What Chronic Pain Taught Me: An Endometriosis Story

Guest Post by Mallory Herrera

When I was 24 years old, I began dating the man that would later become my husband.

He was great. Funny, smart, loving, everything that I could ever hope for in a partner. We were having a great time and life seemed good.

Not Just a Happy Ending

A year into our relationship, I started having pain.

The pain began with my periods. Though my periods had never been very comfortable (who’s are?), they started getting worse.

My period cramps were horrible. It hurt so bad that I would have to spend several days out of each month laid up on the couch with a heating pad any second that I could get.

I hated it, but it had an end date. I just had to wait for my period to end.

More Pain

Then the pain started to happen after sex.

The first few times it happened, I didn’t really know what to think. I kind of chalked up the cramping feeling being because of my period getting ready to start or ovulation or even just bending the wrong way. I didn’t think anything of it.

But it kept happening, and it kept getting worse.

The pain during my periods got worse, and the pain after sex got worse. Not only that, but I began to have pain during sex.

There I was, 25 years old and in the prime of my life, not able to have sex without hurting.

I began to fear having sex. Not only did my stomach hurt during intercourse, but I would be in so much pain for the next couple of days, it really didn’t seem worth it to me.

Sex was no longer the fun, enjoyable, and relaxing experience that it used to be. It became horrifying and painful and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Pain Can Affect Everything

This feeling really started to put a strain on my relationship. My relationship was still fairly young, but we were having sex less than an old married couple.

We would be lucky to have sex once a month. It got to the point where it wouldn’t be uncommon for us to go several months without having sex.

It became too hard for me. The pain would sometimes be so unbearable, that I would have to stop before we could really even begin. Then the shame and embarrassment would set in.

I felt like less of a woman because I couldn’t have sex. It seemed like the one thing that I should be able to do, I couldn’t.

It also made me upset with my sexual relationships in the past because I felt like I had wasted all of my good sex on people that didn’t really deserve it.

Finding a Cause

Fast-forward a bit, and my boyfriend and I officially got married. We were really trying to work through the sex thing, but thankfully he thought I was worth it even without a healthy sex life.

After we got married, I started seeing my gynecologist about my pain. Nothing I had been doing on my own was working and I needed some real answers that didn’t come from the internet.

My mother had a mild case of endometriosis, so I was beginning to suspect that this could be my issue.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that normally exists inside the uterus begins growing outside of the uterus. This tissue can begin affecting other organs by attaching to them, and since it is still uterine tissue, it is still affected by your body’s hormones.

The tissue still acts as it typically would by thickening, breaking down, and bleeding with each menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, the tissue has no way to leave the body like it would if it were actually in the uterus where it is supposed to be, so it can cause scar tissue and adhesions on the surrounding organs.

My doctor and I talked it over, and he agreed that endometriosis was the most likely culprit. The only downside is that the only way to diagnose endometriosis is to actually look and see if it’s there. That involves surgery.

The Surgery

The surgery itself really wasn’t that bad. It was done laparoscopically so I only had three small incisions on my abdomen. I had a very physical job at the time, so I was out of work for two weeks, but I probably could have gone back earlier had I had a desk job.

Probably the worst part about the recovery was the bloating. During the surgery, the doctor filled my abdomen full of air so that he could see better with his little camera. It just took a while to get the air out.

The Results

A few weeks after the surgery, I went to see my doctor to discuss the results. They weren’t what I expected.

The biopsy that he performed was “inconclusive”. He said that it looked like endometriosis, but the particular swab that he pulled came back negative.

Needless to say, I was upset. I had just gone through surgery to figure out what was wrong with me, and now the results were inconclusive. I was back to square one.

The Next Few Months

Though that surgery was a letdown, it would not be my only surgery that year. I had 4 abdominal surgeries in 5 month.

The extra surgeries had nothing to do with endometriosis or my pain though. They involved a case of appendicitis followed by an abscess removal followed by another abscess removal.

Either way, it was not a good couple of months.

I was out of work for a few months, essentially house bound, and restricted to my bed. I lost a severe amount of weight, though I’m sure most of that was muscle mass. And with each surgery, the recovery period was longer and more difficult than the time before.

By the time my last surgery happened, I was in an extreme amount of pain all the time. My abdominal muscles began seizing up and I had a lot of issue performing normal tasks.

I suppose though, the one good thing that came out of the repeated surgeries is that my endometriosis was finally confirmed, yay me… 

Needless to say though, my relationship began to suffer.

The New Normal

I had to move out of our bedroom because that bed was too difficult for me to get in and out of. I was constantly in pain and my outlook on life wasn’t great.

Even as I began to heal from the surgeries, my pain was still there. And not just that, but it was evolving. It was no longer just the painful cramps like I had been having before, my pain included muscle and nerve damage from the repeated surgeries.

My recovery was a long and difficult road. I tried everything I could think of to relieve my pain. I tried everything from physical therapy to marijuana to medication, including several prescriptions for pain-killers, muscle relaxers, nerve agents, and even some experimental medications.

