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How Endometriosis Has Helped Me Become More Open About My Period

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I was waking up in a shady grove of cedars next to a beach in southern Oregon. The sun had just risen, and you could hear the waves crashing on the shore. I sat up and opened my one-person tent, shaking from the effort, and threw up leaning out of the tent before lying down again to curl up in a shaky ball of pain. My two friends camping with me looked over unsurprised from the breakfast they were making over the fire. It was the first day of my period, and so far it was going exactly as I’d warned them it would.

My period sucks, in a throwing up all day and occasionally passing out from the pain kind of way. Although it can only be confirmed by (really scary and invasive) surgery, my doctor suspects I have endometriosis, like my grandma did. Planning my life around the debilitating first day of my period is a hassle; that day on the beach had to become a full rest day on the 1,000 mile bike trip we were in the middle of. Not to mention planning my work schedule around my period to make sure I’m in the office for the first day. It’s difficult to plan around because it swings from arriving every 14 to 57 days. Fun date nights that were supposed to be for hiking or dancing become unwanted in-home movie nights. Some of those nights I spend crying in pain convinced I am actually dying, because why else would it hurt this much?

So yes, my period is what my friends and I have come to refer to as a “monster period.” But the weird upside is that it has forced me to communicate my needs and talk about my period with everybody – from strangers to my boss – because I don’t want them to be alarmed when I become spontaneously sick. I need them to know when I’ll need their help. Becoming good at letting people know what I’ll need when the first day of my period strikes means they know how to help me, making that first day just a little bit easier.

Because I am “that girl” with the monster period, people are comfortable talking to me about their periods.

This has:

1. Helped me practice talking about periods in general and become more comfortable communicating my needs when my period is about to start.

2. Helped other people know if their periods are normal.

In one case, I realized a friend who came to me for help with uncharacteristically bad cramps was not actually having just cramps – her symptoms didn’t line up. I could tell from my Wilderness First Responder training, and my own experience with horrible cramps, that she had a urinary tract infection that had become a bladder infection.

My period is still the worst thing that happens every 14 to 57 days, but it’s made me better at communicating my needs, a skill that is slowly spilling over to other parts of my life, and better at practicing emergency medicine. The hell that is my period, an unpredictable phenomenon that never fails to make me feel weak and helpless, has actually helped strengthen my abilities to speak up for myself and care for others.

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Getty image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: February 16, 2018
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