Narrative Of An Invisible Disease

3b6f33f2 copyI suffer from an invisible disease. I often look put together and function well, but inside my reproductive organs are fighting a battle every day. This is endometriosis.

If I don’t discuss it, people generally have no idea that when I go to work I often have lower back and leg pain so intense I have to breathe through it. Or when I go to school I sit through seminars and hope the pressure that feels like a tiny bowling ball pushing down on my uterus subsides so that I can participate. Or if I’m out with my friends I have to avoid alcohol because the side effects are non negotiable to my reproductive system and the organs that surround it.

Generally it doesn’t come up in conversation. There are many women who are told by their family, friends and even doctors that they’re hypochondriacs or that they’re crazy because the pain we deal with can’t be seen. But it’s important to explain it, and then explain it again until we’re heard.

***

It began when I was 14. I was at school and felt so sick that I was convinced I had the stomach flu. After several months of feeling this way and one too many absent days on my report card, I went to my family doctor. He told me the pain; the nausea and the cramps, was most likely endometriosis and that there is no cure. He told me the pain could be minimalized with the birth control pill. There are many parents that would have refused to allow their 14-year-old daughter to take birth control. I was lucky enough to have a mom that could see my future. If she refused that course of treatment I would have struggled to make it through high school, potentially have failed to achieve grades high enough to go to university and certainly never would have been accepted into graduate school, where I am now.

Unfortunately the use of birth control as treatment is not perfect. I spent most of high school and my undergraduate alternating brands and visiting my family doctor. But it kept the pain at bay until I was 24, when I realized this could not be my version of normal anymore.

There is a reason the average age of diagnosis of endometriosis is 25. The tissue most women get rid of when they have their period builds in us for several years. Unfortunately allowing it to build often means by your mid 20’s it has spread to your ovaries, outside of your uterus, your bladder or your bowel. Once it gets to this stage the pain is so bad that it abides by no timeline; you are often either in stage three or four of endometriosis. I was in stage three. PMS was a week before my period (which actually is how PMS is defined, not when you have your period), followed by the pain of the period then wrapped up with the pain of ovulation. By the time the pain has subsided the glimmer of hope was in the potential of the solid week before it starts again. Most of my time was spent waiting for the pain to return. A few days of living without was is my victory.

I was 25 when I had my first laparoscopy, but it won’t be my last. Five months after my surgery the pain returned, not as debilitating as before but on the same scale of intensity. My gynecologist told me I would need another surgery in 5 years, barely enough time for the scars from the first surgery to heal. I will likely have a hysterectomy by the time I’m in my mid 30’s. Unfortunately after that there still won’t be any pain free guarantees.

There is a label on endometriosis that it is a fertility issue, and stands alone as a fertility issue. But it is a disease that affects all women that are diagnosed, not simply those looking to get pregnant. This disease affects young women long before child bearing is a thought in their mind. In that sense, it is ironic that the organs that are meant to carry a baby cause many infertile women the most physical pain. As if we need a constant reminder that this pain will not offer any reward to some of us.

I will admit the possibility of infertility doesn’t concern me. I don’t say this to undermine women that battle infertility as a result of endometriosis, their voices are important. But the voices of those of us not concerned with conceiving have been drowned out. As a single 26-year-old woman, I am constantly preoccupied thinking about how I will manage my pain and work full time. I also think about how it will affect future relationships. Explaining endometriosis to a man can be difficult, but hopefully to the right one it won’t be. Most of all, I concern myself with my day-to-day life. There are days endometriosis relates to diseases similar to Crohn’s or Colitis, other days it feels like mild flu symptoms. It is a fluid disease that uses women’s most powerful organs – the reproductive ones – against them. I have to strike a balance between taking care of my body and maintaining a social life that I won’t feel I missed once my 20’s have passed me by.

