June Gratitude

I feel like I’ve prefaced every monthly gratitude post recently with a note that it’s been a hard month.  Once again, though, it has been.  My Prostap injections have stopped working – my doctor thinks this one was a dud – so I’ve been dealing with a solid month of pain accompanied by a really icky cold (lots of lovely mucus – yay!).

I think this makes it even more important that I take a moment to stop and think about the things this month that I am grateful for.

1)  Cake!

I successfully baked three really nice cakes this month.  One was a packet mix, so I can’t be too proud of it, but seriously, if you want a deliciously moist, rich, vegan chocolate cake, just add a can of Coke to the stuff in Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food Cake and bake it, and voila, instant deliciousness.

I also made this funfetti cake from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.  Unfortunately, my sprinkles vanished into the cake and just left little blobs of yellow behind, but the cake itself was delicious, and I’m really proud of the rainbow icing.  Sure, it has some holes in the bottom layer, but it’s the first time I’ve ever tried to get fancy with buttercream, so I’m proud of myself.

Rainbow Cake (2)
Image description: a violently rainbow cake with colours ranging from red at the bottom through the rainbow to purple at the top.  It has rainbow sprinkles on top and is sitting on a silver plate in a fridge.  Please excuse the shocking photography – the bright light in the fridge was the only place I could really capture the intense colour.  

My third cake was for my mother’s birthday, and was the tastiest of the three.  I used this incredible, zingy lemon cake recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen.  I cooked it slightly too long but it still turned out really well – very soft and fluffy on the inside and soaked in sweet lemony flavour.  Definitely a “make again”.

2)  Basketweaving

My workplace celebrated Reconciliation Day last month by holding Aboriginal basketweaving classes for employees, taught by an Aboriginal woman who travelled out on country to learn the techniques and is sharing them with us.  It’s really relaxing and it’s nice to have something to do with my hands when I’m watching tv or listening to an audiobook.  I’m trying to make a basket for Max, which is a little tricky because he is a) fat and b) prone to eating the materials I use, but I’m pushing through.

3) Max is ok

IMG_7842.jpg
Image description: a fluffy ginger cat with green eyes and a slightly angry expression.  That’s Max.  He’s not actually angry, he just has a resting bitch face.  He’s so chill that today he let me pull him down onto his side and rub his tummy for a good ten minutes.  For many more Max pics follow my instagram – OffBalanceSpinningTop.  

Last month I wrote about how Max had to have dental surgery.  He’s all recovered from that now, but gave me a scare this month when I found blood in his urine.  After a rushed vet visit and some medication, it turns out he probably just had sterile cystitis, and is back to peeing normally (i.e. not on all my nice blankets) and no longer in pain.  That’s a huge relief.

4)  A good boss

Chronic illness is terrifying, particularly when you love your job and want to earn the respect of colleagues you admire through hard work, but have to take off unreasonable amounts of time due to situations like my current Prostap issue.  I am still super stressed about it, but less stressed than I would be if my amazing boss wasn’t so good about this whole poopy situation.

5) Fulfilling a goal

One of my three goals this year was to read the Old Testament.  I have officially finished it.  I’ll admit, it mostly wasn’t thrilling.  The prophecy books (Isiah, anything after Jonah) are mighty confusing unless you have some reference material to explain what the heck they are talking about.  Lots of doorways getting measured and people dying of famine and then everything getting better and people being happy again.  I really enjoyed the books with strong female characters, though – Ruth, Esther, the early parts of Judges – and some of the books, like Lamentations, have some truly beautiful imagery.  There’s a lot of good stuff in Psalms and Proverbs, too.

Anyway, I’m proud of finishing it.  I’m on track to fulfil Goal 2 (getting SCUBA certified) next month, even if I’m doing really poorly with Goal 3 (learning Arabic).

6) Pretty dresses

Image result for review australia chateau floral
Image description: a beautiful brunette girl (not me, although I am also a beautiful brunette girl) in a burgundy dress with purple and pink flowers on it.  This is Review’s Chateau Floral dress, and I love it.  Photo by Review.  

This month has been all about the comfort clothes.  Maternity jeans, turtlenecks, flowing trousers.  Today, I realised I haven’t worn an item of clothing just because I love it for a very long time, and that makes me sad.  So, I made an effort, grabbed one of my absolute favourite dresses (pictured above), and wore it just because.