Some things worked a little bit, but nothing worked completely.

And during this whole time, my husband was supportive. I was struggling, and even though he was frustrated with how things were going, he was still there for me. He knew that I was in pain and wanted to help me through it. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.


Coping Mechanisms

Having a sexual relationship was difficult for me. The constant pain that I was in, made even the slightest movements uncomfortable. I got to a point where I was so wrapped up in my own head about the whole thing I couldn’t enjoy sex even when we did have it.

So I resorted to alcohol.

Alcohol helped me to step out of my own head and try to escape my fear of the pain to attempt a sexual relationship with my husband.

It didn’t solve anything though. It was only a band-aid, and not a very good one at that.

Though drinking helped me get to the point where I was willing to try having sex, the extra alcohol only caused me to be in more pain the next day. That just made me less likely to try again next time.

During all of this though, I somehow managed to get pregnant.

I had stopped taking birth control during my surgery fiascos since I was on so many antibiotics. Then I just never started it back up.

I didn’t really see the point since we were barely having sex and endometriosis can cause fertility issues anyway.

I was off of birth control for about a year and a half when I got pregnant with my son.

A Painful Pregnancy

The pregnancy was rough. I couldn’t take any of my pain-killers, I couldn’t use any of my nerve blocking medications, and I couldn’t use my favorite crutch of alcohol to dull the pain.

There were times when he would kick right on top of all of my sore spots that I lovingly refer to as my danger zone that would just cause me to stop in my tracks and grit my teeth.

I’ll never forget one very painful trip to the emergency room because I was in so much pain and he was very, very active.

Though the pregnancy was hard, I think it was actually the best thing for me.

Not only did it force me to stop all of the medication and alcohol that I had been using before and look for alternative treatments, but all of the stretching in my abdomen actually helped to break up some of the scar tissue that had formed.

Making Progress

After giving birth, I do still have some pain, but nothing like it was before, and I’m better able to manage it now. I have a better understanding of my body now. I now know what things are more likely to cause me pain.

For instance, I know that if I eat soy or dairy products, I’m going to be hurting afterwards. Some of that was thanks to the pregnancy, and some of that was thanks to the Whole 30 program. Either way, it’s progress.

I am off of all of my pain medication, though I do still keep it around for emergencies, but I haven’t needed any of it in over a year.

My husband and I are still working on getting back to a normal sexual relationship. I still have a lot of fears surrounding sex that I am working to get past, but I’m making progress.

It has been a while since I have had any pain associated with intercourse, so I’m hopeful that it is behind me. I’m always wary, but I’m trying to not let that fear control my decisions anymore.

If you are like me and suffering from chronic pain, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It can be hard to imagine a life without pain. The solution though might be unexpected.

Try different avenues and see what works best for you. What works for one woman may not work for you, and that’s okay. Everyone is different. Every pain is different.

What I’ve Learned

The pain does not define you

I learned that my pain did not define me, just like it does not define you. Though it was a trial that I didn’t want to go through, it made me stronger because of it. It made me a fighter.

I had to figure out what was more important to me, being free of the pain, or living my life in spite of it.

Be proud of your strength. Don’t let the pain defeat you. It isn’t worth it.

Communication in your relationship is key

My husband and I talked a lot about how I felt both mentally and physically. We tried new things, new positions, and new techniques to see what worked and what didn’t.

He never blamed me for my pain, and that was huge for me. I always felt like it was my fault (though it obviously wasn’t) and I was upset with myself for it.

Talking with him about my struggles really helped me to get in front of them and tackle the issue rather than run from it.

Talking about it also helped him to better understand what I was going through. There’s no way that he could have know how I was feeling on his own. I had to break it down for him.

My explaining how I felt to him also allowed him to open up to me as well. We were able to find other ways to be intimate that didn’t involve sex because he still needed that to feel close to me.

I can’t imagine that our relationship would have survived without that communication.

Listen to your body

Going through this phase in my life has taught me to be more in tune with my body.

Before, I would do things how I wanted to do them without any regard to the consequences. I don’t live that way now.

I have learned to pay more attention to my body. I have figured out what things make me feel better and what things make me feel worse.

Having that insight allows me to have more control over my pain. Having control of the pain gives me more control over my life.

Having the control over my pain also allows me to not be afraid of it anymore. I found that the fear of the pain was, in a lot of ways, worse than the pain itself.

It is okay to seek help

If you are in pain, don’t feel that you have to go through it alone. Talk to your doctor, talk to a friend, or find a support group, anything that you can to help you through it.

There is no reason that you should suffer in silence. Besides, one of those people may have a suggestion or solution to your problem that you haven’t thought of before.

Going down different avenues and talking to different people about my problems helped me to find solutions that worked for me.

I would have never considered doing Whole 30 had I not heard about it from someone else that was dealing with their own illness.

Hearing about her results made me consider the possibility of relief for myself. You’d be surprised what may work for you.

Are you suffering from chronic pain? What steps have you taken to find relief? Leave a comment below.

Until next time!

A message from Cultivate Expression:

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