March Gratitude

Yes, it’s April now, but too bad, you’re going to hear what I was grateful for in March anyway.  Suck it up.  Be grateful.

1)  I went to Melbourne for the first time

Bird's Eyeview Photography of City Landscape
Image Description: a picture of Melbourne from the air.  It is dusk and the lights in the buildings are on.  There are a lot of tall buildings and a river with bridges over it.

Yes, I am one of those Australia-dwellers who had never actually been to Melbourne.  For non-Australians, there is this ongoing rivalry between our two biggest cities, Sydney (New South Wales) and Melbourne (Victoria) about which one is better.  Both have lots of nice old buildings, stacks of traffic, and road rules that make it very difficult for visitors to have a clue what’s going on.

To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Melbourne as a city (heresy, I know).  It’s not really that different from other big cities to me.  I just don’t like cities that much.  However, I did get to see one of my best friends whom I haven’t seen in ages, drink a zingy bubble tea, attend an interesting seminar, and try Lord of the Fries for the first time (very tasty).

2)  I saw Julie Bishop

I went to a very interesting seminar at which Australia’s recently resigned Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, was speaking.  Love or loathe the Liberal Party and its members, I think Julie Bishop is a very impressive, articulate and well-informed woman who has been a bit of a trailblazer in an arena still very much dominated by men.  She also has some amazing clothes.  It was a privilege to get to hear her speak in person and I was very interested to hear her views.

3)  I made a cake

I love baking and cooking, but they can be difficult for me, because standing for long periods is a huge trigger for my pain.  This one is pretty quick and easy, though, and it was a big hit at work!

I made two six-inch cakes instead of one eight-inch cake, and layered strawberry jam, fresh strawberries, and Sarah Kidd’s delicious cream cheese buttercream between them and on the top.  I still have stacks of buttercream left over, so I’m going to make some cupcakes for next week and continue to buy the love of my coworkers with delicious vegan baking.

4)  I went to a cafe and there were millions of dogs

It was a brunch, and the food was very tasty, but the DOGS.  There was a tiny dachshund puppy in a wrap like a baby, with the softest head I have ever touched.  There was a huge lollopy smiley golden retreiver.  There was a beautiful sleek black greyhound called Jazz, who wanted lots of strokes.  There was a bear that the owners tried to pass off as a St Bernard.  It had paws the size of my face, and I have a fairly average-sized face for a 178cm human.  There was a pitbull with a smile that lit up the whole day.  Basically, it was heaven.  There was cake and dogs.  What more could you possibly want?

5)  The weather got colder

Dirt Road Cover by Dried Leaves
Image description: a shot from close to the ground of orange leaves on a dirt road.  Above them is an avenue of treats with yellow foliage.  The sun is shining through them.

It’s no secret that I love spring, but I also adore autumn.  Summer in Australia is just too hot for a pasty white child like me.  I sweat and I crisp up at the edges, and the backs of my legs stick to chairs.  I don’t like it.  Autumn, for the two weeks it seems to last in Australia, has days in that perfect 18-25 degree range, with enough sunshine to boost the spirit and enough grey rainy days to let a girl cuddle up under a soft cushiony duvet with an animal and her husband.  Perfect.

6)  I learned some salsa

Thursday 21 March was Harmony Day in Australia, a day about celebrating multiculturalism.  As part of it, my workplace hosted a salsa class.

A bunch of corporate types trying to salsa in suits will always be good value, but the class itself was just clean good fun.  Was it good for my endo?  Not even slightly.  Did I have a slightly sweaty blast and get some good cardio and strength work in?  Sure did!

7) One perfect rose

I’m a big fan of the poetry of Dorothy Parker.  She wrote a poem called “One Perfect Rose.”  It goes:

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet–
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
“My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Well, from my garden in March came one perfect rose, and it made me very happy.  Unfortunately, I cannot seem to get this picture off my phone and into this post for the life of me, so, if you want to see it, along with pictures of random flowers that make me happy and many pictures of corgis, cats and wigs, have a look at my instagram, @offbalancespinningtop.  

8) Dinner with my friend

Despite living in the same city as her, I don’t get to see one of my friends nearly as often as I’d like.  However, we started the month with dinner together and I love spending time with her so much.  She is the sweetest, kindest person and just makes everything better.

9) Youtube Fun

I spent a fair amount of time on youtube in March.  Possibly more than was healthy.  Anyway, I had a great deal of fun binge-watching Safiya Nygaard’s videos.  She’s just so fun and happy and does such wacky stuff, and she bawled like crazy when she got engaged, which made me happy-cry.  A good time all round.

10) Queer Eye Season 3!

Image result for queer eye
Image Description: a picture of the Queer Eye Fab Five.  From left to right: Bobby (pale, blonde hair and beard, wearing a suit and a happy expression); Karamo (dark skinned with a closely trimmed black beard and a faint fuzz of black hair, wearing a very shiny suit with a grey tie and a suave smile); Antoni, pale with brain hair, clean-shave, wearing a suit and looking soulful); Jonathan (pale with brown flowing locks and a joyful face); and Tan (white shirt and black jacket, tanned skin and dark and light grey hair in a quiff, also looking suave but less smiley than Karamo).  

I love Queer Eye.  It is so heart-warming and Tan France’s hair is an international treasure.  The fact that Season 3 has come makes my little heart sing.  My favourite episode was Black Magic, in which Jess, adopted and then rejected when she was outed as a lesbian to her conservative family, learns how to trust and love again, as well as getting in touch with both her sister and her own identity as a black woman.

There was a very disconcerting episode in which a very tall man shaved off the nice beard Jonathan Van Ness had carefully given him.  I was in shock.

Do you watch Queer Eye?  What was your favourite episode in Season 3?  What made you happy in March?  Let me know in the comments!