7) Clean water

It’s a simple thing to be grateful for, but it’s so important.  Clean water is one of the greatest guarantees of health (in terms of freedom from things like cholera, anyway, if not from endo) and is vital to sustaining life.  It also tastes good.  If I’m thirsty, I can just turn on the tap.  People in Flint in the USA still don’t have clean water after years of complaints, and that is in the very developed world.  People in other parts of the world have to walk for miles to get water, and today I literally bathed in litres of it.  A few weeks ago, I went for a swim in a 50m pool.  That’s more water than some people will ever see.  Even in Australia, animals and people suffer every time there is a drought.  Clean water is something we cannot take for granted or be sufficiently thankful for.  Clean water is life.

8) Assassin’s Creed

Image result for assassins creed 2
Image description: the torso and head of a man in white Renaissance clothing with a red fancy sash and silver belt, a brown cloak and two knives sticking out of bracers on his wrists.  The text says: Assassin’s Creed II

I finished the first Assassin’s Creed game some time last year after literally years of procrastinating, and I loved it.  This month, after slightly less time, but still a lot of procrastinating, I finished the second one.  The first one sees you play an Assassin in the Middle East during the Crusades; in the second, you are in Renaissance Italy.  Both games are heaps of fun and absolutely stunning.  Seriously, the detail that goes in to creating the huge cities that these games are set in makes them worth playing even if you don’t want to stab lots of bad guys and save innocents from corrupt guards.  I so badly want to go it Italy now.

9) One year

I’ve been writing this blog for one whole year now.  I’ve been up and down with it – it’s really hard when I’m not well, because my motivation and creativity take a big hit – but I have stuck to it.  I have more than 100 followers, and I’m super grateful to each and every one of you.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I see someone like an article.  Please keep on liking and sharing, and let me know in the comments if there is any particular content you want to see more of.  I want to keep this blog relevant to the experiences of people with endo, adeno and chronic pain, and it really helps me to know what people want to read.

10)  Today

Sundays are really difficult for me, because I spend a lot of time stressing about how I’m going to get through another week, and how exhausted I will be when I have to get up at 6am, and whether I’ll even be able to fit into my clothes tomorrow.  Today I woke up especially depressed and I kept getting worse.  However, I managed, largely thanks to my husband, to pull my socks up (actually I wore tights, but whatever), put on my pretty dress and do my face and hair, leave the house, breathe some fresh air, buy the vitamins I’ve been neglecting, and eat some good food and drink some delicious hot apple cider.  It was really, really hard to actually do that, but I did.  I’m proud of that.

 

What are you grateful for this month?  Have you baked anything delicious lately?  Share in the comments.

The Financial Impact of Endometriosis

Last year, the SBS programme Insight did a segment on endometriosis, estimating that it costs Australia at least $7.7 billion per year.  Our problem uteruses (uteri?) are bad for the economy.

The impact at an individual level, though, is arguably far more devastating.  Not in dollar amounts, perhaps – the idea that I would ever lose out on $7.7 billion dollars is estimating just a smidge high – but in terms of what it costs us as a percentage of our expenses.  Now, as another financial year winds to a close, seems a perfect time to discuss that.

(I want to apologise if I’m slightly incoherent.  I have another cold and I’m muddle-headed, dizzy, nauseated and slightly rambly, and my hands keeps trembling so I’m making some exciting typos.)

I don’t have super statistics about what endometriosis costs each sufferer.  I can only really talk about how it effects me, and the anecdotes I hear from others in the community who mention missing work, having to quit jobs, etc.

For me, missing work is by far the biggest impact.  I burn through any paid sick leave I have extremely quickly.  If it isn’t endo pain, it’s an infection or illness because my overburdened immune system can’t stand up to even the most pathetic germs.    That means that on days I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  Currently, my Prostap injection has failed me, and I’m home sick yet again because I can barely stand up and I’m so swollen that clothes actually hurt.  Also, the abovementioned cold.  I’ve made it to work one day this week.  That means I’m looking at another pay cycle at effectively half pay.

