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Why I Cannot Tolerate Endometriosis Being Compared to a 'Bad Period'

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There are a lot of things I am able to accept with my endometriosis diagnosis; it took two years to get here but I finally got there. I can accept that I need to change my diet to avoid endo belly, I can accept giving up alcohol for the sake of my medications, I can accept that it has a chance of impacting my fertility one day and I am OK with the fact it will have an impact on my relationships. I am even at peace with being in constant pain for the rest of my life. What I absolutely cannot cope with are the misrepresentations and myths surrounding my condition, and one of them is worse than all of the others. “It’s just a bad period.” Family, doctors, teachers and consultants have all perpetrated.

The comparison of this life-changing disease to a “bad” but regular period (with no underlying conditions) is offensive, insulting and ignorant. A bad period doesn’t cause internal bleeding, it doesn’t spread through your insides and fuse your organs together. A bad period is mostly contained to the pelvic area with some back pains or headaches. Endometriosis can spread to almost any part of the body; it can spread to the lungs, spine, brain and even your eyeballs. A bad period can sometimes be dealt with with over-the-counter pain medicines; endometriosis pain often persists despite strong prescription medications. A bad period, if persistent, can, in some cases, be treated with the use of birth control, whereas endometriosis can persist after having multiple surgeries, inducing artificial, temporary menopause and taking lots of medications. All of these are real, important distinctions between something that is a normal part of life for most women, and a horrific disease, but perhaps the most important one would be that a bad period will end. It won’t last forever. Endometriosis is incurable. And periods with endometriosis can last months.

But these differences aren’t just important for the sake of validity. Of course that is an important aspect, but beyond that, these distinctions are important for recognizing when there is a serious problem. On average it takes eight years to diagnose endometriosis. In this time it can grow, it can spread, it can impact fertility and our careers. Continuing to call it “just a bad period” may stop people from seeking help. Comparing endometriosis to a bad period may encourage some doctors not to take our struggles seriously. It teaches future generations that debilitating periods are normal, when that is never true.

A bad period shouldn’t stop you from functioning, or make you miss work or school. It shouldn’t land you in the emergency room. Endometriosis can. Remembering the difference is vital to raising awareness and protecting girls with endometriosis. This illness is life-changing and deserves to be taken seriously. Girls who miss school, and women who miss work for a bad period aren’t “lazy.” Women with periods who can’t focus through the pain aren’t “putting it on.” And women who continue to have problems after diagnostic surgery aren’t imagining it. It’s incurable. It sucks. But it’s better if you catch it early, and even better when your loved ones respect your struggling and don’t trivialize it.

Photo by avery klein on Unsplash

Originally published: December 21, 2018
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