February 19, 2020 at 01:00AM by CWC
My mother and my grandmother were my first introduction to superheroes. They overcame various adversities as African American women migrating from the South to NYC for a better life. They always taught me when I encounter moments which seem impossible, I can overcome them with resilience and strength.
Their strength was always an example to me throughout my life. But when I was diagnosed with endometriosis—a chronic condition where the tissues that lines the uterus grows in other parts of the body—at age 27, the strength that I’d relied on my whole life suddenly didn’t feel so tangible.
Endometriosis can cause severe pain, making it sometimes unbearable to move, or even do normal daily functions like making dinner or going to work. It explained a lot of the frustrating, painful experiences I had been dealing with since I first started my menstrual cycle at age 9. (Yes, you read that right—nine years old!) I would have to leave class to go to the bathroom quite often in fear that my heavy bleeding would mess up my clothes. I suffered from terrible cramps, was nauseous all the time, and experienced excruciating leg pain at any given moment. These symptoms could happen separately or simultaneously.
Having endometriosis has definitely taught me a valuable lesson: I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.
After years of struggling with these symptoms, you’d think that a diagnosis would be a relief. But knowing what was wrong didn’t really change how unpleasant the lived experience was at first. I became very frustrated at myself because I felt as if I could not control my chronic condition. Because of my symptoms, I often felt isolated, depressed, and afraid of the future. I let the fear of a diagnosis make me forget the strong examples I’ve had all my life.
But after learning more about my condition, I realized that I had to start evaluating how I handled endometriosis every day. I wanted to find a healthy middle ground between holing up every time a flare-up happened and pushing myself too hard to the point of making myself sick.
I learned that navigating through life with endometriosis did not mean I was weak—rather I was learning new ways on how to teach myself new coping tricks, the same way the women of my family found ways to adjust and conquer every obstacle that came their way. I tapped into that same energy to do the same thing for myself. Here’s what I learned.
Rule 1: Be kind to yourself
I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself. Because one of the symptoms I experience with endometriosis is leg pain (remember, uterine tissue can grow anywhere in the body if you have endometriosis), I often find myself unable to walk. In the past I would become extremely frustrated because I was not able to move how I would like to. Over time, I realized that no one would be better to myself but me. I had to retrain myself to love my body in ways that I never did before—including what I deemed to be “chronic flaws.” I try to remind myself to be kind to my legs when they’re hurting and give them the rest and support that they need.
Rule 2: Understand the positive power of no
For some reason, saying no has fallen into a category mostly used for a negative outcome. I’ve learned that there is strength and power in saying no. This has allowed me to stay the adequate time to myself to rest, re-evaluate, and regroup. Saying no to invitations and requests when I need to has allowed me to do activities that I love such as coloring and painting. There were times when I felt like being busy would keep my mind off of endometriosis, but in reality it made me think more about the reasons why I should have taken more moments to myself. Not to isolate, but to be more aware of who I am and what my body really needs as someone with a chronic condition.
Rule 3: Accept help when it’s offered
This has by far been the hardest yet rewarding part of my life. Endometriosis taught me how to adjust my life and function during the good and bad days. But for a while, my coping mechanisms did not give room for my loved ones to help. I thought this was a condition that I would have to deal with on my own. It wasn’t until my husband told me to “allow people that love you to help you” that I had a change of heart. What once seemed like a minute phrase relieved me of feeling like I was isolated with no one who understood. Whether it is an ear to listen, taking me to doctors’ visits, or just bringing me my favorite ice cream, allowing others to help me has taught me the true value of love.
Having endometriosis has definitely taught me a valuable lesson: I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. The strength that I’ve witnessed as a little girl from my mother and grandmother helped me tap into my own inner strength. At first, setting limits initially made me feel less of myself. After much thought and understanding, I realized that I activate my strength by using my resources in a strategic way. We all have superpowers. But what gives us the greatest power is learning which ones to use, and when.
April Christina is a New York City-based wellness blogger and endometriosis advocate. After being diagnosed with endometriosis in December of 2010, she decided to turn her pain into purpose by educating others about their health. In 2019, April launched The Endo Brunch, an event created for women and their supporters to meet other people with endometriosis and other reproductive health conditions.