Of course, for sufferers who can’t work or can only work part-time or in casual roles, the financial impact is even worse.  I’m very lucky to have a good job with a good wage.  Many people can’t say the same.  Some have the fight of their lives to try and get the Disability Support Pension, which is not much, and have to live off Newstart in the meantime, which I understand is considerably less and puts you below the poverty line.

Regardless of whether I get paid or not, the cost of my Prostap is $358 every six weeks.  I’m fortunate enough to have private health insurance, so I get $100 back.  (It’s worth noting that Prostap is on the PBS if you have prostate cancer, so it will only cost $48 then.  If you have endo, no PBS benefits for you).  Add to that the cost of the hormone replacement therapy, which is $50-$100 monthly depending on the pharmacy.  I have actually stopped taking it because I didn’t find it that helpful, but it was an additional cost for several months.

Then, of course, there is the cost of surgery.  If you pay privately, you are looking at thousands.  If you go on the public waiting list, you could be waiting over a year depending where in Australia you are – more time with more pain and therefore more lost income and more money spent on pain management.

In between surgeries, there are multiple appointments with doctors and specialists.  Bulk billing doctors are a treasure, but if you can’t get those and don’t have a healthcare card, it’s usually at least $40-$50 per visit after the Medicare rebate.  If you need to keep going to the doctor to get medical certificates, new prescriptions or things like injections (such as Prostap or Zoladex) that adds up very quickly.  I’ve put off doctor’s visits and even buying medications before because of the cost.

Tax time is generally the only time you get a break.  My absences usually result in me being overtaxed and getting a bit back at tax time, but that’s one lump sum a year.  If I get anything back this year, it will be going straight to paying off some debt, and anything left over I will spend on wild items like moisturiser, because I’m currently scraping dregs out of jars rather than spending out on something like that that I view as a luxury, even though my face might crack and fall off without it.

I do want to finish on a slightly more positive note, though.  These are some methods I have used to try and minimise the impact on my savings.  They won’t work for everyone – you have to a) have savings, and b) have enough to put into them – and I’m by no means a financial planner, so please don’t take them as gospel.  I acknowledge my privilege here in that I am relatively well-off, and I beg you not to try and do things you can’t afford because of the idea that if you aren’t saving you’re a terrible adult.  If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.

1)  I budget by percentages and priorities, not dollar amounts

I carefully budget what my pay will go towards.  However, because I can’t guarantee I’ll be getting the same amount each week, I allocate percentages rather than figures.  If I say I have to put $500 towards savings a week (a pipe dream even at full pay) then I’m going to be struggling when I need to pay for petrol and groceries but only got paid $600.

My biggest percentage goes towards the mortgage, with smaller percentages for my savings account (to be touched only as a last resort), my emergency account (to be drained before I touch my savings but only if I have nothing left in my spending account), and charity (I can’t engage in much else in the way of service or activism, and giving to charity is a vital part of helping me feel like I’m making a difference despite that, so it’s non-negotiable).  I budget a particular percentage for paying off debt, but since it is to my parents and they are Very Nice People they are happy for me to not repay them if something else comes up like a vet bill (thanks Max) or unexpected medication or a small pay, so I have a little leeway that fortnight.

2) I quarantine my savings

As described above, I have two savings accounts – one for actual savings, which gives me a higher interest rate as long as I make regular deposits and don’t remove money from it, and one for emergencies, which has lower interest but allows me to remove money as needed.  I top both up at each pay with the same amount, but will always take from my emergency account first.  If I don’t have to take from it, great, I’ll earn more interest than I would with the money in my spending account, but if I do, it’s there and not being spent on other stuff.

I have absolutely got to the point before where I’ve blasted through my spending account and my emergency account (usually when big bills coincide with big medical issues) and touched my savings before, but this helps minimise the chances of that happening.

Of course, if you don’t have the income to split like this, this may be a terrible idea.  If I get paid a really small amount, I will skip putting stuff in the emergency account and put it in savings instead.  If I get paid even less than that, neither account gets a dollar.  You’ve got to be flexible with any system and put the money where it needs to go.

3)  I pay attention to my super

I was lucky enough to attend a financial planning seminar for women in law last year, and one thing that was emphasised is that women, particularly young women, don’t pay enough attention to their super.  One the poorest demographics in Australia currently are old women, who often have very little or no super and who have not taken an interest (or not been allowed to take an interest) in their own financial matters.  You should always be in involved in your own finances.

