Raising Endometriosis Awareness With Art: Part One
I recently finished a piece of digital artwork that has a very deep and personal connection. I decided to write a story here about my battle with endometriosis. This is part one of a series I will be sharing, as well as artworks to accompany these entries.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2011. I was 24 years old. I had been suffering from chronic pelvic pain, fatigue, nausea, and ovarian cysts for 2 years with no explanations. I even had to visit the ER a few times due to the pain. I tell you, it's very embarrassing when you go to the emergency room with severe pain that nobody can see. I'm also one of the "quiet" patients, especially when I'm hurting, so I often don't get noticed. This is just how my personality is. I like to be quiet, polite, and refrain from complaining *too* much.
However, when it comes to invisible illness, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.. but you can't be too squeaky or you'll be labeled a "drug seeker."
The turning point for me was when I was in the ER with a fever and lower right quadrant pain. I also had mid-abdominal pain that would come and go in waves, but they were very painful waves. I would clutch my stomach and grimace to get through it - gritting my teeth.
Because I had previous experience of going to the ER and getting nowhere, I went to the nearby walk-in clinic. It took awhile for me to get there on foot, despite it only being about 2 or 3 blocks away. I would walk, stop, clutch stomach, grimace, move forward.
I saw an older doctor at the walk-in. An elderly man who was so old school that he used a thermometer with actual mercury in it. He examined me, and I sat there thinking I probably had indigestion and a case of the flu.
His face got serious as he looked at me and said "I am suspecting acute appendicitis. I am sending you to the emergency room."
My heart started to race a little bit, and my stomach did that fluttery-flippy thing it does when something freaks you out and you try not to throw up or cry. I called my mom on the phone, a bit worried about getting a ride to the hospital since both my mom and sister didn't want to take me to the clinic that was so close. I figured there was no way anyone would take me to the hospital. Thinking these thoughts, and going "They don't think I'm really sick. I'll probably have to catch a cab."
My mom picked up the phone, and could tell by my voice breaking, trying to choke back tears, that it was serious.
"Mom, the doctor here is sending me to the hospital. Can I have a ride there?"
Of course she did. She's my mom after all. My quiet nature, and keeping to myself is enough to make people think I'm perfectly fine. After all, when people are suffering, they usually speak up right? I have always been afraid of being a burden, or a nuisance. So, when a doctor says I have something wrong, then we all realize how important this is.
My mom stayed with me at the hospital and kept me from going stir crazy with anxiety. I was worried inside, but on the outside, I was cracking jokes and laughing because it's just easier that way.
Acute appendicitis is something that needs immediate attention, so my wait at the hospital was short. I was examined by the ER doctor there, who was very nice by the way, and he seemed puzzled.
He said to me "I don't think you have appendicitis. I'm able to push right here on your abdomen, and if you had appendicitis, it would be too painful for me to do that. I think something is wrong gynecologically."
I wasn't surprised by this, but I was relieved that I wouldn't need emergency surgery. He suspected an ovarian cyst, and wrote a requisition for me to get a pelvic ultrasound the next day. I was off from work for a week, but I don't remember if I had to take any medications or anything. I just remember having a fever that lasted for several days, and flu-like symptoms despite not even having the flu.
Somehow, I traced the symptoms to my birth control pill. I don't remember what led me to that conclusion, but as soon as I stopped taking it, I felt better once it was out of my system. Very peculiar.
Endometriosis is an estrogen dependent illness. It causes lesions to implant that are made up of tissue that are similar to the lining of the uterus - the endometrium. The tissue behaves in a similar manner too, and bleeds the way the endometrium does when it's shed during the menstrual period. The most common symptoms of endometriosis are pelvic pain that worsens before or during a period (although pain can also happen all month long. This is what happened to me,) fatigue, nausea, heavy periods, and painful ovulation. There's a long list of other symptoms patients can experience, but these seem to be the main ones.
When endometriosis lesions bleed, there is nowhere for the blood to go. It remains within the pelvic cavity causing scarring, inflammation, adhesions, and cysts. It can spread and grow, and it's fueled on estrogen. This is why endometriosis is often treated with hormone therapy.
The estrogen in my birth control pill was making my symptoms worse. It caused my endo to flare up badly, and it affected my entire body.
Shortly after the ER visit, I saw my family doctor and told him about the incident, and what the ER doctor had told me. I was recommended to talk to him about getting a referral to a gynecologist. It took two years of telling my doctor about my symptoms until he finally sent the referral.
The gynecologist I saw diagnosed me within five minutes. My symptoms were textbook. I even researched endometriosis, and learned about it within that two year period of trying to convince my doctor something was wrong. So, when the gynecologist told me he suspected endo, I knew what was going to happen next: Surgery.
That concludes part one of this series. I'm including in this blog a piece I put a lot of work and passion into. The person in the picture I painted is nobody in particular. I just created a random face, because I'm not confident enough to do a self portrait quite yet, but I'm working on it. I wanted to capture a feeling of rawness in the piece, which is why I created it without colour. Endometriosis often feels like it's siphoning the life out of me. In the background, I added pale yellow roses. A symbol for hope, as well as acknowledging the official colour of endometriosis: Yellow.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you like my artwork. Xo