Kindness Quotes

This post is spectacularly late!  I’m sorry for the long gap between posts – I’ve been really struggling with sickness and pain management recently and it has left me with no spoons for writing.  I’ve been struggling with trying to get the balance of my latest medication (Prostap) right, and have had my tentative diagnosis of adenomyosis confirmed by MRI.  I have a lot of half-finished drafts sitting there, but I’m going to kick things off with my collation of daily quotes that I used during March.

Kindness is a big theme in my life – not because I always manage it, but because I always want to be kinder than I am.  There are so many things to be kind to in this world – yourself, other people, animals, the planet, people you love and people you hate.  To me it is vitally important.  My biggest failing in trying to achieve kindness is my tendency to gossip.  Sure, I’m not criticising someone to their face so arguably it can’t hurt them, but I think being kind in that kind of consequence-free environment is a far greater mark of character than refraining from being unkind to people face-to-face, where the fear of repercussions is greater.  Also, do unto others, etc.  I’m working on it, but I still find myself doing it a lot.

I also really suck at being kind to myself sometimes – don’t we all – and that’s an area I’m doing my darndest to work on.  As part of that, I’ve recently joined a gym (Fernwood finally seduced me with their persistence and a good deal on price) and am having some PT sessions to get my body back on track without hurting myself (or at least, without hurting my endo.  My muscles hate me right now).

I want to preface this by saying that I don’t agree without reservation with all of the quotes here, but generally speaking I think they all have a good message, and that some are incredibly important to remember.

Now, without further rambling:

  1. “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  – Aesop
  2. “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”  – Audrey Hepburn
  3. “Kindness in words creates confidence.  Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.  Kindness in giving creates love.”  – Lao Tzu
  4. “Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like.  More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.”  – Dennis Prager
  5. “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”  – Saint Basil
  6. “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  7. “I’ve been searching for a way to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”  – Lady Gaga
  8. “Love and kindness are never wasted.  They always make a difference.  They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.”  – Barbara De Angelis
  9. “You can tell by the kindness of a dog how a human should behave.”  – Captain Beefheart
  10. “Contact kindness can accomplish much.  As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”  – Albert Schweitzer
  11. “Just imagine how different the world could be if we all spoke to everyone with respect and kindness.”  – Holly Branson
  12. “I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”  – Khalil Gibran.
  13. “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.”  – Samuel Johnson
  14. “Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.”  – Theodore Isaac Rubin
  15. “Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.”  – George Sand
  16. “I make mistakes daily, letting generalisations creep into my thoughts and negatively effect my behaviour.  These mistakes have taught me that the first step to successfully choosing kindness is being more mindful about it, letting go of impatience and intolerance along the way.”  – Daniel Lubetzky
  17. “The true greatness of a person, in my view, is evident in the way he or she treats those with whom courtesy and kindness are not required.”  – Joseph B Wirthlin
  18. “Human kindness have never weakened the stamina or softened the fibre of a free people.  A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”  – Franklin D Roosevelt
  19. “Transparency, honesty, kindness, good stewardship, even humour, work in business at all times.”  – Humphry Davy
  20. “The man who practices unselfishness, who is genuinely interested in the welfare of others, who feels it is a privilege to have the power to do a fellow creature a kindness – even though polished manners and a gracious presence may be absent – will be an elevating influence wherever he goes.”  – Orison Swett Marden
  21. “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”  – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
  22. “Treat everyone with respect and kindness.  Period.  No exceptions.”  – Kiana Tom
  23. “Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you may as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.”  – Rebecca Solnit
  24. “The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”  – William Wordsworth
  25. “You will never have a completely bad day if you show kindness at least once.”  – Greg Henry Quin
  26. “Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.”  – Harold S Kushner
  27. “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”  – Bob Kerney
  28. “Strong people don’t put others down…they lift them up.”  – Michael P Watson
  29. “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”  – James Keller
  30. “Do not let kindness and truth leave you.  Tie them around your neck as a reminder; write them deep within your heart.”  – Proverbs 3:3
  31. “Consistent acts of kindness trump random acts of kindness.”  – Anonymous

How have you tried to be kind to yourself or others this month?  What about going forward?  Let me know in the comments.

 

Working with Endo: What to Wear

CW: maternity, weight gain, gendered language

I’ve written before about the difficulties of holding down a job whilst living with endo. Re-reading that post is an interesting experience. I was still in litigation, and specifically said that my health might force a move into policy – an area that, at the time, I had no interest in. Well, that prediction sadly came true, in part. My health did force me to leave litigation, but it turns out policy is actually pretty fun.

I’ve also written before about clothes that are comfy yet not terrible for when you have endo. I want to revisit that topic today, but with a work focus. I’m concentrating on offices here, partly because that is what I know and partly because many non-office careers either come with uniforms, dress codes or special requirements (steel-toe boots, for example).

If you want to look at some more adventurous office ideas, I highly recommend Miss Louie’s various lookbooks (see here and here ). She has so many great ideas on professional yet interesting outfits. If you need to travel for work, head over to this post by Vintage Barbie. I’d also recommend her post on maintaining your own style in a corporate world.

So, without further ado, here are my five office staples for the office worker with endo belly:

1) The well-fitted knickers

Ok, so this applies to literally any outfit, officey or otherwise, but it is so important. Whether you have endo or not, you generally want to avoid the dreaded Visible Panty Line (not terribly professional). It’s not always easy in a world that seems to sell an inordinate amount of cheeky-cut undies that have their leg at that annoying mid-point that just cuts your buttock right in half. If you have been even slightly blessed in the booty, this tends to cause a slight dimple and becomes very obvious under even moderately tight clothing. I also find that they cause me to be making adjustments all day. If you really love a halfway-up-the-butt cut, go for seamless ones that just lie on the buttock rather than gripping and digging in. Cuts that simply won’t cause those lines are G-string, or my personal fave, the granny pants, that cover the entire buttock. In theory, boyleg undies shouldn’t do it either, but boyleg appears to mean different things to different brands and for many, still somehow results in a cheeky cut.  If someone has a recommendation for boyleg undies, with, you know, actual legs, please let me know in the comments.  I just want boxer briefs for people with nothing between the legs.  They look so comfy!

