By Amy Mulvaney
Lying on the floor trying to catch my breath while curled up in the fetal position, rocking myself to bring some ease to the pain. The pain it’s unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It felt like someone was taking shards of glass and cutting into my pelvis with them.
The sheer simplicity of inhaling and exhaling brought with it an excruciating amount of agony. Welcome to my world of living with endometriosis where situations like the one above have been a regular occurrence.
Endo what you might be thinking, well let me fill you in. It’s a condition that occurs in females when the lining called the endometrium of the uterus grows outside of it. It can grow in the fallopian tubes, ovaries and even beyond the pelvic organs. When this displaced lining breaks down, it causes scar tissues, adhesions and even organs to stick together. Cysts can form on ovaries which are full of blood due to internal bleeding because the displaced tissue has no way of leaving the body.
Endometriosis can affect each woman differently but common symptoms include chronic pelvic pain, painful urination/bowel movements, heavy bleeding, painful intercourse and possible infertility. Along with having to try and process and live with these symptoms on a daily basis it also greatly impacts your mental health, which is exactly what happened to me.
Three years ago I discovered I had endometriosis. I was having an ultrasound due to unexplained stomach pain and a chocolate cyst (a cyst full of blood) was discovered on my left ovary. At this time I began to notice that my menstrual cycle was becoming unbearable, leaving me bed bound in severe pain. I have always been an anxious person but since my diagnosis my anxiety levels spiked. I would obsessively worry about my next cycle, how bad it would be, would I be out in public and drop to the floor in extreme pain unable to stand let alone walk which has happened in the past.
I became obsessed, endometriosis took over my identity. My option was to try medical intervention the first step being hormone contraceptives, for me personally this caused my mental health to descend into a downward spiral. I became an insomniac unable to switch off from my thoughts at night, easily irritated, depression sunk in causing me to loose interest in all areas of my life both personally and professionally. I simply wasn’t able to function on a daily basis. I was becoming unrecognisable to myself, family and friends. I wouldn’t talk to anyone to let them know how I was feeling, instead I suppressed all my feelings and emotions and focused all my energy on self critcising and belittling myself every chance I got. I couldn’t escape my thoughts that I was never going to have a “normal” life again. I wasn’t able to work as I was in pain nearly every day and no matter what anyone said to me I would believe my own thoughts over them every single time. Anger and stress consumed me and my condition became worse.
My cyst on my right ovary grew larger (one stage measuring 16cm) and I then developed another on my left ovary. One day I got a call from my gynecologist to come in and see her. She informed me that due to the severity of my condition, if the cysts were to rupture/twist around the ovary then I could lose both my ovaries and my fertility. She recommended that I have reconstructive surgery on my ovaries followed by hormone therapy to shut down my reproductive system, basically put it into a fake menopause so the endometriosis could no longer continue to grow. I knew how sensitive my body was and how badly it reacted to hormone contraceptives, this more severe option frightened me greatly in regards to what it would endure my mental health to go through.
I left my gynecologist's office upset, angry, annoyed and scared, it felt as though if I was to help my reproductive health then my mental health would take a chronic hit because of it. I felt in limbo and feeling like I was going around in circles not getting anywhere. I told my Gynecologist that I would have to think about the treatment option for a while. I took some time reflecting to myself and all that I had gone through trying to bring about ease to my body on a physical level and I knew that for me I had to address my mental health first and give it priority before I could focus again on the physical aspect of endometriosis.
I stopped taking the hormonal contraceptives because I couldn’t cope with the severity of the side effects. I began going to see an acupuncturist on a weekly basis to help address my anxiety, depression and chronic pain.
I also went to my GP, who put me on medication for my anxiety/depression. Honestly I was reluctant at first to take the medication but I have to say it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Slowly after a couple of weeks I began to feel more in control of my thoughts, they didn’t feel as domineering as before. I still felt anxious and had down days but not to the same level of intensity as before. I always enjoyed yoga and walking but since taking medication it is as if I am able to be fully present during a class or a simple walk, whereas beforehand I was so anxious and feeling down and low in myself that I wasn’t able to be appreciative of the self-care practice I was offering myself. Now it has become my daily ritual.
My mental and physical health are always going to be an issue for me and are areas of my life that I will have to give priority too. I will never be completely cured from endometriosis or my anxiety and depression either but I know there are various treatment options out there which gives me hope, something that if you were to ask me twelve months ago would I believe in I would be giving a very different answer. I still have regular checkups with my Gynecologist and GP and they are aware of all the lifestyle choices I am making to help improve my overall general well being.
I am not a health care professional, just sharing my experience of my health journey. It’s incredibly important to check in with your doctor if you’re experiencing any gynecological issues so that the right steps can be taken for you and you are given the correct medical information by the professionals.
You can get further information via Endometriosis Association of Ireland's website.