In terms of super, the advice given was this – if you are with a solid super fund, which most industry funds tend to be, and you are many years away from retirement age, don’t be afraid to put some of your money (not all!) in the higher risk option for your super fund.  The risk is relatively low, because it isn’t all your money and you are many years away from needing it, and the payoff can be high.  As you get older, move it all into lower risk options.  This will hopefully maximise the amount you get at retirement in a way that doesn’t expose you to unnecessary risk.

I stress that this was advice given to me by financial planners, not something I’m just saying.  It is entirely at your own risk if you do this and I’m not personally advising it (or advising against it).  It is something I do, however, because I want a good retirement to make up for the difficulties I’m having now.  That’s when I imagine I’ll actually have the health to do fun stuff, and I’d like to have the wealth to back it up.  Don’t sue me if doing this fails for you.

4)  I do my best not to feel guilty when I can’t meet my financial goals

So, this one is no use as a savings tip, but it is super important.  Financial pressures are real and they suck.  Often we have to give up on things we want and abandon or delay savings goals in order to pay the bills or buy food.  I avoid articles about “how I paid off all my student debt and owned seventeen houses by the time I was 25!” because they are usually a) written by someone with no idea how privileged they are and b) make me feel bad, not motivated.  You really can only do your best.

 

How has endo affected your finances?  How do you do your best to combat it?  Let me know in the comments!

 

Lifeline’s Response

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to Lifeline about one of their Australian ads (you can read it here).  They have now responded.

The email reads:

“Thank you for providing your feedback about the Lifeline HOPE billboards.  I am so sorry that they have made you feel the way they do, this is certainly not our intention.  We had aimed to provide a strong message of hope, which is the undercurrent of all our communication campaigns.  To date, I have received plenty of positive feedback about this campaign, your feedback is the first negative, but it has weighed on me heavily. Thank you for taking the time.

The intention behind the poster was that people would see the ad and be encouraged to hold on with HOPE for whatever the reason may be that they need it.  In doing so, I had hoped to encourage a more compassionate Australia. For those in chronic pain, I had hoped to impart hope in the continuing advancement in scientific discovery and the dedicated medical teams who are working in the field. The furthest thing from my intention is to cause anyone harm or to experience isolation.

Ella, this ad placement has been provided pro bono, so I am unable to change where it is placed or how often.  I can give you the undertaking though that the next iteration of  posters I am given the opportunity to post I will ensure there is a different hopeful message.

I am sorry for the distress this has caused you, I hope my response will give you some solace.

Kind regards

Ina”

Ina is the National Manager of Communications and Public Affairs for Lifeline.

Whilst I still think the ad is deeply insensitive and demonstrates a lack of thought, and I don’t buy the “continuing advancement in scientific discovery” thing (anyone with a chronic illness knows that waiting for medical advances is about as hopeful as waiting for a tsunami in the Gobi Desert), I am gratified to have received a reply.  I also very much appreciate the apology.  I do hope that they bear the message in mind and give thought to those of us with chronic pain in future ad campaigns.

I strongly encourage anyone with the spoons to call out ableism or exclusion when they see it.  People without intimate experience of disability or chronic pain don’t even think to double check on whether their language or actions are inclusive – goodness knows I rarely did prior to actually having endometriosis and working to educate myself.  Every time we point it out is hopefully a time the other person goes away to think about it and takes the time to educate themselves and change their behaviour in future, and hopefully become an advocate for us as well.

Keep on keeping on, endo warriors.

Sorry for Being a Slacker

Hello, gentle reader.  I apologise for the lack of posts of late.  Like most people with a compromised immune system during flu season, I have managed to acquire myself my very own pet illness.

Thankfully, in this case, it isn’t flu.  It was a cold, and then it turned into another sinus infection, and it has just stayed that way for two weeks.  I anticipate that I will get at least one more before we kiss August goodbye, and I would not be surprised if I get multiple between now and then.

The super fun part of the infection, you’ll be surprised to learn, has not been the horrifically sore, swollen throat, the aching in my face that feels like goblins are trying to shove my eyes out of my sockets, or even the crushing exhaustion (I’m kind of used to that anyway).  It hasn’t even been the joint aches.

It’s been yet another disappointing encounter with a doctor.