In terms of fitting for endo, you want something that is gentle on the tum. For some, this means a very low cut that lands below the tummy. For others (like me), this means a high cut with a gentle waistband. I highly recommend keeping at least one pair of maternity knickers on hand for the really bad days. I’ve started wearing some maternity things and seriously, the comfort level is out of this world.  Overall, my favourite brand has to be Bonds and their offshoot, Jockey, because they have a style for almost everyone.

Whatever style you choose, make sure you are getting the right size. Too big and you’ll be hoisting them up all day. Too small, and you’ll not only get VPL on both the legs and waistband, you’ll also be in a great deal of discomfort. Compression is the enemy of endo (another good reason to get fantastic knickers, as shapewear is not our friend). It is worth getting a few sizes if you often suffer endo-belly. A 12 is good for me most days, but on a flare day a 14 is just a bit more comfortable and accomodates that rapid expansion much better. Endo can also cause rapid weight changes – I’ve gained nearly two sizes in the past few months – so having bigger or smaller sizes on hand is an annoying necessity. If you gain weight, please don’t keep stuffing yourself into knickers that are too small. You’ll be horribly uncomfortable. It might be upsetting to have to accept that you have gained weight, but making yourself uncomfortable won’t help.

2) Elastic-waisted black trousers

Black trousers are a corporate essential. You can dress them down for casual Friday, but you can’t be caught short being insufficiently formal for a meeting or presentation. When I was in litigation I always had a pair of black trousers in my desk drawer just in case, after getting sent to court with very little warning wearing a skirt that was fine for a client-free day in the office but absolutely not ok for court.

I have multiple pairs of black trousers in a variety of styles – wide leg, boot cut, straight leg, high-waisted, etc – but the most important one in an endo-gal’s arsenal is a pair with an elastic waistband. They are so good on those days where a static waistband looks like Satan and you just want really just want comfort and a super easy outfit.  I recently purchased this pair from Target, which don’t look superb in the website picture but look perfectly acceptable on and are very comfy.  The only downside is that you can’t really tuck things into it, because the waistline does look a little cheap and, well, very obviously elasticised.  That being said, I want another pair.  One comment says that they are great for shorties, but they fit my 5’10” frame just fine as an ankle-grazing style.  For $15, they are well worth it.

3) A stretch black pencil skirt

A black pencil skirt is, just like the black trousers, an office necessity.  You can make it casual with a simple t-shirt and flats, or dressed up with a buttoned shirt or silky blouse.  A pencil skirt is the most formal style of skirt, much as I love my flared midi-skirts.  Thing is, of course, you don’t want just an elastic waist with such a clingy style – you want stretch EVERYWHERE.  You don’t want it to be tight or compressing, either – you want one that just skims everything and sits comfortably.  I recently got this one, also from Target, that fits the bill perfectly.  It looks very smart, and doesn’t dig in at all.  I wore it on a work trip to Melbourne that included flights, taxi rides, a seminar, walking all over the place, and Lord of the Fries.  It doesn’t look terribly cheap, and it doesn’t look immediately like its a stretch fabric as opposed to an ordinary suit skirt.  It’s a good length for me but would also be fine on a slightly shorter or taller person too.

4) Good tights

The holy grail of workwear for a skirt-wearing type.  They hide a multitude of issues – dry patches or those little bits I miss when shaving – and just add a level of polish and sophistication.  They also put a barrier between your foot and your shoe, which helps prolong the life of your shoes.  They are required in many more conservative law firms if you wear a skirt, particularly if you appear in court.

They are a nuisance, though.  Despite my extremely extensive wardrobe, I sometimes feel like I’ve spent more on tights than any other type of clothing.  Thick ones are too warm in summer, but sheer ones rip at the drop of a hat.  So many have built-in slimming, which is fun if you don’t have endo, I’m sure.  I find those very painful.

However, there are tights out there that are both comfortable and not prone to laddering.  I always look for tights that, when damaged, get holes rather than ladders.  A hole just sits there.  It doesn’t look great, but, unlike a ladder, it won’t start at your thigh and have ruined your entire leg by lunch time.

I also look for those with words like “comfort brief”, “wide waist-band” or “no dig”.  If those fail me, maternity tights are always an option.  I got a bunch of these Kayser tights on sale a few weeks ago, and they are saving my life (or at least my tum) at the moment.  Very comfy, and they hole rather than ladder.

5) A slouchy blazer

I love a structured blazer.  I feel amazing in a properly fitted suit jacket.  Sometimes, though, everything hurts and you need to be able to flop in your chair and not feel constrained.  For that, I love a looser, less structured blazer like Review’s Aries jacket, or a completely jersey blazer.  I got one from Kmart that looks surprisingly professional when not covered in cat hair, but I can’t find it anywhere on their website.

This is less of a “must have” than the other things, but a jacket really does finish off an office outfit and is great for turning a casual outfit into an office-appropriate casual Friday outfit.  Endo sufferers may not need a slouchy jacket, but I find that, when I’m having a really difficult day, pain-wise, being comfy everywhere makes a huge difference to my ability to tolerate it.  A stiff jacket looks amazing but saps my spoons, so I feel that a relaxed blazer deserves a spot on this list.

Now, I realise this list sounds super boring.  Basics usually are.  To prove, though, that these pieces are important, I am going to do a week in the trousers and a week in the skirt, wearing them different ways, and including a slouchy jacket at least once in each week.  As someone who spends 5 days a week in business or business casual, though, these basics are incredibly important to allowing me to get through the week with a minimum of pain and discomfort.  I don’t need to rely on them every day, but having them there makes all the difference for those days when I am well enough to go to work, but only if everything else in my life is 100% easy and comfortable.

