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‘Endowhat?’ Here’s what it’s like to live at uni with endometriosis

One in ten women are affected by the condition

For a condition that many people don’t fully understand, it’s amazing how many people suffer from endometriosis.

One in ten women are affected and so although many people will have skipped this article, thinking it doesn’t affect them, chances are that even if they don’t have it someone they know will. Statistically, out of the 13,700 undergraduate women at Bristol University, I am only one of roughly 1,370 who have the condition.

Despite the staggering numbers affected, the current average diagnosis period is seven and a half years. Who really has time to go to the doctors once your parents aren’t making the appointments for you, and can you really be bothered to walk up St Michael’s Hill just to have that awkward chat with your doctor? Anyway, you’ve always had bad periods, so it’s probably normal, right?

There’s a massive anxiety among women that they won’t be believed. Sadly, such an anxiety is pretty well founded as many are told that they are overreacting and advised to seek psychological help. Even going to the doctor relies on women realising that what they’re experiencing isn’t ‘normal’.

It definitely took me a few years of chatting with friends- the way you do in an all girls school- to realise that passing out alongside excruciating cramps every month wasn’t ‘normal’. I’ve also experienced what it’s like to not be fully believed by doctors. Even after my laparoscopy I was asked by a GP if I was ‘sure’ I had endometriosis as it was ‘uncommon’ for 18 year olds to have a diagnosis.

Endometriosis is very much an invisible illness. It’s not like a broken leg where the injury is obvious and in most cases those suffering look just as healthy as the next person. This doesn’t help when trying to explain endometriosis to your new found uni friends, as not only will they probably never have heard of it but to them you look, well, fine.

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Once you’ve been diagnosed, prepare yourself for lots of ‘endowhats?’and confused looking faces while you try to explain that you can’t quite make the sesh as much as everyone else. For other types of relationships you encounter at uni, this can also be a problem. I can tell you now that nothing kills the mood more than having to explain that you have this mysterious condition, so sex may or may not hurt. Feeling like I’m being continuously stabbed isn’t really going to be fun for either of us.

Every case of endometriosis is different and you learn what triggers your pain. For many like myself, stress is a significant cause. Don’t get me wrong, no one enjoys exams and deadlines (if you do, who are you?!?!) and a lot of people experience physical ailments, but having endometriosis brings its own challenges. I essentially have a ‘weak point’ in my pelvis and thus stress causes a ‘migraine’ in that area as pain receptors here are heightened.

Over the counter medicines aren’t enough to counter this pain so I often have to resort to stronger painkillers. The downside of this is that they pretty much knock me out. It’s a lose-lose situation. Uni so far has been a guessing game of trying to figure out how to balance this to make sure I can actually work.

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Chronic fatigue is also commonly associated with endometriosis. So that 'not-wanting-to-get-out-of-bed' feeling everyone gets, especially after a night out, is much harder to shake. Although experts still aren’t really sure what causes endometriosis, studies have shown that its more prevalent in women with high levels of oestrogen.

For most students, drinking is a massive part of socialising. Alcohol, however, doubles the amount of oestrogen in your body, so after nights out I’m not only left hanging but suffering from the return of the oh-too-familiar pain in my pelvis. Drinking also encourages my endometriosis to develop further. As something I only found out recently, I dread to think of the affect freshers had on my body.

Despite having a condition that affects a significant part of my life, I actually feel more confident than I did before seeking treatment. Faced on numerous occasions with doctors who didn’t believe me, I’ve definitely learnt to stand up for myself. I am extremely lucky to have parents who have fought relentlessly to get me seen by specialists and who were in a position to pay for treatment when necessary.

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I know not everyone is that fortunate which is why it’s so important for the overall standard of care and treatment to be improved. I may regret writing about something so personal in a few days time, but if it encourages someone to push for a diagnosis or treatment, helps another girl realise they’re not suffering alone or just generally raises more awareness, I’ll feel this was worthwhile.