I used to see this wonderful doctor at my local bulk-billing place who has consistently fixed every problem I have taken to him.  I trust him deeply.  Unfortunately, he only sees patients on a walk-in basis now, and I needed to actually book in.  I saw one doctor who is quite nice and who gave me the good antibiotics, but a week later I was still sick and getting worse so I went and saw another dude because the first doctor wasn’t available.

That doctor prescribed me weaker antibiotics, told me to use a treatment my favourite doctor had specifically told me was not beneficial and was possibly harmful, and then:-

  1. Said, “You don’t want a hysterectomy, we won’t do that for you” (I do want one);
  2. Told me there’s no need to go to the UK for a doctor because we have plenty of good ones here;
  3. Recommended a doctor who previously told me I couldn’t possibly have endometriosis so soon after my first surgery (I did);
  4. Told me that if my Australian specialist had refused to perform TPPE (he didn’t even know what it was) that’s because the surgeon knew what was best for me;

and just generally did his best to make me feel guilty about taking my medical care into my own hands with absolutely no understanding of what it took to do so.  Ok, that’s unfair – he was trying to be thorough and ensure that I was seeing someone for my endo – but he was unintentionally extremely condescending and made me feel like I had to defend my choices to change doctors and go to the UK to get surgery I literally could not get in Australia.

It’s another lesson in “if you don’t know the full story, stop judging.”

Yesterday I got sick of the weaker antibiotics not working and my sickness continuing to worsen, so I went as a walk-in and saw my favourite doctor.  He gave me the good stuff again.

Thank goodness for the good doctors.  Boo to the bad ones.

Save These For Future Use, Part 1

Last week I shared some quotable quotes I found on Pinterest about life with chronic illness.  Visitors to my Pinterest board, however, will also see more than just funnies and sads.  I like to save things that really capture some of the more difficult aspects of endo and chronic illness that I sometimes really struggle to articulate myself.  I’ve rounded up 10 of my favourites that you may find useful to keep around for when words fail you but you still need to explain something.  Because this post is very long, I’ve split it into two groups of 5.

Just a heads up – because I am doing image descriptions for all of these posts, this is going to look even longer than it is.  Just skip the descriptions if you don’t need them.

1)  A pain scale we can all understand

Chronic Pain Scale

With this image I’m just going to summarise the useful part, which is the pain scale (it’s surrounded by tumblr posts of people describing their issues with the conventional scale).

“10 – Unable to Move – I am in bed and can’t move due to my pain.  I need someone to take me to the emergency room to get help for my pain.

9 – Severe – My pain is all that I can think about.  I can barely talk or move because of the pain.

8 – Intense.  My pain is so severe that it is hard to think of anything else.  Talking and listening are difficult.

7 – Unmanageable.  I am in pain all the time.  It keeps me from doing most activities.

6 – Distressing – I think about my pain all of the time.  I give up many activities because of my pain.

5 – Distracting – I think about my pain most of the time.  I cannot do some of the activities I need to do each day because of the pain.

4 – Moderate – I am constantly aware of my pain but I can continue most activities.

3 – Uncomfortable – My pain bothers me but I can ignore it most of the time.

2 – Mild – I have a low level of pain.  I am aware of my pain only when I pay attention to it.

1 – Minimal – My pain is hardly noticeable.

0 – No pain – I have no pain.”

I know I’m not the only one who has gone to hospital, been asked what their pain is out of 10, where 10 is the worst pain imaginable, and thought, “how does this help anybody?”  My 10 is not the same as another person’s 10.  It doesn’t convey the actual effect of the pain on my body.  It doesn’t take into account that I have a really vivid imagination, so I’ll never rate it at 10 because it might get worse and then I’ve just broken the scale.  And is the scale linear or logarithmic?  HOW DOES IT WORK?

Now, I don’t think the scale above is perfect, but I think it might be really helpful for people with chronic pain to use as an outline for their own.  You could make a little flashcard and take it to hospital with you, so you can show it to medical professionals and make sure that you are on the same page about what the numbers mean.