I’m planning a few more posts themes related to this.  In addition to my proposed “comfy work clothes” lookbooks, I want to talk about about how I have coped with my sudden weight gain, and what I keep in my handbag and at my desk to make work easier for me when I’m struggling.  Are there any other work, clothes or body-image-related posts you want to see?

 

The Perfect Disabled Person

Hi everyone.  Sorry that it’s been so long since my last post – particularly unfortunate given that it is Endometriosis Awareness Month.  I was struck down with a bout of gastro and writing was the last thing on my mind.

As part of Endometriosis Awareness Month, Buzzfeed has been running a series of articles raising awareness about endo.  One of them is “Things You Shouldn’t Say to People with Endometriosis.”  I’ve written on this before here, here and here, and given some suggestions about things to say instead here, so it’s always interesting to hear things other people are sick of hearing.

The Buzzfeed article, written by Lara Parker, is fairly tongue-in-cheek.  She gives some brief explanations about why you shouldn’t say these things, but she also writes how she would like to respond when these questions are asked.  It made me snicker.

Unfortunately, the responses on Buzzfeed’s facebook page and on the article were deeply disappointing, mostly from people who obviously do not get it and can’t be bothered to try, and even some from people with endo who apparently forget that we are allowed to be a little bit upset and annoyed about this horrific disease and people being arses about it.

People of colour in majority white societies have often noted the pressure to be the “perfect minority” – the model for all their race.  If they do a wrong thing, it just goes to show that “all people of X race are like that”.  I think there is a similar-but-different pressure on disabled and chronically ill people.  Whilst we aren’t required to represent the whole demographic the way people of colour are, there is a pressure to be this “ideal” disabled person.

What does the ideal look like?  Basically, inspiration porn.  Preferably, they were able-bodied and had a promising future, but they lost something – usually their ability to walk – in a horrific accident.  Doctors said they would never move again, but they regained use of their arms and took up Olympic paragliding, spouting mantras such as “the only disability is a bad attitude!”  They overcome every obstacle that a world built for able-bodied people creates for them rather than asking that maybe the world undergo some reasonable adjustments.  They are an inspiration to disabled people everywhere!  They teach lessons about the power of positivity!

They are a stick used to beat disabled people who are tired, cranky, depressed, or whom able-bodied people don’t think are trying hard enough.  “If they can do it, why can’t you?” And if a disabled person suggests that perhaps that isn’t actually the best attitude, we are rude, unhelpful, and bitter.

Here’s some examples of comments on the article:

So you don’t want us to try and relate to you, or feel sorry for you? After what you wish we didn’t say, maybe add something saying what we SHOULD say. This is such a negative post.

 

This is a tad aggressive. I understand that it is frustrating to live with a chronic illness that has no cure and limited treatment options, but I think people suggesting options to help your pain is clearly out of trying to help ease your pain and out of caring. If you’re going to get that upset every time someone tries to offer you a helpful suggestion (even if it might not be helping) than you must have a terrible attitude. Especially regarding the questions of “can you have children with this condition?” I think it’s safe to say a person asking you this is probably trying to understand your condition and the implications of it. Sounds like the person who put this article together needs a therapist.

 

What a bitter way to look at the wolrd, I think a lot of times its our instinct to try and help people we care for. So even if I’m sure it’s been suggested to you, you have to look at it from positive angle, this person is suggesting something because they care about you and wants to help you. I have endo and while I know our journey is different, I can relate to all the suggestions but every time someone gives me one, as silly as it is, I can see in their eyes that all they want is to figure out how to make you feel better. How can you be so upset about that.

 

A tad aggressive…. I have a few unseen conditions too and if people offer some advice I simply say thank you or thanks I’ll look into it. No more no less….”

 

Here’s a thought…. If you don’t want anyone to comment on your illness / problem, don’t bring it up to begin with. If you just keep it to yourself, like most people do with their health problems, others won’t have any reason to comment or suggest anything. Rather than get on here and bitch that people are suggesting things, just shut up all the way around and it will solve all your problems before they even have a chance to start.”

 

Here’s what I think able-bodied people who say this kind of thing don’t get: most of it.  Possibly all of it.  But specifically:

  • That relating to us or feeling sorry for us is all well and good, but it doesn’t come in the form of suggesting we try yet another fad diet, or that we should be fine if we have this treatment because it worked for their cousin’s girlfriend.
  • That sometimes we get sick of people making unsolicited suggestions and rude comments, or asking really personal questions, and we are allowed to be frustrated that people actually seem to think that this is ok.
  • That this is not the same as aggression.  Passive-aggression, perhaps, but like most people, we really have to be pushed to breaking point before we morph into some sort of were-beast and start tearing faces off.
  • That the questions and comments stack up.  We might be hurt or frustrated by a single question that, however well-intentioned, is invasive, rude or dismissive, but that when you get them all the time, it is hard to stay calm and patient.
  • That intention is not the same as impact.  Someone could care deeply about me and my pain, but if they are asking a string of really personal questions or insisting that I would be fine if I tried the keto diet, their intention doesn’t matter as much as the impact it is having.  And surely, if they care, they would care about my feeling on the subject too?
  • That we educate people about this all the time.  We are generally happy to explain what endo is, if it is the right time and place.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t get sick of having to do it again and again and again, or when someone starts demanding answers that a quick google search would provide when we just want to get on with our days.
  • That we don’t tend to bring our problems up out of context, and when we do, we are either looking for a specific solution, should as flexible work hours, or explaining why we can’t do a thing.  That doesn’t mean we want to be told to have a baby or a hysterectomy.  Also, we can’t shut up and take opportunities to educate people.
  • That endometriosis is utterly exhausting, physically and emotionally, and we cannot always be happy, positive, and polite.  There are some days I can’t even speak to people without literally feeling the conversation draining me of energy, however much I love the other person and enjoy the topic of conversation.

