I try not to get too serious on here (because who wants to read about finances and doctor appointments when you just want to scroll through recipes and hat photos?), but there are times when I must put aside my own discomfort and try wearing a different hat. So, meet PSA Eliza.
This is a Public Service Announcement aimed at people with a uterus. Sit down, have a cup of tea, and get your pencil ready. It's story time.
Ten years ago, a young and newly pubescent me went to the gynecologist complaining of heavy periods, spotting, excruciating cramps, severe abdominal pain, and occasional nausea. An ultrasound found a small lump, which was diagnosed as an ovarian cyst – not harmful, and likely to go away on its own. It was recommended that I go on birth control pills to regulate my periods and help with the severe cramps, but given my age and the harsh side effects of the options available to me, I decided to treat them as naturally as I could. For the ten years that followed the diagnosis, my periods became almost annoyingly reliable (“Can we switch it Wednesday? My period is going to start at 3:15 on Thursday."), but the cramps were still excruciating. There were times when getting out of bed was out of the question, and I was in so much pain that I would throw up. Going to work, going to class, and having a social life proved difficult. Like a broken record, the phrase “every period is different and everyone has a different threshold for pain” had been circulating my head for years, slowly brainwashing me into believing that I was weak. I could see the weakness scale in my mind. There it was, me on one end, lying on the bathroom floor and unable to move, and a marathon runner on the other end, pushing through the pain like an Olympian.
This image kept me thinking that the problem was in my head, not in my uterus. And that’s a dangerous way to think. But it all changed when I saw a post on Instagram by Mab Graves. She bravely talked about her experiences with endometriosis – a big, scary word that I had heard once or twice before but had not paid any attention to. One Mayo Clinic search later, and all those frozen layers of self-deprecating thoughts began to thaw. Lower back pain? Check. Severe cramping? Check. Heavy periods? Check. Sharp abdominal pain? Check, check, check, check, check.
To save you time, here is a portion of the Mayo Clinic's article on endometriosis, though I highly suggest reading the whole thing:
Endometriosis (en-doe-me-tree-O-sis) is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus (endometrial implant). Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, bowel or the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond your pelvic region.
In endometriosis, displaced endometrial tissue continues to act as it normally would — it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. Because this displaced tissue has no way to exit your body, it becomes trapped. When endometriosis involves the ovaries, cysts called endometriomas may form. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, eventually developing scar tissue and adhesions — abnormal tissue that binds organs together.
Immediately after reading the above section, I thought of my experience ten years ago. Was it a cyst? Or was it endometriosis? I was flooded with panic. What if I have to have surgery? What if I’ve had endometriosis for ten years and it’s done serious damage? What if I can’t have kids? Those are scary questions, but ones that need to be addressed rather than ignored.
I’m now embarking on what may prove to be a long and scary road. I have a primary doctor appointment under my belt, a referral to the best gynecologist in town, and an ultrasound appointment slip in my wallet. Wherever this road leads, I know I have options, and people who will walk beside me.
Thanks to Ms. Graves, I realized it was time I took my body seriously. Our bodies know what we need, whether or not our brains choose to listen.
So, if you’ve been chocking your symptoms up to a weakness in character, or have spent way too many days crying from the pain, THIS IS YOUR SIGN FROM THE UNIVERSE. Get it checked. Your doctor won’t laugh at you, the people who love you will support you, and your body will thank you.