Endometriosis is a condition in which the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. Most often this is on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue around the uterus and ovaries; however, in rare cases it may also occur in other parts of the body. The main symptoms are pelvic pain and infertility. Nearly half of those affected have chronic pelvic pain, while in 70% pain occurs during menstruation. Pain during sexual intercourse is also common. Infertility occurs in up to half of women affected. Less common symptoms include urinary or bowel symptoms. About 25% of women have no symptoms. Endometriosis can have both social and psychological effects. (Wikipedia)
I wanted to die last night. There, I said it. Ugly thing to say, right? Might even make you want to inch slightly away from me. Feel free to. Sometimes I want to inch away from myself. But before you judge, try to listen to what I have to say. Assess my words with an open, empathetic heart, and think about the way you would feel if you were in my shoes. It may sound as though I am trying to pull at your heartstrings, to make you feel depressed for me and my life. I am not. I want you to understand what it’s like to be a woman who suffers from endometriosis. I just want you to understand.
These are the realities of living with endometriosis.
Dealing With the Physical Reality of Endometriosis
Pain. Imagine your abdomen and pelvis are encased in barbed wire, the spikes of the wire are piercing them, stabbing them sharply every time you move. Now imagine that in addition the barbed wire is attached to an electrical current that shoots electricity through the spikes, increasing the intensity of each penetration. Next, add a machine that alternates shooting the electrical spikes into the body and pulling them out again in random intervals, thus adding a surprise and shock factor to the pain. Lastly, in addition to the shocking electrical stabbing pain, there are deep, underlying waves of pain that crush and release the muscles, causing a cramp so excruciating it takes your breath away. Imagine living with that agony everyday.
I don’t imagine. I live with a veil of pain draped over my body. Not stubbed toe pain, sprained ankle pain, or even broken heart pain. The pain that I feel every day is an all-encompassing event, which breaks both my body and my spirit. It is a visceral and animalistic torture that brings me to my knees in surrender. That is the reality of living with the pain of endometriosis.
Fatigue. Recall a night during which you slept very little. Maybe you had a party the night before, or perhaps you were up doing work. Now, how did your body and mind feel the following day?Did you function as well as usual? Were your movements as fluid, your mind as sharp? Or did it feel as though you were moving through quicksand, your brain wrapped in cellophane? How would you deal if you felt like that every day?
I live with a crushing form of fatigue that makes my every move devastatingly cumbersome. I often feel as though I am nine months pregnant with quadruplets, constantly carrying around an enormous weight that is attached to my body, sucking whatever strength I have left. My limbs feel like they are wrapped in lead, and my eyelids covered in cement. All my body wants to do is sleep, every minute of every day, but it can’t. My life doesn’t take a nap when I do.
The Emotional Reality of Endometriosis: Depression
I wish I could say the physical aspects of endometriosis are all that plague me. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For every physical malady that plagues women with endometriosis, there is an emotional component that is equally, if not more, devastating.
Guilt. Guilt is like an itchy woolen sweater that is two sizes too small: suffocating, uncomfortable, and in desperate need of being shed. It permeates the many aspects of my life and makes me miserable. I feel guilty for having endometriosis to begin with.I sometimes wonder what I did wrong to deserve it. I feel guilty that I cannot give my husband the emotional or physical attention he needs. I feel guilty that my close friends and family have to spend their days taking care of me when I am incapacitated and that I spend my days idling around the house while they work hard. I feel guilty for canceling plans that I made weeks ago and the lack of ability to make plans to begin with. Guilty that I cannot be a good friend to others. And guilty when I think of my children who I cannot take care of the way they deserve to be taken care of. Finally, I feel guilty that I cannot give my husband any more precious children due to the hysterectomy I had that was not even successful.
Inadequacy. Due to the symptoms of endometriosis, I often feel inadequate and obsolete. I feel like I lack the ability to do anything important, like my job, or household work. Relationships with my spouse, kids, parents, siblings and even my friends are often placed on the back burner as I struggle daily to merely exist. This inability to maintain relationships, keep my job, take care of myself or family members or even be intimate with my spouse overwhelms me with the feeling that I am incompetent, useless, and valueless. Sometimes I even feel as though my existence on this earth is pointless if I can’t be a functioning member of society. These feelings of incompetence lead to depression, embarrassment, guilt, and rage.