What I’d really ask people to do this March is to listen to us.  Listen when we say that things hurt or upset us, and listen to why.  Even if you don’t get it, please respect it, and understand that it’s not an attack on your freedoms or your character.  We’re just asking for a little bit of shush, or perhaps for you to say, “oh, that sounds awful,” and give us a hug or a nice cup of tea.

And don’t tell us to be more positive.

Courage, Dear Heart

William Tecumseh Sherman (a general in the American Civil War, among other things), described courage as “a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to endure it.”  I think that’s a good, if slightly narrow definition, as it takes courage to face hardship, humiliation and pain just as much as danger.  Either way, it’s a quality vital to the chronically ill.  It takes courage to live every day with discomfort and sickness.  That’s why it was my theme for February.  Below are all the quotes I’ve written in my journal this month.  My journal also helpfully inserted on of it’s own: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage” – Anais Nin.

I chose courage as the theme for February because I think we really start to need it now.  The first rush of hope that comes with the new year has faded and we are faced with the reality of life going on, as it does.  It can be a painful come-down from January, and I find myself needing a little bit of courage to push through it.

As with January and its theme of “hope“, I’ve tried for a range of quotes that capture a lot of different aspects of courage – what it means, how you get it, what it does, why it is important, and what things require it.

If you are wondering why the picture for this article is a handsome little black and white mouse on a luxurious red mouse-sofa, it is because that is my dear departed mouselet Napoleon, whose namesake was, whilst unfortunately French, undeniably brave.  My little mousey Napoleon was also extremely brave, and though trying to take on my rats (at least ten times his size, in one case) was a perfectly reasonable move.  He never actually managed to get them, and instead lived a life of luxury, got quite chubby, and died at the ripe old age of two and a half.  He was adorable and I loved him.

Anyway.  Courage.

  1. “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”  – Winston Churchill
  2. “It requires more courage to suffer than to die.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
  3. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu
  4. “Success is not final, fear is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
  5. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.   You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  6. “Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts.  That’s what little girls are made of.” – Bethany Hamilton
  7. “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” – Bruce Lee
  8. “We don’t develop courage by being happy every day.  We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Barbara de Angelis
  9. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what is takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill
  10. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e e cummings
  11. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
  12. “Efforts and courage are not enough with purpose and direction.” – John F Kennedy
  13. “Courage is grace under pressure.” – Ernest Hemingway
  14. “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” – Robert Green Ingersoll
  15. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T. S. Eliot
  16. “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.  We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest.” – Maya Angelou
  17. “Have the courage to say no.  Have the courage to face the truth.  Do the right thing because it is right.  These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” – W. Clement Stone
  18. “From caring comes courage.” – Lao Tzu
  19. “Courage is contagious.  When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” – Billy Graham
  20. “The truth is: belonging starts with self-acceptance.  Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” – Brene Brown
  21. “It took me realising that a broken heart has never actually killed anyone to find the courage to ask for what I want, in just about ever situation.  That was part of my own growing up.” – Ginnifer Goodwin
  22. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C. S. Lewis
  23. “Amongst the qualities a hero should have, I would include determination, loyalty, courage, perseverance, patience, focus, intrepidity, and selflessness.” – Ricky Martin
  24. “I believe that my worth is not measured by what I do, by the honours that are bestowed upon me, or by material wealth that I might obtain.  Instead, I am measured by the courage I show while standing for my beliefs, by the dedication I exhibit to ensure my word is good, and the resolve I undertake to establish my actions and deeds as honourable.” – Burgess Owens
  25. “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.” – Nelson Mandela
  26. “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” – Brene Brown
  27. “God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless.” – Chester W. Nimitz
  28. “Have courage and be kind.” – Cinderella

The hardest part about this list is keeping it to just 28.  There are so many things to be said on this theme.  Do you have a favourite?

Stay brave, my friends.  Come back next month for March’s theme: kindness.

February Gratitude

CW: pregnancy, body image

As I mentioned in January, one post I really want to try and commit to each month this year is a list of things I am grateful for.  It is actually quite challenging.  Although I’m generally a positive person who lives life at a level I would call “content”, and only occasionally swing into bouts of terror and sadness, this is quite a challenge for me, particularly since I want to put my animals and my family on every list and I have set myself the challenge to be grateful for new things every month.  Anything that stretches my ability to be grateful, however, I suspect is a good challenge.  Practice, after all, makes perfect.

1)  fLash Lash

This may sound terribly superficial, but since we’ve already established that I am I’m going to plough right ahead anyway.  My friend put me on to this lash serum.  I was really sceptical at first because the idea of a lash serum just sounds really gimmicky to me.  However, I’ve been using it for about a month now, and it works!  My lashes are actually longer.  I tried to take a before and after, but unfortunately my before is really blurry so it’s extremely hard to see any sort of difference.  The difference isn’t huge – certainly nothing as dramatic as the pictures on the website –  but it is noticeable, and I love it.  I will definitely be repurchasing this one.  (And no, sadly this is not a sponsored post and I do not get any money from spruiking the wonders of fLash Lash).

2) Maternity jeans

I’m not pregnant, but I am now a sworn devotee of maternity jeans.  I’ve never actually tried them before, although I have written about them as I know other endo-warriors who wear them.  Now I’m not sure I ever want to wear anything else.  I tried on this pair yesterday and was blown away.

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Image description: a pair of legs wearing black skinny jeans with a rip on each knee standing in a Scandi-style room with a white crib.  There is a wooden window seat next to the legs with a cream cushion and a grey throw.

They look like jeans, but they feel like leggings and they are so soft and comfy on the belly.  They are actually quite flattering, and I say this as someone who has always felt very self-conscious about the width of her hips in leggings and skinny jeans.  With a pair of biker boots they are positively badass.  Badass comfort – what more could you possibly want?  You could fight crime and look cool in these things.

