The Link Between Endometriosis and Trauma
I hate having endometriosis. Always have, and always will.
I wish I didn't have to worry about bleeding through my clothes, cry over the fact I can't seem to get pregnant, and miss days of my life whenever I get my period. I wish I hadn't lost so much due to this disease.
But what bothers me the most, is that the reason that I have this chronic illness could be narrowed down to my past trauma. The link between endometriosis and trauma is no big news to me.
The connection between our mind and manifested pain
I'm a true believer that what goes on in our minds can manifest itself as physical symptoms.
Yet, will I've been aware of this connection for a while; I simply didn't want it to apply to me. I refused to label myself as a "victim".
It has taken me a lot of work, and soul-searching, to finally utter that word. I am a proud woman, one who doesn't like to be perceived as damaged goods. Yet, I ticked all of the boxes.
I’ve had a traumatic past with a painful, difficult childhood. Thinking that, on top of all that, I got a lifelong disease made me angry.
Why me? Was this theory suggesting I was to blame for my disease? Aren’t the trauma, the nightmares, and the PTSD I was subsequently diagnosed with enough?
My first period held all the clues. From a young age, I suffered all sorts of ailments.
My ongoing stomach issues had doctors confounded, telling my parents it was possibly due to an overworking brain, an overactive imagination, and my tendency to worry. When I got my period at age twelve, I lost so much blood I was admitted into a hospital.
Through my teens, twenties, and thirties, my medical history is peppered with gut discomfort, period issues, and severe chronic pain. All of this led to a diagnosis of endometriosis in 2016.
Endometriosis and trauma- what's that about?
According to a study in 2018, sexual and emotional abuse is closely associated with having endometriosis1. Some health researchers have specifically linked it to child abuse.
While none of these studies argues that when someone has endometriosis, it is because they were abused, they add to the growing belief linking adverse childhood experiences with poor health outcomes2. To me, it all started falling into place as I read The Body Keeps The Score.
In this book, Bessel Van Der Kolk explains how after trauma, some people can experience the world through an altered nervous system which “can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases”3. Van Der Kolk expands on this theory, and his references to gut issues and autoimmune conditions quickly rang true to me.
I am still learning about trauma
I am slowly digesting what this book is teaching me, reading one chapter at a time, making sure I stop whenever it becomes too much. It takes a lot of slow breathing and mindfulness to recognize that past events may have left an unwanted, deep imprint.
One that goes further than what happens in my mind, extending to what I have felt physically for decades. Studying this possibility has left me with no self-guilt and a greater awareness of the disease that currently resides in my body.
Obviously, this offers me no cure and no way to make my chronic pain disappear. It also does not tell me how to ease my endometriosis symptoms.
But educating myself on how elements from my past I was not responsible for have affected my body leads to a slight awakening. I am hoping it may give me some control back.
Or at least a clue on how to repair the damage that was done by others. For now, that's what I am granting myself: hope.
Do you know someone that has made a difference with endometriosis advocacy?