, was actually our body asking us to take a look at our lives so as to make some new and different choices? Is it possible in looking at this, this may, as it has for me, enable an understanding and take away the ’bafflement’?
What if, for instance, we can ourselves make changes in our lives to support and change a physical condition (e.g. Endometriosis), from looking at the way we are living our life?
What if, with the medical profession, we were encouraged to consider the link between the way we live our lives and the impact this has on our physical body more deeply? And what if they asked patients questions such as:
‘Is there anything about the way you are living your life that is affecting your body?’ And from this prompted to take a look at how our daily living choices impact on our physical body?
And, what if from this, women found from making self nurturing changes to their daily living (e.g. taking a moment to rest, eating nourishing foods etc.) that their physical conditions changed, and from this we had many inspiring stories from women who had done just that (just as the WINL blog offers), for us all to be inspired by and learn from?
Maybe, just maybe, that could open up women’s health to a different and deeper place – away from the bafflement to a place of understanding and true learning.
Reference: Rizk, B & Abdalla H, Endometriosis Second edition, Oxford 2003 Health Press Ltd www.fastfacts.com