***

I want to be a powerful woman, with a great job and sometimes the toughest battle is the psychological one; silencing the voice inside me that says this disease will dictate how I live my life. So I’ve adapted. I have had to strike a negotiation with the non- negotiable parts of my body essentially deciding it’s one for me and one for you. If I go out on a weekend and have one or two drinks, I have to compensate that with two or three months of avoiding alcohol or else the flare up will last for weeks. On the plus side, I believe I have the purest liver of any 26-year-old on Earth. Regardless of what I negotiate, there is always pain. And for the foreseeable future, it’s not going away. I simply call the shots on what I am willing to sacrifice.

As is the case with most diseases, the narration of my story isn’t meant for recognition or pity, but maybe a little bit of insight. It’s to let you know that many of us fight invisible battles every day, and we will fight like hell to win them.

Leanne McAdams is a Master of Arts Candidate in Political Science. Her research and writing interests include women’s political participation, reproductive rights and gender equality.

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My Guilt-Ridden Journey to Being a Mom

photo-1414432548815-900106408037 copyIt’s a dark and lonely journey sometimes. The one leading from the day you have a child to the day you become a parent. “It’ll come,” they said. “It’s all natural,” they shushed.

It didn’t feel natural.

I ignored it, basking in the surrounding warmth. My mom was there to help me, a welcome breath in the blur of new parenthood. I rarely got to have her around, so it was lovely to have her by my side. I was surrounded by helpful and positive souls. That helped. Helped me forget there was a problem. Helped me sweep it under the rug.

“It’s just baby blues. It’ll go away,” I told myself.

Baby blues! That even sounds ‘cute’. And dismissible.

So I dismissed it.

That mommyhood ‘glow’ was not something that happened to me. I’d had a C-section. My body was struggling, not because anything went wrong, but because someone had to cut through seven layers of me to get to a baby, only to sew me back up and send me away, tasked with the care of said baby.

I call her Murphyskid. She was born in distress and had infant reflux. She never slept for more than 40 minutes at a stretch, and when she did, it was sprawled out across my chest.

This is the stuff you’re unprepared for. The stuff no beautifully presented prenatal class or book tells you.

Three months of lovely, helpful guests, having meals cooked for me, and endless helping hands later, my mom left. I remember her trying to prop me up a few days before. She’d pretend the baby wouldn’t settle with her and hand her over to me (having done most of the heavy lifting first) and when she did fall asleep, I’d get big smiles of,”Look how good you’ve gotten at this.” God bless that woman. She is my hero. No matter what your relationship is with your mother, make it work. Fix it; shine it. You’re going to need her (or the closest equivalent thereof) if you plan to do this baby thing.

The night before my mom left, I lay in bed crying. I could not imagine doing this without her.

She left and I had no choice but to cope. My husband and I lived in Dubai at the time and we had access to some household help. My in-laws came to visit. They were all great with the baby, but I still felt like something wasn’t right.

Was it normal to only feel fine when the baby wasn’t with me? It sounded wrong. It made me feel guilty. So I ignored these vague wonderings, grabbed a footing and hung on for dear life. All the while, I was feeling nothing for my child but mild curiosity. Cue more guilt.

Then the rug was pulled out from under my feet when we moved to Toronto. That in itself is a task of mighty proportions, but add in a sick, cranky baby and it was almost unbearable.

Symptoms got worse with the baby. Unknown to us, she had a dairy allergy, one that took the doctors (two different competent ones on two different continents) 11 months to figure out. Allergies often have associated pain. And when they are too young to tell you, they cry, and gripe and cling. In our case, Murphyskid did all of those. For nearly the whole first year of her life, when she was awake, she sat on the back of the couch, behind me, hanging on to my hair. She only slept with me beside her, holding my hair. I’d stay still and not breathe, in case I woke her and we had to do it all again.

Personal space was gone. I felt claustrophobic and angry all the time. Completely out of control. And guilty. I felt so guilty.

I fantasized about ending something. “We’ll put her up for adoption,” I said. “Lots of people want babies. She’s young enough that she can forget us.” Or we could move to someplace where we have a bit more help. Or, at worst, I thought I could just kill myself.

