My periods began when I was 13-years-old, and I only remember them accompanied with pain. I bled heavily each month for six to eight days. As I got older, I would find myself passed out on my bedroom or bathroom floor from painful cramps. I would pass heavy blood clots, was often lightheaded, and regularly was prescribed iron supplements and over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. When Alleve came on the market, I was thrilled to try a new pain reliever. They would dull, but never eradicate, the pain. My periods were always preceded with hefty bouts of PMS; I suffered from bloating, fatigue, headaches, skin rashes, and swelling in my knees and fingers.
When I'd report these symptoms to my doctor, he told me that periods can be like that. Some girls have problems, others don't. I just happened to be one of the girls who had a problem period. My mother told me the same thing, adding, "That's what my mother told me. It was like that for me and for other girls I knew growing up, too." As Carol Pearson discusses in her TEDTalk, as Zora Neale Hurston wrote inTheir Eyes Were Watching God ("Black women are the mules of the world"), as Eve was told after she fed into her curiosity and took a bite of that forbidden fruit, I learned -- whether the lesson was intended to be learned this way or not -- that being a girl, becoming a woman, was painful. And I had to live with that pain. I had to learn to handle pain.
And so I did. I went with the flow.
What I didn't know was that I had endometriosis.Endometriosis is a disease that affects 10 percent of women globally. It knows no race, class, or socioeconomic status. Some doctors refer to endometriosis as a benign cancer. Padma Lakshmi, model and co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, describes the disease as "a web, like a vapor, like weeds in a garden that permeate everything, and stain everything. And metaphorically as well as clinically what you have to go and do, whether it is with laparoscopy or therapy or just understanding and support, is you have to go in there... and get rid of it. Not only getting rid of it in the womb, but getting rid of it in the heart and the mind."