In addition to making sure you and your treating team understand each other, it provides you with a consistent reference point, and it also helps demonstrate that you have actually thought about this and aren’t exaggerating.  Like many people with chronic pain, I push through it on a daily basis and the people around me have no idea that I am dealing with, say, a level 5.  My face doesn’t crack, my posture doesn’t slump.  I carry that through to hospital, where I am quiet and calm externally even though I can barely think.  I will giggle at things on facebook to distract me and make my mum watch cute cat videos with me.  I can fall asleep despite really bad pain, because pain is very exhausting.  I know that it consequently reads as me exaggerating when I say that my pain is an 8.  Having this scale allows them to know that I am not plucking numbers from thin air; I have outlined the effect the pain is having on me and made a considered decision about where it is.

Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if hospitals had charts like this so we know all the doctors are operating off the same scale?

2) What being able to work really means

A tumblr thread that reads:

mmmyoursquid: |People love to talk about whether or not disabled people can work 

but if you can work just fine and your disability is destrying your ability to have a life outsdie of work (because work takes all your energy and more)

Dead silence.  Nobody cares.”

eenymeenypia: “File this under, of you can be active for 4 hours? You can work part-time. Um no, I have to get ready for work (30 min) to get to work (15 min) get home from work (15 min) feed myself all day (30 min) maintain myself, my home and my life (15 min, yeah right), which leaves 15 min for work and absolutely nothing else.

chameleonchild: “This is so accurate, back after I’d relapsed I wanted to try and go in for one class at school so I could still stay in contact with the education system. I let slip during a meeting that I managed to drag myself to that I could manage about 4 hours aof activity a week, which the teacher sprang on to mean I was being lazy for just trying to get to 1 hour class. Never matter that it was 30 minutes travel, that I would have to get washed and dressed, that I would probably still need to recover for 3 days from it.  

Far too often abled people see the things they do as “non activities”, they don’t realise that for many disabled people these things have to be carefully planned and measured, and sometimes they simply can’t be done.

mmmyoursquid: “reblog bc the non activities thing seems really important words.”

I think this possibly sums up the concept of spoons in a way that is even more understandable for the average person.  On your average week, my life is to go to work as many days as I can manage, drag myself to the gym twice a week if I’m lucky, and spend the weekend recovering.  Some weeks I have to attend out-of-hours meetings (and some weeks I can’t manage it).  If I’m having a period of real wellness, I will join my husband in a daily dog walk.

Notice the things I’m not doing here – cooking, cleaning the house, or shopping for groceries.  Basic household stuff.  If I want to have a shower or bath, I’m definitely not walking the dog.  The only reason I manage to bath after the gym is because I get a temporary adrenaline high, which I often pay for afterwards.  I tend to only socialise on long weekends or when I’m having a really, really good week.

I am lucky.  I have more “useable hours” than many people.  However, I honestly don’t remember how I used to manage to do so much between leaving work and going to bed.  It baffles me that other people use their after work hours for more than resting and watching Star Trek.  Health and vigour seem like wonderful things.  I seriously worry for my fellow endo-warriors, though, who need to apply for the DSP, but can manage three hours of activity per day and are therefore assumed to be able to work three hours per day.  Our society puts far too much focus on productivity and not nearly enough on quality of life, even in our allegedly laid-back Australian culture.  The idea of lifters and leaners glorifies those who push through pain and exhaustion, and is of course perpetuated by those who don’t know what chronic pain and fatigue is actually like.

3) Changed lives

Image reads: “I think one of the most emotionally hard things to come to grips with, in terms of chronic illness, is wondering who I would have been without it.  I was walking a specific path that got 130% re-routed when I got sick.  And it feels like I’m in this bizarre, alternate, half baked version of my real life.  And as much as I desperately want to get back on the track I was on before, even more, I want to know where that path would have led.  Who would I have been?  What could I have been?  We always wonder what we’ll be when we grow up, and I feel like I was robbed of ever finding out.”

I think this is a really good way of explaining to people why chronic illness makes you sad.  You are in mourning for the person you could have been, or thought you were going to be.  I think it can be a tricky concept to explain.

I remember that my life was pretty much going the way I wanted until 2016, when my immune system basically packed it in and caused massive absences for around 4 months because I just got sinus infection after sinus infection, and then it carried into 2017 when my first operation went wildly wrong.  It delayed my progression from paralegal to lawyer, and then prevented my movement from civil lawyer who did family law stuff to full-time family lawyer, which was the course I wanted to take, and then took me out of litigation entirely at the end of last year.  Now I’m facing the possibility of a child much earlier than I wanted, followed by a hysterectomy.  Whilst I have enjoyed the new job, I would love to be able to go back to where those two futures branched off and see what lay down the path I couldn’t take.  Would I be making a name for myself as a good advocate?  Would children still be a distant one-day?  Would I have been able to travel the world like my husband and I wanted?