My husband, M, listened quietly, helplessly, desperately trying to help take the operational burden off me, so I could breathe on my own. That helped a bit, but still it was so much easier for me to just sit there and feel sorry for myself. So I did. And I was passive aggressive about it. Even malicious. I hugged too hard. Pushed too far. Yelled too loud. Cried too often. Maybe if I did that enough she’d stop wanting to be so close? Maybe then I’d have more space and that would make me happy?

That’s when M and my cousin suggested that I look into the resources available for mommy depression. “You cant be the only one,” he said.

I dragged myself to our family doctor, and I say “dragged” because it was such an effort. Shower, get out of pyjamas, and go out? That’s got to be more than I can take. Why cant I just stay here and sleep? I did a lot of that at the time…sleep. And feel guilty. My typical day involved: Wake, ineffectually cope, feel guilty, sleep, overeat, cry, cope, sleep, feel guilty, feel guilty… you get my drift.

The physician was great. He was matter of fact, and empathetic. He suggested self help as the first line of attack, primarily because we didn’t have insurance to cover rounds of psychotherapy, and secondly because he is a fan of cognitive therapy. In normal speak that means being aware of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing; trying to establish patterns that will help you find the sticky areas, which hopefully you can work on fixing by being less negative. It’s heavily reliant on your action and that’s exactly what I needed. Control. Not in a bad way, but in a, “I need to be responsible for stopping my life from spinning out of control” way.

It was an investment of time. I had to read a book he recommended. I had to fill out exercise sheets with how I was feeling, when and what triggered it. I had to quantify emotions. What a load of crap, I thought. How can this possibly help? I hated my life, I hated my child; how could the way I felt at 7:30 am this morning possibly help me figure this out?

But then I surprised myself. I found those patterns. M helped me distance myself from some of the situations that aggravated my anger and helplessness. Even today he does more bedtimes than me because that was one of the things that undid me. My claustrophobia would come out to play when I was trapped in a dark room with her climbing all over me because she didn’t want to sleep.

Soon I needed less and less logging. My mind found clarity. We paid to take Murphyskid to a naturopathic doctor for holistic help. The dairy allergy was found. A switch to soy and three days later she was a new person. The wasted time and effort of it all could’ve driven me on a downward spiral, but instead I felt relieved. Like a mom would. It was a sign of wellness.

The doctor also put me on B vitamins, which were responsible for the functioning of the central nervous system. She told me carve out a portion of the day for myself. Have a few drinks with a friend once a week. Exercise.

I can’t say I did all of those things. But I did some. And it helped. Oh, how it helped!

Yes there is a happy ending to my story. I am now 3.5 years into my relationship with a walking, talking, feeling, intelligent little person whom I love from the bottom of my being. We could’ve got there a lot quicker if I had had the right expectation. If that default screen saver image of what motherhood should look like hadn’t been planted in there to mess with my head.

I am respectful of the mind now. It’s not all about thinking, it about feeling. It’s about making deeper, more meaningful connections. It’s about letting myself love, both myself and those around me. It’s about learning coping mechanisms for when life becomes overwhelming. It’s about talking to people. And most important of all, it’s about taking it one day at a time.

Susan Diaz is a writer and independent communicator. She lives in the mad bustle of downtown Toronto with her husband and challenging 3 year old who drives her to blog most days! In her blog Carrots and Peace, she offers a humorous perspective on the things close to her heart – food, no holds barred parenting and musings on just about anything else in-between. She’s on twitter @susandiaztweets.

On Feeling Older

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I feel older these days. There are times when I love this. I feel confident and as though I am truly growing into myself and becoming the woman I am meant to be. Sometimes I feel so proud of how far I’ve come over the past few years, impressed by how I’ve navigated certain situations with the grace and the maturity of someone much more experienced. I respect that I’ve made some tough decisions, and I have done so with strength. I am pleased with the direction in which my life is going.

But then there are days like today, where I just notice that I’m not as young as I used to be. Everything around me feels different, and everyone around me looks younger. When I look in the mirror, I look tired. There are bags under my eyes. It takes more energy than it should to get up in the morning. I wonder if my hair has always been this thin. I wonder if I look older. Things aren’t as easy as they used to be.

