Overthinking female chronic pain: how I’m playing the socially constructed role of a sensible endometriosis patient.

Endometriosis is a feminist issue — the condition has been ruining women’s lives for centuries, yet it is still under-researched and poorly understood.

“We don’t know for sure how or why it starts, but we understand something about its mechanism. The endometrium is the tissue that lines the womb, which is shed each month if there is no pregnancy. In endometriosis, these special cells are found elsewhere in the body — mainly in the pelvic area, though they can get just about anywhere. Each month, wherever they are, they obey their nature and bleed. The big three symptoms — of which all GPs should be aware — are painful menstruation, painful sex, and infertility”

Hilary Mantel (Guardian, 2015)

“oh, you know, female basketball players struggle to give birth anyway, so you better stop doing sports anyhow”.

You might wonder — has anyone ever asked her if she had even considered being a mother back then? The answer is simple: no.

Source: BBC Three

It appears that “for hundreds of years, pain in menstruating women has not qualified as a medical mystery worthy of actually solving” (Dusenbery, 2018).

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

About a third of women would not feel comfortable talking about their menstrual cycle at all with anyone. As a clear illustration of the taboos that still surround periods also in the UK, more than 1 in 5 women in a relationship feel uncomfortable talking to their partner about period pain (22%), PMT (23%) or their period flow (25%). Around one in six would not even feel comfortable talking to their doctor about issues related to menstruation. This is not surprising, since many women still receive derogatory comments related to their periods, with the most common remark being told they must have PMT when considered to be moody (35%) topping the list.

Source: https://bit.ly/2L6larZ

However, there are also these critical situations, where there is no time to rehearse your patient — doctor appointment. The times when pain is so real that all you want to do is tell them how it really is, scream and demand medical support.

Kimberley was in severe pain and demanded medical support. She broke out of the nice female patient role and turned into a fighter who fought for her life, health and voices of other female patients. She cried, screamed and demanded help. Nevertheless, her pain was still dismissed.

Women with endometriosis have been told they are just overreacting to “normal” menstrual cramps, while still others have “contested” illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia that, dogged by psychosomatic suspicions, have yet to be fully accepted as “real” diseases by the whole of the profession.‘

Image source: BBC

My feminist voice inside of me is screaming. Not only because I can’t often finish my sentence without being interrupted while discussing my pain, but because endometriosis and women’s health issues have been systematically ignored for years.

Last year, I went to see a doctor to discuss my endometriosis symptoms. To cheer me up, the specialist told me something I have heard again and again — ‘don’t worry hun, your endometriosis gets cured once you get pregnant*’.

What was my reaction? I played my female-patient role well. I agreed, left and allowed myself to be emotional later that day.

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