Is there really an upside to endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an unfortunate condition that has gained considerable notoriety—even infamy—as a curse of sorts. Women who have it know all about the downsides: they are living them. Pain, infertility, pelvic organ dysfunction, and even problems with other abdominal organs, such as the bladder, rectum, and intestines, are all associated with it. So it seems a bit insulting to these women to imply that anything good can come out of it.
Woman’s body: the “Owner’s Manual.”
There is no such thing, of course. No one comes into the world with an owner’s manual. Just because we occupy our bodies does not make us experts on them. We can know how we feel, know when we hurt, and know when we’re happy, but we aren’t necessarily aware of why. The unsophisticated health classes in high school and beyond hardly touch it. Internet research is fraught with self-serving profiteers or—when legitimate—are so medicolegally sensitive that is offers no perspective whatsoever in its bullet-listed vanilla blurbs designed to attract keyword spiders from Google. When it comes to the “established” medical sites, while accurate, one size fits all. For a self-perspective and how conditions like endometriosis impact you as an individual, you will have to rely on your own physician or other professional healthcare provider.
So, what is the upside?
Admittedly, care must be used in daring to suggest there really is an upside. But knowledge is power, and one thing that endometriosis allows you to do is to get an education on your body—acquire that “Owner’s Manual.” This goes well beyond what is taught in school and what your mother may have passed down. The doctor-patient relationship between a physician and the woman suffering from endometriosis is a special educational opportunity. This is important because of what is at stake; endometriosis can negatively alter your quality of life, your physical and romantic relationships, and your ability to become pregnant. Because of the gravity inherent in these crucial parts of your life, becoming your own expert on your body and your individual condition gives you your best chances at defeating the condition and getting on with the ways you thought life should be.
What endometriosis teaches you about your uterus.
You learn that your uterus has an inner lining that is designed to thicken in anticipation of the implantation of a fertilized egg that occurs in pregnancy. You learn that when pregnancy does not occur, this special lining loses its hormonal support from your ovaries, which causes it to become disorganized enough to fall apart, slough away, and present as menstrual and bloody debris you discard every month. You also learn that when this type of tissue is trapped in a place where it cannot escape, such as your abdomen (pelvis), its very nature creates inflammation that is directly harmful to your tissues there, but also indirectly harmful because of your tissues’ reactions to this inflammation, resulting in scarring and adhesions (organs stuck together).
What endometriosis teaches you about your tubes.
You learn that fertilization of your egg takes place within your tube, after ovulation (the release of an egg each cycle). You also learn that endometriosis tissue in the pelvis releases inflammatory biochemicals that directly interfere with a sperm’s penetration into, and fertilization of, your egg. Besides this inflammatory sabotage to your fertility by endometriosis, there is also a mechanical blockage to fertilization success. The scarring that occurs in the pelvis with endometriosis can kink and even obstruct the tube, which normally should remain flexible and free so that its internal cilia (waving hair-like structures) can move an egg down toward the up-swimming sperm without being hampered.
What endometriosis teaches you about your ovaries.
You learn, especially if you’re pursuing a fertility strategy, that the communication among your hypothalamus and pituitary glands and your ovaries runs the show. Cyst within the ovary can interfere with the cycling that causes your cyclic ovulations. However, you also learn that most cysts come and go routinely, because they aren’t necessarily pathological processes but just the nature of the ovarian function. Translated, functional cysts are normal variations and go away all by themselves. But you also learn that when the cyst is because of endometriosis, it won’t go away but will continue to persist and interfere with normally ovarian function.
What endometriosis teaches you about your pelvis.
You learn that the pelvis is a very busy place with a variety of organs with a variety of functions. You learn that endometriosis inflames this environment and causes organ dysfunction due to both this inflammation and the scarring and adhesions it creates.
What endometriosis teaches you about chronic pain.
Inflammatory pain is a potent initiator of chronic pain. About chronic pain, you learn that pain nerve signals become trained to fire off all on their own; you also learn that chronic pain causes depression the way that acute pain provokes anger (think hitting your thumb with a hammer).
What endometriosis teaches you about your relationship and intimacy.
Sex is more than the interdigitating of sexual organs. It is a physical expression of intimacy in a very special type of communication, a sacred trust, and an offering of vulnerability to your partner who reciprocates. This coupling combines male and female into one life, both as a soul-matched union and its product, the shared life that comes about with successful pregnancy. You learn frustration and anger when a planned pregnancy never gets off the ground; and you learn the helpless frustration that comes about when sex is painful to the point of being prohibitive, denying both you and your partner the consummation you both deserve.
Endometriosis: cramming for finals.
In short, the education you get from endometriosis is one that centers on the important things in your life. Suddenly it’s not such a big deal when someone cuts you off in traffic. This is called maturity, and the upside of endometriosis, if it can be so suggested without outrage, is this type of maturity—one that lets you live as a fulfilled adult. The downside of endometriosis is real, but the upside is the education that can only help you defeat the downside.