My mother likes to remind me that I’m “almost 30,” as if I am unaware of the demise of my own youth, something I used to think was eternal, but lately feels fleeting. I notice my age everywhere. On the faces of the girls wearing thin tights and torn jeans despite the winter weather, in the lopsided oversized hats only 16-year-olds can pull off. I see it in my friends, the ones getting married and buying houses and having babies. I see it in the clothing draped on mannequins as I walk down Queen Street West, gazing through the windows. They do not reflect my style or my desires anymore.

I see it in all the dreams I had, the things I said I’d do by 25, by 27, and now by the looming 30. I try not to become angry with myself for not meeting expectations I set for myself when I was younger, ambitions decided before I knew how the world really worked. It’s just that these are things I thought I’d do, that I’d have done by now. The movie version is playing out differently than the fiction I imagined.

***

Many summers ago, some friends and I would drink and dance in bars before stumbling over to afterhours clubs, one in particular, every single weekend, and we’d laugh and stay up until well after the sun came up, splitting cabs and dragging ourselves back to our respective apartments, passing tired baristas as they unlocked cafes around us. I felt so alive and young then. I felt like things would feel that way forever.

But they didn’t, of course. The summer ended and so did the parties. When fall rolled around, life took on a chameleon-like form and we all returned to our normal routines, whatever our normal was then.

I met up with those friends again this past weekend. It had been a while, too long actually, and we were reminiscing about things when the topic of that summer came up. We realized that five years had passed. It weighed down on me, thinking about how long it had been, how things can simultaneously change and stay the same. How there I was with the same group of people, but we were being civil and philosophical, our conversations had depth and meaning, and not a single person asked me if I wanted to do a shot.

And maybe that’s when this whole thing started, when I started thinking about my past self as the somewhat wild, young 20-something who lived life without fear and trusted that everything would just work out somehow. I was carefree, but I was also careless. I did not have the same boundaries as I do now. I did not understand the flaws in my character. The things I thought made me charming or endearing then, I’d never allow now. But still I miss her sometimes, the version of me who didn’t worry as much. And maybe sometimes I wish I could return to that era of innocence and ignorance, traits erased by age.

I’m not scared of getting older, but I am scared of life passing me by. And maybe that’s why I panic slightly when a milestone age comes and goes and I haven’t yet created some magnum opus that solidifies my place in history and justifies my struggles, the bane of a writer’s existence. Maybe it feels like time is passing by too fast.

But then I need to remind myself that I’m only 28, and while yes that is “almost 30,” it’s also not 30. I’ve become a different person over the past two years, and I’ll be different still another two years from now. I get conflicted dancing on this line between youth and womanhood, but I’m starting to learn the moves (I could never really hold the beat before anyway). And you know what, I may be getting older. But I’m also becoming a much better dancer.

Daring to be Different

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‘‘I’m not the girl-next-door. If you want the girl-next-door, go next door!’’-Rita Hayworth

‘‘Accept yourself’’ is spelled out on my yoga scan card that holds my keys. I look at it every day. And lately, I’ve thought a lot about identity.

Of course, accepting oneself is easier said than done. I accept myself more now than I used to, but there is something that never changes: I feel different. Sometimes I get jealous of ‘‘normal’’ people for fitting in seamlessly, but I’ve come to accept that being different is also my strength. I attract like-minded people, inspire others, and most importantly, stay true to who I am.

Despite the positives, feeling different has been both a blessing and a curse. I do what I should be doing and follow my instinct. I don’t think that I’m ‘‘special’’ necessarily, but society makes me realize that I’m outside of the box. Because of my education, I go into the world with an open mind and I can face walls or unexpressive faces. I suffer when I feel that I should behave a certain way, that I should swallow my thoughts or that I should follow the leader.

Learning to accept myself and not trying too hard to be liked has been a life-long struggle. Countless times, I wanted to be normal. I wanted a family with parents who are married. I wanted to have siblings and a dog. I peered through people’s windows with envy when I saw a full-sized family sharing a meal. But as Theodore Roosevelt once said, ”comparison is the thief of joy.” And it is. It’s better to centre on what’s good in my life than on what I could have.

