Mental Health

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Mental Health

Living with endometriosis is taxing on us emotionally.

Endometriosis symptoms can leave us physically and emotionally exhausted:

  • dealing with the unpredictable nature of our flares and not knowing how we are going to feel from one minute to the next

  • the medical trauma and gaslighting

  • the dismissal and lack of support from people around us

  • the agony of the physical symptoms and what we have to endure on a daily basis

  • the fear of that PAIN

  • the grief of all that we’ve lost to this illness

  • financial concerns for our high medical bills or inability to work

  • social isolation from being unable to leave the house due to pain

  • feelings like a burden/bother (which we aren’t at all!) as we need to become increasingly dependent on others for help

Additionally, people who hold identities that have been historically marginalized can face further trauma.

This can come in various forms, such as implicit and explicit biases that medical professionals may hold towards people in terms of race, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation. It is also important to note that the space of endometriosis advocacy, as well as the treatment space, is predominantly occupied by people who are cisgender women, heterosexual, and white. People with different identities – such as Black people; Indigenous peoples; Latino/a/e/x; Asian people; people of color; racialized people; LGBTQIA2S+, including intersex people, non-binary people, and trans people; as well as various other identities – can face a lack of inclusion, representation, or even outright discrimination.

Options for managing our symptoms can affect our mental health.

Many of us take hormones like birth control pills, depo provera, Mirena IUD or GnRh drugs to try and manage our symptoms. (Reminder – hormones don’t treat the disease itself, but rather may help some people with symptom management). Unfortunately, for some of us, taking hormones can affect our mood, make us irritable, or contribute to anxiety and/or depression. Orilissa, which is a GnRh antagonist for managing endometriosis associated pain, lists anxiety, depression, and mood changes under the information on the most common side effects on their website. It also says that “ORILISSA can cause serious side effects including: Suicidal thoughts, actions, or behavior, and worsening of mood.” Myfembree is a similar drug to Orilissa and lists these same side effects.

Dietary or other lifestyle changes can also take a serious toll, and can lead to obsession, disordered eating, controlling behaviors, shame and guilt, and more. (More on that on my Nutrition page.) It can take time to find a balance and figure out how to follow any diet and lifestyle changes we’ve made in a way that supports both our physical and mental health.

In my own case, I’ve adopted what would be considered a “restrictive diet” in order to manage my endometriosis symptoms. Cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, and other foods, and adhering to that often means I can’t eat the food around me at friend’s houses or work break rooms and that I have to home cook most of my food. There are times when my feelings of anger and sadness around my way of eating negatively impact my mental health, but at the same time, being so intentional about my food choices reduces flares and gives me a better quality of life, which allows me to hold a job and support myself. So for me, having constant symptoms/ flares takes a bigger toll on my mental health than feeling deprived by my way of eating. So I typically don’t stray from my way of eating, and instead look for ways to cope with the feelings that limiting my food choices brings me. Episodes 65 and 66 on my podcast are about how I cope and my relationship with food.

Some research has shown that living with chronic pain takes a similar emotional toll as a cancer diagnosis.

This shows the seriousness of living with the daily onslaught of symptoms/pain that endometriosis can bring. That’s why it’s vital to take care of our mental and emotional health, because living with endometriosis can sink us into a deep sadness, trap us in anger, or completely strip our lives of meaning. All of these are natural reactions to a devastating disease, but it’s important to address how we feel and then work through our feelings so we don’t get stuck in them. I was stuck in my anger for over a decade so I know it’s not an easy process. But trying to move towards finding peace (whatever that means to us), finding healthy outlets for our feelings, and working safely through trauma can help us to once more access joy, meaning, and happiness in our lives where we thought there was none.

I truly believe that when we get diagnosed, part of the medical care that is provided should automatically include addressing the toll this disease takes on our mental health. Unfortunately, the medical community is barely capable of treating the physical side of endometriosis, never mind how it affects us mentally and emotionally. Which means this burden typically falls on us to figure out how to support our own mental health in addition to all the physical symptoms and treatment options we are dealing with. Not to mention, access to mental health resources can be costly and inaccessible, and it has great disparities in quality between communities.

Endometriosis can greatly affect mental health, and taking care of our mental health can be difficult.