4) The in-between

it sucks too because nobody believes you. you are so alone and you have no peace no relief. At some point you even consider  suicide as your way to peace.

Image reads: “A chronic illness phenomenon

I think there’s this weird phenomenon in life, specifically in the chronic illness community.  It’s a place some of us get stuck in – the in between.  A place where you’re too sick to function in the “able world” but at the same time you seem to [sic] healthy for the chronic illness world.  You almost faint but you don’t.  You’re always in pain it’s relatively tolerable.  You’re not bad enough to qualify for surgery even though you’d benefit. You forget everything but you don’t lose time.  Your heart rate is too high to be normal but not high enough to be critical.  Your BP is low but not THAT low.  You try to find answers but seem relatively okay to doctors so they don’t want to run more tests.  You’re stuck in a place where you almost wish you were sicker so you could get helpful treatment.”  

This one goes out to everyone with endo who has been curled up on the floor with a heat-pack crying from pain, but hasn’t gone to hospital because they know doctors won’t really do anything.  This one is for everyone who has left an appointment feeling utterly invalidated or like they are over-exaggerating because their pain is just serious enough to change and ruin their lives, but not serious enough for the doctor to bother with.  This is for everyone who has wished that their ovary could explode or their uterus produce actual fireworks so that someone might take them seriously and help.

I’ve been in the in-between – I live there, I think – and it just sucks.

5) It is more than pain

Image reads: “It’s not the pain, it’s the not knowing when it’s going to stop, it’s the suffering, it’s the way people look at you as if you’re find, it’s the medical professionals not believing you, it’s the drug induced dulling of the senses, it’s the longing to do what you used to do, it’s the loss of mobility, the loss of dignity, the loss of self worth, it’s letting down your nearest and dearest when they need you, it’s the dark and lonely nights when sleep eludes you, it’s the long and lonely days when movement is difficult, AND then there’s the pain on top of it all”.  

Have you ever tried to explain what chronic illness is like to someone and then thought, I cannot possibly convey this?  I think this little post does it pretty well.  I don’t think people get that it is sooo much more than just pain.  I’ve had to take days off when my pain is actually relatively tolerable, because my other symptoms are just so overwhelming that I can’t function.  Fatigue is the biggest one.  I’ve had days where I have turned my alarm off and fallen asleep again before my hand has even left the button, and then woken up and been so exhausted I literally can’t move, even though I know that time is slipping away and I’m going to be late.  I’ve had to take days off where my drugs are working ok, but I’m experiencing all the horrible side-effects and I can’t act like a human being.  I’ve had to take days off where the pain is mild but the swelling is so huge I literally can’t bear the sensation of clothes pressing on it and so I couldn’t get dressed.  Once I had to turn up to work (when I was still in litigation) in a floor-length black maxi dress because it was the only thing I had that was loose enough not to cause problems but wasn’t pyjamas.  I couldn’t go to court or see clients, of course.

Chronic illness is a pile of problems, little and large, and one day I might just have to sit down and list them all out because I feel like that is the only way to properly explain the frustration of it.  In the meantime, I think this little tumblr post does a very good job.

 

I hope that this collation of posts and images will be helpful for you in conveying a better understanding of chronic illness to friends, family and treating teams on days when you can’t find the words yourself.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Biggest Difference Between Adenomyosis and Endometriosis – It’s Not What You Think

Massive CW for fertility, pregnancy, hysterectomy.

Brace yourselves, kids.  This one’s getting personal.

As you may know from recent posts, my formerly tentative diagnosis of adenomyosis is now officially confirmed.  Unlike my endo, which showed up on precisely no scans ever, my adeno showed up loud and proud at the top of my uterus on an MRI.

I’ve talked before about what adenomyosis is and how it differs from endometriosis.  The biggest difference for many is that adenomyosis can be cured by a hysterectomy, which endometriosis cannot.  That’s kind of what I’m getting at with this post, but also not.  It’s the results of that dissimilarity that has been the biggest difference for me.  For the first time, I’ve had to think really seriously about what I want from my future.