In the past week though, the struggle got to me. I doubted my capacity for finding work after graduating. I was down because I am still waiting for money and have no funds. The future seems uncertain these days.

***

On Valentine’s Day at the restaurant, I started crying quietly. And it was not my date’s fault.

I was feeling disappointed and sad. I thought about my artist family and the struggle that’s still so real. I didn’t want to make a scene, and it was not like my date wasn’t supportive: he was. And it’s not like I wasn’t grateful: I was. But some of the things I’m struggling with were taking over my thoughts, so I excused myself to the bathroom, made sure I didn’t look like a raccoon, and went out again.

-It’ll be O.K., I said as I sat down.
-I know how you feel. It’s like my friend Will. He’s very talented, but it’s not working for him right now because he doesn’t fit the mould. You just have to keep believing in yourself.

The waitress came with the cheque. We started talking about the surprising flavours of the carrot, beet and goat cheese cake, which was delicious. Then she looked at me and paused.

-Are you French?
-…I’m from Montreal

My accent isn’t thick but it is noticeable. I’m starting to get over it, but I generally hate when people point it out to me. It’s as if all those years spent working hard to become perfectly bilingual were useless. And it’s another thing that makes me stand out in the crowd, so of course there are times when I want my accent to disappear. But again, it’s a plus: people tell me that it’s endearing pretty often.

As we went out of the restaurant, a man was looking at the board outside.

-Oh, they have beer here now!
-Yes, and it’s very good, they make it here. We just tried and I highly recommend it.
-Oh! You’re French! There’s not a lot of French people in London.
-I know. I’m one of the few! I answered as I crossed the street.

I can run, but I can’t hide. And I don’t want to hide anyway, although sometimes I need to stand back, think and take a breather. I’ll never be normal and that’s O.K. I’ll keep on doing me. I’ll keep believing in myself. When I start thinking that I should be somebody else or that I should be quieter, I remember compliments I received. I know that there are lots of people who love me the way I am. I understand that I have to tap into my own potential and not somebody else’s.

There is no way I’ll ever be a plain Jane. I love things and people that are extraordinary. I need art. I need conversations with enlightened people. I need creativity. I need outlets for my dreams, visions, and wishes. I need to be myself. I’ll keep on wearing pink shoes, cape dresses and sequined t-shirts. I’ll keep on cherishing the things that make me unique because that is what makes me Lili.

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

In Defence Of Mental Wellness

there's more to mental health than mental illness

I don’t like the way we talk about mental health, mostly because the conversation is usually framed around “mental illness.” Mental health is so much more complex than that. There’s this entire other side to the equation, one we don’t talk about as much or often enough, and that is mental wellness. When we forget about wellness, we remove not only the element of hope that is so crucial when you are depressed or anxious or angry or lost, but also the opportunity for things to get better.

I’ve written a lot in my life, and on occasion I’ve even gathered up the courage to put something out there that is really personal. It is terrifying to admit to the world that you are flawed, that you have complexes, that sometimes the things you do or think are not normal. I’ve shied away from talking about my own battles with depression and anxiety because I too fall victim to the stigma. But I’m starting to care less about what people think these days. Depression and anxiety may be a part of my life, but they do not define it.

I started shifting my thinking about this late last year. I realized that I had a problem with how I viewed my own mental health. My perspective mirrored society’s. I too looked at my condition as a mental illness and I forgot about my own mental wellness.

It’s easy to do that when you are sick. But after a while, I became sick of being sick. I was sick of feeling sorry for myself, sick of being sad, sick of crying all the time, sick of feeling like nothing was ever going to get better, sick of talking to people, sick of taking pills, sick of drinking too much, sick of feeling the way I felt, sick of being tired all the time, sick of fighting it. I cycled through years of this and every time it felt just as bad as the last.It felt like things would never improve, like I was destined to live in this cloud of darkness.

