If you search my name on Google, there’s a good chance that you’ll come across an article I wrote almost a year ago about an odd ailment I was still coming to terms with: endometriosis. It’s a disorder that many women suffer from that is nearly never talked about (probably because it affects the uterus, ovaries and the fallopian tubes, and because anything related to menstruation/women’s health is practically a societal taboo).
It’s painful, it’s mysterious and it’s nerve-wracking, which is the last thing any young woman wants to deal with, but there I was, struggling to figure out it’s place in my future.
Fast forward to today, and it’s no longer just a diagnosis, but a part of my life, and I can say that I’ve learned a lot because of the condition. Of those learning moments, courtesy of endo, at least seventy-five percent of them have to do with relationships.
I wish I could say that endometriosis forced me to shift my perspective and realize how grateful I was to be surrounded by the people in my life at the time, but it was actually the opposite.
My disorder actually forced me to realize what I need in relationships, be it with family, friends, and lovers. It gave me permission to ask for things that I’ve always needed but was never sure how to approach it. However, it took me a while to recognize these lessons.
The first few days after receiving the news from my estranged mom, I let myself slip into a weird spiral of depression and anger, denial and frustration that basically boils down to a gif from New Girl:
When I emerged from this funk, I looked at everything–and everyone– with different eyes. I was afraid of being called a liar, or of people laughing it off. (One of my friends decided to diagnose herself after hearing me try to explain why I was in pain and unable to go to lunch one day, and so spent the next few months insisting that if she can survive the disorder, then I should be able to too…even though she doesn’t have endometriosis. Needless to say, we don’t talk anymore.)
Suddenly, I realized that a few of my friends, a few of my relationships, were superficial at best. Sure, they were decent company for grabbing coffee, but when I was unable to move because of my cramps, exhausted because the pain kept me up the night before and depressed at the prospect that I would be infertile by the time I’m ready for children?
They weren’t there. They’d “sympathize,” regaling me with stories about how one time, they had an awful cramp, because that’s the same, right?
As I began to recognize my symptoms more and more, and started trying to live my life as nothing had changed, I found myself depressed and fatigued over forcing myself to pretend that the endometriosis wasn’t there when it came to relationships.
I was getting tired of grinning instead of grimacing when I’d be curled up in a painful ball while “friends” teased and feigned support. I was getting tired of blaming homework for being unable to leave my dorm instead of being honest and admitting that I was having an endo day because who would believe me?
Slowly, I recognized that people who actually care about me and my well-being would not try to discredit me, but help me. Slowly, I began cutting myself loose from relationships where empathy and understanding was nonexistent.
I found people who would meet me on my level, and I found the strength to explain to my family and boyfriend what I needed from them now, how to help me on the days I wasn’t sure that I could help myself.
My father, a nurse, was frustrated and mournful with me when we found out that there’s not much more to treat my disorder besides the birth control I’m already on. My boyfriend and friends try to make my day-to-day life easier, be it by bringing me soup when the pain leaves me too nauseous for anything else or checking on me during my period week.
Endometriosis has shown me that good relationships are not made up of huge moments of showing off, or loud declarations of support.
Instead, I find myself measuring my relationships by the little moments, the quiet instances after a small pep talk and before the whispered, “It’s okay. You’ll be okay.” I measure my relationships by the instances of laughter not at the expense of my pain, by the willingness to stay in instead of going out for girls’ night, by the moments that they are willing to call me out for moping around and being melodramatic.
Today, I am surrounded by people who are ready to tell me to take care of myself, who are willing to reschedule a lunch date so that I can feel better and meet them on their level, who remind me that, while I have this difficult disorder, endometriosis is not the end all and be all of who I am as a person to them.
In return, I have learned that everyone, no matter the relationship, just wants empathy and care more than a decent conversation and good company. I have learned that, to be a better friend, I need to be a better person, and that health is included in that bundle of “better.”
Yes, my endometriosis has changed my life, relationships included. But I’m okay with that. While it can be a literal pain and even a scary mystery waiting for me later in life, it’s forced me to realize that I deserve joy and comfort and wonderful people around me.