How I Manage Mental Health with Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic condition without a cure. Excision treatment with an endometriosis specialist has been a big help for me. But surgery wasn't a panacea. I still have terrible period pain, fatigue, brain fog, pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), depression, and a lot of weird symptoms that are hard to explain.
Some months are worse than others. That unpredictability makes day-to-day life a bit of a challenge. Not just physically as my mental health also requires a lot of attention.
There are things that I now do to help manage.
Meditation and mindfulness are key
I know. I know.
These two 'M' words often trigger a big eye-roll. But the Headspace app changed my life.
I've had an almost-daily meditation practice for nearly 7 years, and I noticed a big difference in my mood within the first month.
Meditation helped me tame stress and negative thoughts right away. I'm guessing that's what helped ease my depression and anxiety. As time has gone on, I have also used Headspace to manage my pain.
I learned mindfulness from meditation. But it's also a big part of something my behavioral therapist calls mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
This mindset of "awareness" shapes my experience in the world, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. It helps pull me out of my thoughts when I'm stuck worrying about something or focusing on my pain.
There's no way to really know if and how mindfulness or meditation will help unless you try it. But past and emerging research says it can do following good things1,2,3:
- Lower inflammation and chronic stress
- Lessen anxiety and depression
- Ease chronic pain
- Lower your blood pressure
- Help treat attention and trauma disorders
If you're interested in MBSR, ask your doctor about it. They can refer you to a counselor or psychologist who's trained in the practice.
Working from home has helped me stay productive
Several years ago, I decided to leave my staff job at a newspaper to become a freelance writer. I know this isn't an option for everyone, but it's made a big difference in my mental and physical health.
I have pretty disrupting symptoms for around a week and a half each month, sometimes more. That's at least 7 to 14 days every month where, in my old job, I wanted to call in sick or work from home.
Pre-pandemic, that option wasn't on the table. Instead, I'd have to drag myself to the office with a migraine, pelvic and back pain, or period cramps so bad it hurt to walk.
Now, I create my own schedule. I'm far more productive because of it.
My clients don't care if I work under a heating pad in my pajamas.
Working out has helped me mentally
You probably don't need to hear this one again. But movement really does help.
For me, it boosts energy and mood. I aim for 30 to 45 minutes of exercise a day.
Sometimes that's a brisk walk on the treadmill or a run when I feel up to it. Maybe I'll spend an hour at the rock-climbing gym.
Antidepressants have been a useful tool
I view my depression as a symptom like cramps or migraine attacks. Lifestyles changes can help, but sometimes they're not enough.
I've tried various antidepressants over the years for different reasons. Tell your doctor which symptoms bother you most.
Do you have PMDD? Do you have trouble concentrating? Is finding a reason to get out of bed a struggle?
Antidepressants may not work for everyone. And sometimes you have to try more than one kind to find one that'll help but doesn't have too many side effects.
I know that can be frustrating. Over the course of 1 year, I had to try four different antidepressants from three different classes before I settled on the best one for me.
I am glad I stuck with it.
Mental health is ongoing
In general, experts say, people who've had more than three depressive episodes in their life — which is definitely me — will likely always need some kind of mental health treatment.
Doctors have told me that doesn't mean I'll need to be on antidepressants forever. But I'll likely need to keep up with certain lifestyle changes or other therapies to stay well.
I plan to keep doing the following for the rest of my life:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet changes
- Practicing mindfulness
- Using what I've learned from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
If you're struggling with your mental health, talk to your primary doctor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, my GP set me up with a social worker who started virtual behavioral therapy right away.
My counselor worked with a psychiatrist to fine-tune my medication. That's called the collaborative care model. Ask your doctor if it's right for you.
There are lots of ways to take care of your mental health. Let us know what works for you!
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