3)  New friends

Whilst I still miss my friends from my old workplace, particularly my fLash Lash friend and another lovely woman who left a few months before I did, I am delighted to have found such incredible people at my new job.  They are mostly women, and they are all wonderful – friendly, helpful, chatty, hardworking, collaborative, and always up for a jaunt to the local coffee shop or grocer.  They’ve made me feel so at home.  Great colleagues make for a great job even when the work isn’t tops, and I love the work too, so it’s great all round.

4)  My employer’s attitude to disability

Although I have thankfully not had to put it to the test in a “I’ve only worked three hours in the last month” sort of way, my employer so far seems really pro-disability and supportive of disabled staff.  We get personalised desk assessments (everyone, disabled or otherwise) and if you have a pre-existing condition they get in a physio or other specialist to do it.  Mine has resulted in a better chair and an extra plug so I can have my electric heat pack plugged in at my desk.  This means no more awkward trips to and from the kitchen every forty minutes juggling a piping hot wheat bag that will be painfully hot at first and then cool down annoyingly quickly.  This hugely increases my ability to stay at my desk working.  It makes such a difference.

5)  Cool weather

I don’t do terribly well in the heat.  I am too white for days much above 30 degrees.  I like a gentle cool breeze on a warm 27-28 degree day.  English summers are largely perfect, in my eyes.  Summers here are dry and baking and seem to parch the moisture right out of you, except when it is stormy in which case they are hot and sweaty but still leave you really thirsty and dry on the inside.  Thankfully, February has largely seen a move to more gentle temperatures.  As I write this, we’re expecting a top of 24.  Perfect.  Love it.  I know I’ll be having the opposite feeling come winter, but right now I’m happy as the proverbial clam.

6)  Nice hair

It’s not always nice, but yesterday I got a haircut and now it’s just spiffy.  It’s great while it lasts and it makes me happy.  It smells nice, too.

7)  Adventurous tomatoes

I didn’t plant any tomatoes this year.  My plants just ran riot last year and I had more tomatoes than I could comprehend, so I thought I’d give them a miss this year.  Despite this, I have four or five tomato plants sprouting in the garden, including one that is growing in the cracks of the pavement again.  They are plucky and determined plants, and I’m actually pretty excited because I do like tomatoes.  I also have a single brave chili growing in my Vegepod.  I’d forgotten I even planted chillis (did I plant chillis?  Is it even a chilli?  We’ll find out when I cut it open, I suppose).

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Image description: my hand, holding six slightly oval little tomatoes.  One has a green stem on it.  There is dirt on some of them and on my fingers because they are fresh from the garden.

8)  Valentine’s Day

Like most people, I’m not a huge fan of the commercialism that inevitably springs up around days like this.  However, I am a fan of the idea of love persevering, and a brave man helping couples marry in secret.  I also like the reminder it brings to have a special date with my husband and take an evening to really cherish our relationship.  We’ve endured a lot together and it’s really important for us to make happy memories too.

9)  The Done app

As you may know from my previous mention of my dairies, I’ve switched from a bullet journal to a more traditional (but also very fullsome) planner this year.  One other thing I’ve done is make my habit tracker digital.  There’s an app called Done which allows you to track 5 habits for free, or as many as you like for $6.99.  I paid for the full suite.  I’m sticking to tracking my habits far more effectively when it’s on my phone, and it is actually easier to view trends there.

Image result for done app
Image description: text that reads, “Track any goal or Habit.  Track an activity multiple times a day, week, month or year.”  Beneath that is a grey silhouette of a phone.  On the screen it says, “Done”.  Beneath that are five bars.  A partially-filled yellow one says “Wake Up Early: 3.  This week, 03/04 mornings”.  A partially filled red one says “Workout: 5.  This month: 08/10 sessions.”  A partially-filled bright blue one says “Drink Water: 3.  Today: 04/08 glasses.”  A partially-filled lilac one says, “Meditation: 3.  Weekly: 02/03 sessions.”  A fully-filled blue one says, “Less coffee: 5.  Today: 00/02 cups max.”

When you have reached your goal for the day/week/month/whatever, the bar fully fills up.  The number on the right refers to your streak of how many days/weeks/months in a row you’ve managed the habit.  It’s quite motivating and really quick to do.

10) Finally getting over this cold (I hope)

This darn cold is dragging on and on and on, as they always do when you have an immune system as useful as the male nipple.  However, I think it might finally be going away.  I can feel something almost like energy waving a tentative hand in my direction, and my headache is only dizzying instead of catastrophic.  Progress!

 

 

Secondary Conditions: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I’ve written a lot about endometriosis.  I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis.  Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis.  Today, it’s myalgic encephalitis (ME), better known as chronic fatigue syndrome, aka CF or CFS.

Like most chronic illnesses, chronic fatigue can be mildly described as a massive pain in the posterior.  It’s exactly what it sounds like – extreme exhaustion that varies from sporadic to constant.  Have you ever had glandular fever, and had that dreadful, bone-aching exhaustion that drives you back to bed, on the verge of tears from sheer tiredness, just two hours after a 16-hour sleep?  I’m told its much like that.  In fact, chronic fatigue can often develop after a bout of glandular fever.  In other words, to describe CF as mere constant tiredness is inaccurate.  It’s crushing.  It doesn’t get better with rest, and it gets worse with lack of rest.  My own bout of glandular fever has given me a healthy fear of chronic fatigue.  I’ve never felt so horrific and disconnected in all in my life, and I only had it for nine months.  CF can be limited in duration, but it can also last for years, or for a lifetime.  Anyone of any age can contract it, even children.

