When I saw Lena Dunham post recently about her battle with endometriosis and how she needs to take some time off work to rest, it really struck a chord in me. I never expected to have much in common with a famous actress, but it's not all that surprising given the fact that the disease affects approximately 1 in 10 women's reproductive health.
Endometriosis a chronic condition that's all around us, but nobody talks about it much. So I want to thank Lena Dunham. For raising some much-needed awareness. For being honest about the debilitating effects of the disease. For naming it and not feeling shamed into silence.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 25. Like a lot of women, I suffered with the symptoms for many years before a doctor finally attached a name to it. I don't know officially when it flared up in my body, but my suffering started when I was quite young.
I wasn't expecting to get my period at age 11. A shy seventh grader with frizzy hair and freckles, I certainly didn't feel like I had crossed the mysterious threshold into womanhood. But my body had made the transition. There was no denying the excruciating cramps, the abnormally heavy flow. Or the fact that it got so bad that I had to take a taxi home from school every month.
I never really had "the talk" with my parents to put my period and what it meant into perspective. All I remember is my mother giving me some pastel-coloured pamphlets and my dad awkwardly congratulating me "on becoming a woman." At the time, it all just seemed like a normal milestone. Girls got their periods, they were inevitably painful, end of story. Except it wasn't.
My period may have arrived with little fanfare, but it would turn my world upside down for many years to come. I remember my mother being honestly puzzled by my complaints and tears every month. Sometimes my abdominal and back cramps would be so awful that I would become inconsolable and literally roll around on the floor. My hot water bottle quickly became my best friend.
Looking back, I can see now that she didn't understand my level of suffering because she hadn't gone through it herself. Sure, some of my aunts had had "bad periods" when they were young, but nobody dwelled on it. It was simply dismissed as "women's troubles."
Other well-intentioned women told me that it was a rite of passage or suggested it was just the price we pay for Eve's sin in the garden of Eden. None of this comforted me. My pill-swallowing phobia didn't help, either. For four days every month I would carefully crush some extra-strength Tylenol into a mug of Coke or eat it with a slice of bread. That's how desperate I was for pain relief.
There was no online support groups around in the late 80s/early 90s. You just didn't talk about this kind of stuff outside your circle of friends or female relatives. It was all hush-hush. I remember being embarrassed to even bring it up with my family doctor, which seems ridiculous in hindsight.
I was an adult living abroad when I developed an endometrioma (an ovarian cyst with old blood in it, also called a "chocolate cyst"). One day I was standing in the shower and experienced sudden, severe pain in my pelvic region and down my leg. I was referred to a women's hospital and ultrasounds confirmed the condition.
The doctors drained the cyst, but over the years my endometriosis became sly and came back in different forms. At this point I've had six surgeries to treat it. Every time I went into hospital, I always worried about whether it would affect my chances of getting pregnant. But it didn't, and I'm so grateful and blessed to have my little girl.
Today I mainly manage my endometriosis though medication (the Pill). I also try to watch my diet and manage my stress levels. If I could go back in time, this is what I would tell my younger self: you are not a wimp who can't tolerate pain. There is something going on in your body that you cannot see. Get it checked out. Take it seriously. You don't have to suffer anymore.
Follow Tara's story as she writes about finding the poetic moments in the chaos of everyday parenting.
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