Anger. Imagine being told that the agonizing pain you feel every second of every day is not real, that you are making a big deal out of nothing. How would you feel? Anger? Rage? Imagine being told that you are a “druggie” when you ask your doctor for pain medication to ease the misery you are dealing with. Anger again? Or how would you feel towards “God” or “The Universe” if you let your mind wander to the opportunities you would have if you didn’t have endometriosis? It’s hard not to be furious when you think of everything you are missing or losing due to this disease. What if you’ve tried for years to get pregnant with no success or just miscarried the child you’ve wanted all of your life. And imagine being so debilitated by your symptoms that you are unable to perform your everyday activities. How would you feel? Frustrated? Angry? That’s exactly the way I feel.
Jealousy. For me, jealousy rears its ugly head when I see other people performing activities that I am too sick or fatigued to perform. It is hard not to be jealous of a healthy person when I am stuck in bed, too exhausted to move, or lying on the couch, writhing in pain. Just seeing someone go food shopping without discomfort causes jealousy within me, as I would do anything to be able to perform everyday activities without pain. Jealousy is also inevitable when we I see other women, basking in their pregnant glow, and I know that I will never again carry a living being inside of me.
Loneliness. Yes, I am extraordinarily lucky to have a wonderful support system in my life, and I am enormously thankful for that support, but there is a profound, hollow loneliness that sometimes overwhelms me when it occurs to me that despite their best efforts, my loved ones cannot fully understand what I am going through. Even my sisters with endometriosis cannot completely comprehend my individual suffering, as every person suffers uniquely. Therefore, I am sometimes led to feel as though no one understands me, and there is no thought lonelier than that.
Loss. Endometriosis is a disease that is full of loss and mourning. On a basic level, I mourn the loss of a “normal”, illness-free life. A life chock-full of boring, everyday activities and errands. I am no stranger to mourning or to loss. Having a miscarriage created a deep, inconsolable hole within me that will remain with me forever. But most of all, having a hysterectomy has caused a ubiquitous feeling of loss within me as I mourn, not only the loss of potential children, but the loss of a part of my womanhood.
Depression. Oh, depression. That dark, suffocating feeling when the world looks like it has no color in it and our futures seem murky and unclear. For me, depression is caused by many different things. Being alone all the time, not being able to spend time with family and friends due to pain, fatigue or other symptoms is depressing. Excruciating pain is depressing. Feeling like my illness is misunderstood is depressing. Feeling like I need to be embarrassed of my illness is depressing. And lastly, the thought that there might not be any hope for my recovery because there is no tangible hope for a cure, that I might have to deal with the incapacitating symptoms of endometriosis for the rest of my life, is the most depressing thought of all. That is why I wanted to end my life. Yes, I contemplated suicide. Like so many of my endo-sisters, I hit bottom. I was tired of the pain, tired of the despair, tired of the guilt, and tired of being tired. But mostly, I was and am, just tired of the pain.
Living with Endometriosis is Horrendous
Now that I have exposed my vulnerable and aching heart to you, my friend, you have a choice to make. I will never blame you if you choose to stay away from my complicated and sometimes depressing life. Like I said, if I had the choice, I would probably do the same. But let me say one last thing before you make your decision. Life with endometriosis is horrendous, but women with endometriosis are not. We are strong, determined women who fight fiercely and love fiercely. We try our best. We are not lazy or pathetic and we don’t give up. We may not sugarcoat the painful emotions and terrifying symptoms that we deal with. Our honesty may even frighten you. But when you meet a woman with endometriosis, you are meeting a proud, indomitable warrior. A soldier who goes into the fire on a daily basis and emerges with a thicker skin time and time again. A woman who should not be pitied for her pain, but admired for her ever-present resilience and strength. That, my friend, is who I am. Take me or leave me. It’s up to you.
Adapted from a piece in Hormones Mattter