This exhaustion may be the only symptom sufferers endure, but others may experience headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, light-headedness, aching muscles, joint pain, sore throats and tender lymph nodes, as well as trouble remembering, concentrating, or forming sentences (brain fog).  Unfortunately, most of these are also symptoms of glandular fever or even influenza, so it is worth speaking to your doctor to rule those two out.  Glandular fever can be confirmed with a simple blood test.  Indeed, excluding other conditions, such as anaemia, is the only way to arrive at a CF diagnosis, as there is no one test to confirm that you have it.

There’s also no known reason as to why people develop it.  Like most of the illnesses I’ve discussed in this series, it appears to affect those of the XX persuasion more than the XYs.  Its onset it sometimes linked to physical stressors, such as infections, imbalanced gut flora, and hormones doing wacky things, as well as just plain stress.  However, we’ve yet to identify a single factor that guarantees you’ll get it, and having any or all of the above doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to.

As you can imagine, the impact of severe chronic fatigue is devastating.  It can totally prevent normal socialising, normal functioning – normal anything.  It leaves people without the strength or energy to do much more than maintain the physical functions, and I’m told even that can be a stretch on bad days.  Even those less severely impacted suffer the impacts on their work and social life, particularly as it can strike at any time of day.  For those whose friends or family suffer it, prepare to extend a lot of patience, sympathy, grace, and practical assistance wherever you can.

So, what’s the good news?  Unfortunately, it isn’t that there’s a cure.  There isn’t.  There’s also no one treatment.  Really, the news isn’t that good.  Treatments are largely changing lifestyle factors – ensuring a healthy diet, planning your day around periods you tend to have more or less energy, pacing yourself carefully, and practising good sleep hygiene, including avoiding caffeine or naps late in the day.  Gentle exercise may help some, but for those who suffer Post-Exertional Malaise (an increase in exhaustion after activity) will probably not benefit.  Symptoms such as headaches etc can be treated with painkillers.

The most important thing, as I understand it, is having support.  Supportive friends, a supportive workplace, but most of all, support from people who get it.  I think that’s true of most chronic illnesses – to have even just one person who knows what it’s like can be a huge relief.

Do you have chronic fatigue?  What was the trigger for you in developing it?  Do you have any coping strategies you can share?  Let me know in the comments.

 

Secondary Conditions: Fybromyalgia

I’ve written a lot about endometriosis.  I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis.  Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis.  Today, it’s fibromyalgia, aka fibro, FM, or FMS.

Before I carry on, I just want to apologise for this post being a little tardy – I’ve been very sick with a nasty, persistent cold and some rather bad flare-ups, so I haven’t had any energy to spare for writing this week.  I suspect there will just be one post next week as well, so bear with me for a bit whilst I recover.

Of all the chronic conditions that people with endo often end up with, fibro is probably the one I fear the most.  The reason for that is that my endo pain is generally confined to my torso, and at worst may cause shooting pains in the legs.  Fibro is just pain everywhere.  All over.  Muscles, joints, bones, the whole shebang.  Imagine that – pain embedded in your skeleton.  It can be limited to just a few spots on the body, true, but it can also effect the whole body at once.  People who have fibro have described it to me as hellish, rendering them completely unable to move.

In addition to pain, it can cause such delightful symptoms as tingling, muscles that twitch, cramp or go suddenly weak, headaches, dizziness, generalised weakness, sensory overload, impaired concentration so bad you can hardly string a thought together (aka brain fog), insomnia, restless sleep, intolerance of hot or cold, stiffness, irregular periods, depression, bowel troubles, bladder issues and more.  Doesn’t it just sound like a hoot?

Of course, the best part is that, just like endometriosis, we don’t know what causes it, and there is no cure.  We do know that stress exacerbates it and there seems to be a link between onset and physical trauma, but not all physical traumas cause fibro and not all people who suffer from fibro have experienced a physical trauma.  We also know you’re more likely to suffer from it if you’re a woman (80-90% of sufferers are female).

Because of the wide variety of exciting symptoms, fibro can be difficult to diagnose.  There’s no conclusive test, even through surgery.  It’s mostly a case of ruling out other causes for pain.  Unfortunately, this can often result in delays of diagnosis for sufferers of fibro.

The treatment is also difficult.  Mostly, it’s lifestyle management, like identifying and avoiding triggers (difficult to do when triggers can be things like, well, moving).  Many doctors recommend physio and gentle exercise, such as water-based exercise, yoga, or tai chi.  It’s also recommended to eat well, avoid stress (lol) and get plenty of rest (extra lol). (I note that I am laughing at how they make that sound so easy, not the idea itself – lots of rest and minimising stress are important in battling any chronic condition). Unfortunately, some things that can cause flare-ups can’t be avoided, such as weather changes (yes, seriously), and travelling.

There are medical treatments as well.  Some people can get along well with panadol and ibuprofen, but others may need to resort to stronger drugs like pregabalin and gabapentin.  Like treatment for endo, it can get expensive quickly.

The connection between endo and adeno and endo and PCOS probably seemed quite logical, but why have I linked endo and fibro?  Well, because studies suggest people with endo are more likely to suffer from fibro.  We’re also more likely to get chronic fatigue, a condition we tend to have in common with fibro sufferers, and which I will be writing about next.

I live in deep admiration for people with fibro, especially those who also suffer from endometriosis.  I have a really hard time sometimes just dealing with one condition.  I know how deeply it impacts every aspect of my life, from my relationships to my job.  Fibro just seems like…what fresh hell is this?  I know how you get through it – you have to, and do you do – but I am in such awe of your strength and willpower.  Keep fighting, my friends.

Do any of my readers have fibro?  I would love it if you could share your experiences with diagnosis, treatments, and just life with fibro generally in the comments.

 

Secondary Conditions: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

I’ve written a lot about endometriosis.  I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis.  Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis.  Today, it’s polycystic ovarian syndrome, aka PCOS.

What is PCOS? Well, it’s a condition whereby the ovaries become enlarged and prone to cysts. Tiny little follicles grow on the ovaries, containing partially formed eggs that rarely grow to maturity or become fertile. The body produces too much insulin and androgen (a male hormone).

