Every villain has an origin story. It’s an early, benevolent — or at least less-evil — version of the character than what he or she will become. My nemesis began as something I thought was quite benign, even normal. Erratic periods and severe cramping — just a typical part of womanhood, no? Well, as it turns out, this seemingly typical female issue was something much more sinister.
When I began menstruating at 13, I experienced an irregular, heavy period complete with cramps, bloating, and nausea. At 18, I went on birth control pills, which regulated my cycle and significantly reduced monthly discomfort. In my early 20s, I began to suffer from ovarian cysts. The wrenching bursts of pain made tasks such as driving a car and talking on the phone difficult. I’d double-over just trying to breathe through it or curl up into a fetal position in tears. The pain always ended, however, and months would go by before I experienced the cycle again.
Gradually, this pain became more frequent, more consistent, more severe, more intrusive. It disrupted classes, pulled me from the deepest sleep. It made sex painful, cardio workouts at the gym nearly impossible. After months of this near-constant pain, I began to think something else was going on.
And thus began doctor visit after doctor visit, the series of tests and statements that invariably began with, “Well, we know it’s not ____.” I became a professional patient. I saw a general practitioner, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, at least four gynecologists, and ER doctors. I accrued overwhelming medical debt. I underwent CAT scans, intravaginal ultrasounds, regular ultrasounds, pelvic exams. And then, finally, at 29, I received a diagnosis: I had endometriosis.
I assumed that a diagnosis would yield a treatment plan, if not a cure. I at least expected some kind of relief from the agony, the life-altering misery. Not quite. Several different kinds of birth control were prescribed; each one had no impact on the pain and only provided unpleasant side effects ranging from horrible mood swings to severe hair loss. The next step was surgery. My gynecologist performed a laparoscopy and removed extraneous uterine tissue from my ovaries and my bowel. Promises of relief were made; disappointment followed.
After undergoing surgery, I did not experience ANY respite. The pain was still ubiquitous, still unbearable. I was devastated. My doctor was ready to administer Luperon (leuprolide) injections, which would essentially put me into menopause. At 30 years old. I was angry, frustrated, depressed. And I was fed up with a healthcare system that had failed me. Western medicine had done nothing for me. It was time to rethink my approach to healing.
At this time, my younger sister had become a convert to all things holistic. She suggested I reevaluate the way I was treating my disease and recommended an acupuncturist she’d seen a few times. I was skeptical. But when you’ve tried all the conventional approaches and still find yourself in the same kind of daily pain without an end in sight, you find yourself more amenable to trying new things.
I began with a consultation and first round of acupuncture. I thought more meaningfully about what I consumed. I educated myself about herbs that helped balance hormones. This new treatment plan is a comprehensive, holistic approach that includes acupuncture, gluten-free foods, clean eating, regular consumption of specific herbal teas, herbs and castor oil packs, and it has led to a vast improvement in my quality of life.
Although I am not cured, my life belongs to me again. I still have bursts of pain that occasionally derail workouts and prevent sleep. If I indulge in freshly baked bread (sometimes, I’m just a glutton for gluten!), I will find myself scrolling through Facebook at 3:30 in the morning trying to distract myself from the pain. And other times, I’ve followed my regime precisely, and I’ll still have 10 minutes of pain as I’m driving to work. But it is very infrequent and even the episodes themselves don’t rage with the same intensity that they used to a year and a half ago.
From conversations with other endometriosis sufferers, I have learned that no two stories or experiences are alike. Therefore, I believe that every woman will have her own journey to healing. What works for me may not work for someone else. But I am optimistic that this holistic path can bring many more women relief and, perhaps one day, even a cure.
I am a 31-year-old professional woman. A writer, a teacher, an editor, a wife, an endo warrior. It has been a year and a half since I began my journey in Eastern medicine. This is my story, my pursuit of healing.
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.