I read memoirs about other people’s struggles with depression and even the ones I cherished, most notably Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, didn’t do much to make me feel better, even if I felt less alone. At some point, I accepted depression and anxiety as part of who I was, and that was a dangerous thing for me to do. With acceptance comes comfort and once you’re comfortable, what desire do you have to ever change things?

It’s not like I didn’t try. I spent a lot of time getting referred from one place to the next and listening to one person’s opinion then another. I worked hard on my career, determined not to let my sickness bring me down and even though it did at times, I was further determined not to let anyone know that this sickness existed. I got pretty good at it too. My reputation for being social and bubbly and hard working never faded. But it was not a very effective method for me because at the end of every day I still felt sad, this deep crushing sadness that made me question everything in my life, including my value and my worth. I wondered if people thought I was talented. I wondered if people loved me. I wondered, when they told me that they did, what they could possibly see in me, a shell of a girl.

Then I started thinking about it and I realized I was actually just sick of thinking of myself as mentally ill. How I hated that term. I’m not mentally ill! I shouted from the inside out. There’s so much more to me than that. I’m ambitious, I’m funny, I’m loving, I’m fun. I like to plan events and parties and talk to people and travel places and take pictures and document life and try new things and take chances. I realized it’s not that I was mentally ill, it’s that I wasn’t mentally well.

This idea of wellness seemed new to me. I hadn’t quite looked at things through that lens before and this changed things. I started to recognize that I really did need to learn how to shift my thinking patterns, and I realized this would take time and effort. I stopped thinking about the things that made me sick and instead concentrated on the things that could make me better. I sat down to write a list of 25 things that made me happy and before I knew it I had 47, then 60, then 82. I had a totally new perspective on my own mental wellbeing and I knew it was up to me to make some changes.

I decided to embrace mind over matter and I stopped looking at myself as sick and started looking at myself as someone who had the power to be well. I started embracing the very idea of wellness. All these things that were contributing to my depression and anxiety, I realized I could change them. And if I couldn’t change them, I realized I had to let them go. Maybe I’ll always struggle with my mental health to some extent, as I still do now, but I’ve realized I have a responsibility to myself to not make it any worse. I have a responsibility to myself to make it better.

Everything is going to be okay because what other option is there? ~ Me

In order to become okay, I had to put work into myself, a different kind of work than I was doing before. I had to be proactive and less passive. I had to decide what was worthy of occupying what I call my mental real estate, the places in your mind where all your thoughts, fears, and dreams live. I had to decide to be okay.

After so many years of feeling trapped and running in the big fat hamster wheel that is depression and anxiety, realizing I have the power to open the door was a huge discovery for me. And being ready to open that door was life changing.

“Your Ovary Looks Like A Bagel” and Other Stories About My Uterus

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When it happened, the pain was so severe I couldn’t move or speak. It felt as though something had violently burst inside of me, tearing my insides to shreds. I couldn’t explain to my boyfriend why suddenly in the middle of the night I was first screaming then saying nothing, rendered unable to communicate to him what was happening. I couldn’t even cry, I almost couldn’t breathe, barely able to mouth the words, “I think I need to go to the hospital.”

I barely remember getting into the cab, checking into the hospital, or waiting in the waiting room, though all three of these things must have happened. The pain disoriented me, left me unable to process what was going on. By the time a doctor came to see me it was 6:30 in the morning and I was so exhausted, my eyes were barely open. Unable to explain the situation, the doctor told me to come back at nine for an ultrasound.

I went home but didn’t sleep, only to return to the hospital a couple hours later. The ultrasound was uncomfortable, and I was concerned, increasingly so as the technician kept returning to one spot in particular. I became anxious. What could she see?

“I’m going to get the doctor,” the technician said. “Stay here.”

I lay on the table, my heart racing, and I waited for the doctor to come tell me what was wrong. “You had an ovarian cyst rupture,” he explained. “Your ovary looks like a bagel, but it should go back to normal soon. You will be fine.”