I’ve flirted with the idea of children before.  I mean, I am married, and in my late twenties, so it is something that many people would assume is the next natural step for me.  I’ve kind of always assumed I would end up with children, because it’s what you do, right?  You grow up, you meet a nice boy, you get married, you have two and a half children and a white picket fence.  The circle of life, etc.  At the same time, however, I have never been overly maternal.  I don’t get clucky when I see a baby.  I’m not all get-it-away-from-me – I can hold them competently enough, and I can entertain children for a few hours (it literally used to be my job, after all), but I never really felt the need to have one myself.  Add to that the fact that there are so many children in need of a good home, that our planet’s population is increasing at a rapid pace, that I could potentially pass these awful diseases onto a daughter, and that I really resent the idea of taking yet another hit to my career and to my body when both have already had to endure a great deal, and children just never became an immediate priority.

There’s also the fact that I’m terrified of pregnancy and childbirth.  It looks hard.  It makes your ribcage expand.  All these awful words like “episiotomy” and “tearing” get tossed around.  The thought of losing bowel control in front of a bunch of strangers, and worse, in front of my husband, also doesn’t appeal.  It’s undignified and painful, and I’ve had enough of both.

But now I have adeno.

As long as I had endometriosis I knew that I would have to make a decision on the topic at some point, because endometriosis *may* have an impact on my fertility.  My original plan of leaving it to my thirties was not one that various doctors have encouraged.  Still, I assumed I had time, and that at some point down the track some sort of maternal instinct might kick in, or I might at least feel a bit ready.  It hasn’t to date.

With adeno, however, suddenly the possibility of an outright cure is being dangled in front of my nose like a very shiny carrot.  One operation – albiet a serious one – and my pain could be gone.  My endometriosis is being managed so well by Dr Edi-Osagie that for the first time in years, the prospect of a fully pain-free life seems within my grasp.

Of course, if I have a hysterectomy, then it is bye-bye to the prospect of biological children.  Yes, adoption is an option, but let’s not pretend that it is easy, cheap or inevitable (multiple chronic illnesses tend to count against you in the assessment process, I do believe).  So now I have yet another of those awful choices that endo and adeno leave you with – do I endure the pain for longer, and potentially experience more when my contraceptive devices are removed, in the hope of conceiving a child, or do I jump at the chance of a cure right now and lose the choice forever?

If I chose the first option, how long do I wait?  I always wanted to be financially stable before bringing a child into the world, and I’m not badly off, but I’m not where I would ideally like to be.  I wanted to be further into my career.  I wanted to have travelled more.  I wanted to do a lot of things that endo has prevented me from doing, but that a child will also make more difficult.  I wanted to feel more ready, more sure.  It’s such a big decision – is it fair for me to be making it with even the slightest doubt in mind?  What do you do when you have doubts about either option?

Is it fair of me to put my husband through this?  I’m already a bit of a burden at times (many times).  My pregnancy could be really difficult and make it even harder on him.  He’s self-employed where as I have a stable income – there’ll be an additional financial pressure on him.  If I do successfully carry to term – let’s not forget that miscarriage is a heightened risk for women with endo – will I be able to recover from the birth easily, or will my health struggle like it does with everything else?

What if I’m a terrible mother and my child grows up to be an incel or something?

Ok, I’m less worried about that last one.

On the flip side, I don’t know if I’m ready to lose that choice.  When I bake a cake or read a great book or see a fantastic movie, I think, “I want to share this with a child someday.  I want this to change them the way it has changed me.”  I want to share these things with a younger generation, and it’s at the moment it’s not likely I’ll get to do that in a “cool aunt” capacity.

Either way, it is a huge decision, and I’m wrestling massively.  I think I have decided, but I keep flip-flopping.  Whatever I end up doing, though, I resent the adenomyosis for forcing me to make this decision before I am ready.  I resent the endometriosis for stealing away my chance of doing all the things I wanted to do as a young married couple before I had children.  I resent that being a chronically ill woman is littered with such awfully difficult choices.

Have any of my readers faced this decision?  Were you ambivalent about children?  What were your thought processes?  I am so keen to hear from anyone in a similar situation.

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.

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.