September 26, 2016
I have been cursed with a family tradition of endometriosis. I guess it all started back with Eve, but the Potts women must have eaten a lot of bad apples along the way.
In a nutshell, endometriosis – or as we cool cats call it, “endo”, – is “a disease that occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found elsewhere in the body causing pain, organ dysfunction and/or infertility.” Basically, it causes your period to wreak havoc in your body and create a lot of problems, including intense pain, GI issues, pain with sex, infertility, and chronic fatigue, just to name a few.
Because it’s a “girl thing,” a lot of endo-sufferers struggle with discussing the disease and how to handle it socially. Loads of unfair assumptions are made about these women – it’s just a “bad period”, “all in their heads” or a “personal issue” and should be kept private. And that is hard. It’s hard to ask off work for a week every month, it’s hard to constantly cancel plans with friends, or say “I can’t, I’ll be sick that week”, it’s hard to explain why you legitimately need a ridiculous amount of sleep every single day. It becomes frustrating to hear even sympathetic women nod their head and share that, “I have bad periods too” and “I hear that birth control can fix that.” People mean well, but it’s no surprise that most of us retreat and hide, careful to keep our calendar open on that dreaded week, and to stay within a 100-foot radius of our heating pads and bathtubs.
I have struggled with this disease for about 5 years now, and have kept pretty quiet about it. Taking up the reins of this invisible condition with dignity, I have assumed that it’s just a way of life and have suppressed the physical and emotional toll it has taken on me. But God has been at work in my heart in the past few months, and has revealed to me that hiding is never the solution to peace or healing – in any area of life.
This has come in part through social media; I have seen a few acquaintances post about their own journey with endo, and seen hospital selfies as they have gone in for surgery. I spent years around these women in college, never knowing we carried the same load. Their honesty compelled me to learn more about surgeries and treatments I’d never considered – and it pushed me to share more. Though I’m historically a pretty private person, I have challenged myself to use social media as a platform to share my heart – the highlights and the shadows. I have dutifully pushed past the awkwardness and posted at least one Instagram pic of a heating pad or bathtub each month, joining in on the #endendo and #endostrong movements. The response has been overwhelming. Last month alone, I had six different women approach me, in person or via email, with questions or stories of their own journey through endo.
Ultimately, these conversations have made me realize that I don’t have to suffer silently or stubbornly. I’ve gathered the courage to demand new treatment options from doctors and I’ve advocated for my right to be taken seriously. And so, in exactly one week I will be having surgery to officially diagnose and treat some or all of the endo at work in me. I could not be more excited!
The silence still whispers to me though. Because I’ve been rather discreet about how this disease affects me, disclosing the full implications to only a few, I still sense an indifference or confusion from most people – except for my sweet husband. Evan is the only person in the world who has seen with his own eyes the effects endo has on my body; he alone has picked me up off the bathroom floor when I can’t stand up and held me as I tremble through the night. I feel his support, encouragement, and partnership going into this like none other.
Until this weekend, I myself have been tempted to question the necessity of this surgery, joining in on the lie that I’m just a baby, wallowing in self-pity. But this weekend was one of those rare occasions that I couldn’t hide in my house through some of my harder days. One of my best friends in the whole world got married, and as a bridesmaid and sister at heart, I wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere else. So I gave my toast while buzzed on painkillers. I curled up in a ball under a heating pad while all the girls got beautified. I crawled across the floor to get my mimosa. I cried during portraits, fake laughing through the tears for the perfect bridesmaid pictures. I knelt on the ground during the ceremony and lay under a table at cocktail hour, trying desperately to get away from the concerned remarks and questioning eyes. I experienced a best friend’s wedding through the fog of oxycodone. It was humiliating, frustrating, and pathetic.
But it was also freeing. And edifying. For the first time, I couldn’t hide and I was forced to display my weakness to close friends and complete strangers alike. I had no choice but to ask for help and accept the attention that came with that. I chose to answer (most of) the prying questions honestly, and at the end of the day I felt the same joy and excitement for my approaching surgery from the people around me that I had come to expect only from Evan.
I was affirmed in my value as a person and in my desire to get better. I am not upset that my “endo week” came a week later than I expected this month. Ultimately, I walked away from this weekend understanding a little bit more of what Paul meant in his letter to the Corinthians,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Now, I know Paul wasn’t talking about period pains, but I’m sure that there are a myriad of situations that apply. For me it was physical, but for all of us it is spiritual. How can we champion one another towards holiness if we are unwilling to reveal our sinfulness? We can pray for one another all we want, but if we don’t personally understand the pain and suffering our siblings in Christ are experiencing, how can we truly labor for them in the Spirit? We can not fully celebrate each other’s victories without knowing extensively of the defeats.
Like endometriosis – and many other diseases – sin and sorrow can all too easily be invisible to the eye. We can fake a smile and force a laugh while we are crippled inwardly. The longer we hide our weaknesses and hurts, the longer we will believe the lies that we are not enough, we are too weak, too shameful, too disgusting, too much of a burden. I hope you refuse to believe those things and take the chance to be honest and raw and vulnerable. Friends, it will be awkward and you will feel pathetic, but we will find a freedom that we will otherwise never know. Let us boast all the more gladly in our weakness, so that the power of Christ may make us strong in Him.
And ladies, if you are suffering, which statistically speaking, at least one in ten of you are, you are not alone. And you do not have to fight like you are alone. You are fully known and deeply loved by your Father and I would love to hear your story! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how I can pray for and hurt with you.