A bagel? Fine? He sent me home, but I wasn’t fine. In addition to worrying about my now bread-shaped reproductive organ, the pain never fully went away. Months before the incident, I had started experiencing crippling, sudden pains that were so severe I would have to stop whatever I was doing and remain perfectly still. I had gone to the doctor about it, but they told me, again, that everything was fine. The pain was becoming much more frequent, happening several times a day.

I went back to the doctor, but nobody seemed concerned. Nobody was willing to listen to my stories about the “phantom” pains I was experiencing. I knew something was wrong and I wanted answers.

A former classmate of mine had endometriosis and was seeing a specialist about it. I asked for her doctor’s name, and then promptly got a referral from my own doctor. If he wouldn’t listen to me, I wanted to talk to someone who would. This was in October and it was just starting to get cold outside. It is customary to have to wait for a specialist appointment, so I started counting down the days to January.

When I finally saw the specialist, she ordered a new set of ultrasounds. She didn’t take long to call me back, requesting I return to her office only a few days later. “You appear to have something blocking us from being able to fully see what’s going on inside of you,” she said. “I recommend exploratory surgery to determine the cause.”

Surgery? This sinking feeling began to overtake me. I was scared. What was inside of me? Did I have cancer? Did I have endometriosis? Would I ever be able to have children? You don’t realize how bad you want children until there’s a possibility you might not be able to. At 22, it was a luxury I assumed would be afforded to me and now I felt like it was being taken away.

I agreed to the surgery. For the next month, the world looked different to me. I imagined a different life for myself than the one I assumed I’d have, the eventual home, a husband, and two kids. I wondered how this would affect my relationship. Would he eventually leave me because I was infertile? In those nights when I worried, he held me and promised he wouldn’t. My sister and a friend offered to carry a baby for me. I cried into their arms, overwhelmed by the kindness of their offers. I felt so close to them, these people who came through for me in a confusing and difficult time. I met other women who were going through the same thing as me. I’m not sure how the conversations ever happened, how we ever discovered we shared this connection, but somehow the stars aligned and I found support in strangers. Together we mourned the children we were not sure we’d ever have.

These thoughts plagued me until I was able to undergo a small day surgery called a laparoscopy.

My specialist called me back in shortly after. She went straight to the point as she pulled out a diagram. “You have a large uterine fibroid the size of a grapefruit attached to your uterus,” she said, once again my reproductive organs were compared to a breakfast food. She took out a pen and drew a giant fibroid beside the pre-printed uterus to give me perspective. Uterine fibroids are usually benign, she explained, and I was beyond grateful to learn a biopsy showed mine was too. Fibroids have been linked to infertility when they grow inside of the uterus. Luckily, she said, mine was outside. It’s unlikely my fertility down the road would be affected.

I breathed a sigh of relief. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I would be able to have children. Even though I was still in pain and my journey was ongoing, hearing that made me feel like I was allowed to be 22 again.

My specialist told me I should undergo another surgery to have it removed right away. I agreed, and less than a month later I found myself in the operating room once again.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how none of the other doctors or technicians had noticed this before. How did something so large go undetected? Fibroids are actually more common than people think, affecting as many as one in five women in their childbearing years. Many women never even know they have them. In fact, the reason mine was likely causing problems is that it was actually attached to my uterus by what’s called a stalk. The fibroid would twist causing the stalk to get pinched, shooting sharp pains through my body.

Laying on the operating table cloaked in hospital light, I was less afraid this time even though the surgery was a more complex procedure. It would four leave tiny scars, a permanent reminder that nothing is in this life is ever guaranteed. But I felt so much more at ease. I was no longer worried about whether or not I was dying, or if I’d be able to have children of my own one day. For the first time in months I had answers.

It felt like I had lived so many lives during that time, forced to think about my life in its entirely in ways I hadn’t really considered before. For a while everything changed. And now, just one more surgery and it would all be back to normal again. I’d heal and go back to my job. My social life would resume. I would be okay. Everything finally would be fine. So I closed my eyes and counted down from 10.

