Since March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, I thought I would share some information about a side effect from the disease that few people without it ever consider: depression.
Conspiracy theories aside, many biographers think the cause of Marilyn Monroe’s battle with depression and eventual suicide was caused by her trying to escape the pain of her endometriosis. I am considered by my loved ones to be a pretty upbeat positive person, but even I can’t escape it. For me personally, there are a few different reasons this illness brings on depression.
1. You can’t escape it. You can leave a bad job and a bad relationship if it’s bringing you down, but you can’t leave your own body. A flare up (that’s when the endometrial tissue becomes inflamed and the adhesions bleed, causing debilitating pain) can ruin social plans, effect your performance at work, and makes you feel pretty useless in general. There are steps you can take to minimize the pain, but there is no cure, and sometimes there’s no pain killers strong enough or a heating pad hot enough to even touch it.
2. You think you’ll never reach your full potential. I live a pretty full, productive life compared to even a totally healthy person, so I can’t help thinking sometimes how much more I could do if I didn’t have a chronic illness. How much cleaner would me house be? How much more could I get done professionally? How many more adventures could my husband and I go on? How much more fun would my social life be? When I do feel well I take full advantage of it, but when I’m sick nothing’s getting done except some Netflix binge watching on my couch in the middle of my messy living room I’m too exhausted to clean.
3. It’s hard to get people to believe you. I don’t look sick, and my personality it to downplay everything anyways. When I do complain it’s usually met with “I get bad cramps on my period too” thanks but that’s not the same thing. My first round of depression came when my original doctor didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me. (You can read my full story about finding a diagnosis here.) Let me tell you, when a medical professional brushes your life altering symptoms off and tells you that you’re fine, that will mess you up. I felt like a crazy person, and that feeling didn’t go away for a close to a year.
4. It’s isolating. The only people who truly understand you are people who also have endometriosis, and with 1 in 10 women suffering from it, you’re not really surrounded by people who get it. I love my EndoSisters but it’s not the same as having someone who loves you really understanding the illness. My family and friends are supportive, but there is a jealousy that happens when you see them going about their unaltered lives with complete control over their body, able to push themselves and eat junk with no immediate consequences.
So how do you make it through with all things considered? I have a few ways I cope. I take as good of care of myself as possible; between my diet and my work with a holistic practitioner I try to give my body it’s best chance for success with the hopes it will return the favor. I surround myself with people who love me, just knowing I have their support is enough motivation to keep me going. I treat myself when I can; if I’m going to live in my heating pad on my couch or bed, you can bet they’re going to be the nicest damn heating pad, couch or bed I can afford, I do not skimp on luxury because I know I’ll get my money’s worth. I also don’t feel bad about splurging on my social life, when I am well enough to go out, I’m not going to feel guilty when I rack up a tab celebrating with my friends. I do things that make me feel good; I get a massage every month, treat myself to reiki when I want, and I recently did a photo shoot where I got to be pampered by three fabulous ladies while I drank champagne. I highly recommend doing a shoot like this, it sounds conceited, but on days I feel the most broken I can look at my pictures and think “Yeah but look how hot you are!”. It’s important to love your body, especially when you feel like it betrays you. (You can see my shoot here if you don’t mind a little skin!) I’ve also had to stop comparing myself to the old me before my endo got bad, removing thoughts like “I used to be able to clean the whole house on my day off” has made a big difference in my mood. Look, I know depression is going to happen, you are allowed to be upset about your chronic illness, and if you need to spend a week on the couch feeling sorry for yourself go right ahead, but don’t unpack your bags and live there. If you do find yourself unable to overcome the negative feelings, please get help, you’ve already survived 100% of your bad days up to this point, there’s no reason to mess up your perfect track record.