My first signs of endometriosis started when I hit puberty – I started bleeding and it just didn’t stop. I would bleed for months on end, day after day. The flow would vary, but most days it was extremely heavy. I was nervous to go to school and sit for long amounts of time, I would run to the bathroom in between classes, most days I had to double up (or triple up) on period products, and I was in constant fear that I would ruin my pants and embarrass myself anytime I was in public. For me, there was no such thing as a regular period that started and stopped. I was always on my period. Of course, at the time I did not know my irregular bleeding was a sign of endometriosis. The first few times I went to see doctors about this issue, many would tell me that I should let my body “work itself out” since I was so young. The thought was that over time as I grew and matured, my body would regulate itself and the irregular, seemingly never ending bleeding would stop. However, my body on its own was unable to work itself out. Surprisingly during the first year or two, my bleeding was not accompanied by any pain. I would bleed a lot, with the occasional feeling of weakness due to being anemic, but had no pain in my lower abdomen or back. The debilitating pain only started after I had a really bad reaction to the first birth control pill I was prescribed for my irregular periods (but I’ll leave that story for another day). But why did I feel so uncomfortable to talk about it? Why did I unconsciously work to hide it. I was always trying to conceal the fact that I was bleeding at school, extracurricular activities, and in public, stashing period products in any place possible – my locker, my pencil holder, up my sleeve, in my sweatshirt pocket … the list goes on. As a young girl in middle school, talking about periods and reproductive health is not easy. It was hard enough to have to tell my mom, dad, and sisters about it every single day, let alone an older, male physician. However, nobody should feel ashamed of being on their period. It’s life, it happens – it’s supposed to happen. More importantly, there is nothing normal about pain and bleeding that disrupts daily life. Looking back I would tell myself to listen to your body, seek out care, advocate for yourself, don’t be embarrassed to talk about what’s really going on, and don’t stop until you find a solution that truly works for you – everybody is different. You don’t have to hide it or be ashamed of it, and you certainly don’t have to go through it alone. My hope is that physicians and patients will continue to learn about endometriosis along with its signs and symptoms, and hopefully it will be more recognizable earlier rather than later.
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