PCOS can cause weight gain, excessive hair growth on the body, hair loss on the scalp, depression, sleep apnea, acne, pain, infertility , increased likelihood of diabetes, and irregular periods.  It’s a nasty disease and the side effects (wrongly) carry a lot of social stigma.

Like adeno and endo, no one is really 100% sure what causes PCOS. It does appear to run in families and is more likely to effect women who are overweight, but neither of these is a guarantee of getting it, nor are slender people with no family history automatically exempt. What we do know is estimates suggest it could effect as many as 20% of people with ovaries of reproductive age, and often goes undiagnosed.

As with any disease where weight increase is both a symptom and increases the risk of either contracting the disease or exacerbating the symptoms, doctors will urge sufferers to make healthy lifestyle choices, particularly around diet and exercise. Not for a moment will I pretend this is a bad idea.  Sufferers can achieve significant relief from symptoms with only a small amount of weight loss (which sounds a lot easier than it is when your own body is fighting you every step of the way).  However, I do urge people not to allow doctors to attribute everything to their weight and offer no other assistance. Hormonal treatments can also be an important part of dealing with PCOS, both to block and to raise different hormones.

It’s also a good idea to have a mental health professional as part of your treating team. Dealing with difficult symptoms that our society wrongly but consistently perceives as “gross” or symbolic of laziness is hard enough. Dealing with a disease that also can cause depression is an extra battle you shouldn’t have to fight alone.

Before you can start to be effectively treated, however, you need to be diagnosed. There is no 100% guaranteed method of diagnosis. Scans may show cysts on your ovaries, but you can have ovarian cysts without having PCOS. Likewise, you can have PCOS but not have anything visible on scans. You can also have blood tests that will look at hormone levels in your blood to see what, if anything, is elevated.  Like endo, though, it can just be a lot of guesswork and diagnoses are often based purely of reported symptoms.

Endometriosis and PCOS, unfortunately, often travel in packs, and it is relatively common to have both.  However, plenty of people only deal with one or the other.  I’m lucky enough not to have had to deal with PCOS. I have friends, acquaintances and possibly family members with it, and their experiences have ranged from annoying to devastating. Have any of my readers experienced PCOS? What was your path to diagnosis?  If anyone wants to write a guest post about how PCOS really feels on a day to day basis, I’d love to publish it.

Secondary Conditions: Adenomyosis

I’ve written a lot about endometriosis.  I’ve also written about some of the “side-effects ” people with endo often suffer, such as back pain, digestive issues, and gastritis.  Now I want to write a little series on other chronic conditions that often appear alongside endometriosis.  Today, it’s endometriosis’ sister, adenomyosis.  

A week ago I mentioned that I have a tentative diagnosis of adenomyosis. My doctor suggested this after surgery has failed to resolve my pain and swelling despite all endometriosis having been removed and nerve pain being largely ruled out. He is the first to suggest that adenomyosis may be mucking around in my uterus.

But what is adenomyosis, aka adeno?

Well, you know how endo is when endometrium-like material grows wherever it wants instead of where it should? Adenomyosis is where it grows inside the uterine wall. Not inside the uterus, where it could be handily dug out, but inside the muscle wall itself.

Image result for adenomyosis
Image description: a diagram of a normal uterus next to a uterus with adenomyosis in the uterine wall.  Image credit: https://step2.medbullets.com/gynecology/120209/adenomyosis

I’m told it’s in the name – adeno (gland), myo (muscle) and osis (condition).

Like endo, adeno can only properly be diagnosed through surgery, although symptoms, transvaginal ultrasounds and MRIs can all offer diagnostic clues.

Symptoms are similar to those of endo – bleeding, pain, swelling. The usual culprits. It usually appears hand in hand with endo, but not always. You can have just one or the other. It can also be masked by the presence of endometriosis. The possibility of me having it wasn’t even raised by doctors until we were sure all my endo was gone and I was still having pain.

Unfortunately, the fact that it is buried inside the wall of an organ is problematic when it comes to treatment. Endo, at least, only requires the sufferer to have some holes bored in their abdomen so surgeons can get into the pelvic cavity. On the plus side, adeno can be cured by a hysterectomy, unlike endo. Other treatments include IUDs, menopause, and keyhole surgery.

Surgery itself comes in a variety of forms for adeno. As mentioned, there’s a full-blown hysterectomy (typically a last resort). Another option is uterine artery embolisation, or UAE, which blocks the two main arteries supplying blood to the uterus. With these blocked, bloodflow is significantly reduced (although not totally inhibited) and the adeno is also starved of blood. It’s not a cure and it may require repeat surgeries.

The other option is myometrium resection, or adenomyoma resection, which focuses on the removal of large clumps of adeno, known as adenomyoma. Unfortunately, it targets only those clumps and won’t get tiny bits scattered across the uterus. It can improve pain and fertility, but also carries the risk of the uterine muscle being torn or weakened, and may increase the risk of miscarriage. As usual, all our treatment options are an exercise in trade-offs.

What causes it? Well, like endo, that is something of a mystery. Current wisdom indicates that some type of trauma to the uterus, such a childbirth or surgery (such as removal of endometriosis) can encourage it. Isn’t that a fun piece of irony?

All in all, there’s a lot of similarities with endometriosis, and not in a good way. To most endometriosis sufferers, I suspect being told they also have adenomyosis will just feel like another hurdle in a very long and bumpy road rather than a new road altogether. For others, it will be devastating news – here’s another lifelong illness.  I’ll admit I shed some tears.

For me, the next step is to get my pain more under control and confirm the diagnosis so we can respond as effectively as possible. I’ll keep the blog updated on how things go.

Do any of my readers also suffer adeno, or suffer it without endo? What have your experiences been? I’d love to learn more as I’m very new to this.