If you are struggling right now, I see you. Please don’t judge yourself. It’s okay to reach out to a loved one, mental health professional, online mental health community/resources or hotline for support.

Some potential ways to support mental health

As we are all individuals, what we need or what can help us will vary. There are many ways to address our mental health and often the best results come from supporting ourselves in multiple ways emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Professional support

Some people may find it helpful to see a mental health professional, do cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) with a mental health professional or via workbooks/self-learning, do EMDR, take prescription medication, etc. It can be difficult to access a mental health professional that is affordable, trauma informed, understands chronic illness, etc, so I want to acknowledge that it’s not as simple as “see a mental health professional”, but also that when a person does find a professional who is a good fit, it can be life-changing in helping them work through trauma, identify and change distorted thought patterns, etc.

Community support

Finding community on or offline, talking to a trusted loved one, sharing your story or hearing others share theirs.

Holistic support

Finding joy, meaning, purpose, or fulfillment; self care activities like setting boundaries, learning to say no, resting when we need to; finding activities that put us into a flow state like gardening, dancing, singing, making art; moving our bodies with walking, yoga, qigong, etc; getting into nature; journaling; releasing activities like screaming into a pillow, crying; pain and symptom management; and more.

My own experience

In taking a full body approach to addressing this disease, we need to look beyond the physical and also at the emotional and mental toll it takes on us. But I was reticent to address my mental health for a few reasons.

First, I didn’t realize the trauma I was carrying.

Years of it – from childhood, from my symptoms and the fear I had developed of everything from food to sex to a bowel movement, from medical gaslighting, from the lack of understanding and support for sick and disabled people from society at large and even from loved ones. I had no idea how much trauma I held and was living from, or the impact it was having on my daily life. Unpacking my trauma in a safe way has been such a gift to myself, because it’s allowed me to get out of flight-or-flight and calm my wound up nervous system which had been in a heightened state of alert of decades without me even realizing! This has been a missing puzzle piece to some of my bowel, bladder, and pain symptoms. 

I also didn’t realize how many stories I told myself regarding my illness: about how I deserve to be sick, about how I’m a burden, about how I’m unlovable, about how it’s my fault I’m sick. Objectively examining and changing the stories I tell myself, my distorted thought patterns, and my self-worth has greatly improved my experience of living with chronic illness.

Second, I didn’t think my anxiety/depression was worth addressing.

After been dismissed and gaslit for a decade that I was absolutely convinced that I was broken and inherently flawed – and that was the reason why I was sick. I was sure that nothing could help me so I didn’t even realize that working on my mental health was an option. I had no idea that with the right support and tools, I could see improvements in my emotional state and also the way I felt about myself. I had no idea that there were better ways to cope, or that meaning and joy could be accessible to me.

Third, I’d been brushed off and told so many times that it was “all in my head” and due to “anxiety”.

After being told it’s psychosomatic for 16 years, (instead of the doctor actually addressing my endometriosis), I was concerned that if I did work on my worries, fears, and anxieties, that would somehow negate the physical and mean that my symptoms actually were “all in my head.” But addressing our mental health doesn’t mean that endometriosis is in our heads, because it’s not at all. Endometriosis is a physical disease with lesions in our bodies that shouldn’t be there that are wreaking havoc! It’s not our fault we have endometriosis. Evidence is pointing to us being born with it, and our mental health has nothing to do with us having or not having endometriosis. Endometriosis is not caused by trauma, even though some people incorrectly circulate that information after poorly interpreting some studies on trauma.

For More Resources

Research on the Endometriosis Experience

Note: These studies use gendered language, and I believe were only done on cis-women. I haven’t come across many studies on the lived experience of people with endometriosis describing their relationship to their pain, disease, and symptoms. If you know of any more, especially ones using inclusive language, please send them to me!

Some Great Books

  • Finding Peace with a Devastating Disease by Amy Corfeli (I wrote this book!)
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • The Choice: Embrace the Impossible by Edith Eger
  • The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life by Edith Eger
  • The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety by Alexander L. Chapman
  • The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical
    DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness,
    Emotional Regulation, and Distress Tolerance
    by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, Jeffrey Brantley
  • The PTSD Workbook for Teens by Libbi Palmer
  • A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine
  • Healing into Life and Death by Stephen Levine
  • The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

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