Tattoos and Pushpins: A Tale of Pain

It always starts with the buzzing sound, getting closer and closer. Then you feel the pressure and then little pain shoots up all around your body. Like little lighting strikes, sometimes soft, sometimes very sharp. This is the price paid for getting tattooed. I’ve been collecting tattoos, memories on my skin, some with happiness and some with a bit of sadness behind it. Even after five, I want more. I like looking down and seeing the words and designs permanently etched on my skin, reflecting on the memory and story behind ink and flesh.

Then, recently, I was getting tattooed, feeling the lightning and buzzing when I felt it; the strange, beautiful feeling of brief, sharp pain and then feeling completely nothing. I’m not a masochist, but this pain was familiar to me. I hadn’t felt anything like this since I was a cutter in high school. Using physical pain to control my stress and anxiety was the only way I could cope with my emotions and unresolved anger.

I can’t exactly remember when it started. My middle school years were full of bullying and suffering, but it was in my high school years, facing my future, that I started to take sharp objects to my skin. In my memories it started virtually overnight; I would feel completely overwhelmed with emotions or I was stressed out about some school work/friend trouble/parents. I would get panicky, and couldn’t stop crying or start to hyperventilate. I would then get a pushpin or even a dull packing knife and glided it across the skin of my wrist or my ankle over and over in the same spot until I could feel that pain; lightning striking. As soon as I felt it, I stopped and could breathe again. I never went deep enough to draw real blood, but I would have tiny white lines of raised skin lining my ankles and hidden in my sleeves. Sometimes I would have to do more than one line to calm down but it always seemed to work.

I would watch them disappear over a few days then do it all over again. The pain meant I was present, that I was real and that my problems weren’t really that bad. I was a good kid, behaved, good grades, but the pressure to be good would drown me. When my music or books wouldn’t help, I would turn to the tiny pushpins I’d steal from my mother’s office. I think one time; I may have even taken one from a bulletin board at school, and snuck off to the bathroom.

Strangely, I think I got the idea from a book my mother had gotten or I had picked up in a garage sale, it was about a girl who had an eating disorder but spiraled out of control and had started banging her wrists against sharp edges to control her emotions. I remember reading it and thinking that is so weird, why would she do that? Then I started creating lines in my skin and I understood.

This went on for a while when I was 16-17, I was very careful in hiding my wounds under my pants and sleeves. Once a teacher sort of noticed but I brushed it off as a cat scratch, they were so uniformly lined up on my ankle, what else could it have been? My parents have no clue to this day what went on, and I don’t plan on telling them ever. It was actually the shame of my secret and a friend blackmailing me that made me stop cutting.

I’ve almost completely put it out of my head, the passing of time and being in a different city will do that. But when I was 17, my high school life became a soap opera of over dramatics and craziness. Looking back, it was worthy of a Degrassi script: love gone very wrong, betrayal, lies and fake friends. I lost my partner in crime too that year, I’ve only seen her once since then, and I’m not sorry that the friendship ended so badly.

Strangely though, after that, even with the big emotional fallout, I stopped cutting. I guess part of me realized that if I could handle that insane year, then I could handle anything, my scary not-yet-unknown future and my crazy emotions. Also, another bigger part of me was really scared of my secret being spilt to my family and what the fallout would be. Would I be branded as a crazy person? Go in to therapy, be punished? I haven’t done it since, push pins just hold up things on my walls and the only things on my wrists and ankles are my ink.

It is weird to think of my life back then; I was a completely different girl. I hardly recognize her as part of myself. I’m not ashamed of my past; it made me stronger and able to face things that would impact my life and future. It does take me longer to trust, and I’m still not so great with sharing feelings and emotions, but I’m getting better. I’m not scared of being a crazy person, and I know have the most supportive friends and family to help me. I even got a matching tattoo with my bestie; a girl I wish I had known back then, but am eternally grateful she’s in my life now.

More tattoos are being planned: from birthday/milestones to homages to my favourite things, all of them reflect who I am, or who I am evolving into. Collecting tattoos tells my life story and gives me strength. One of my wrist tattoos reads “In pain there is healing,” which I think sums up my tattoos and my past perfectly. Lightning may only strike once, but my ink will last forever.

Written by Andie Baker.